My first boyfriend and I used to get into regular huge fights. He would scream. I would freeze. My freezing would make him more angry. One of us would leave (slamming the door behind us, naturally).
One time while both in the car, driving back home from hiking, our argument was so full of emotion, I had him pull over the car and drop me off along the highway–I couldn’t stand to be in the car for even one more minute. I was so in my triggered place that I forgot to take my phone and purse. He was so in his triggered place that he couldn’t remember which exit he had dropped me off near. A few hours later, after walking into the nearest town in Northern California, I finally got the courage to ask a shop clerk for some quarters and used a payphone (remember those?) to call my boyfriend, who then came and picked me up.
I HOPE YOU NEVER HAVE A PARTNER WITH WHOM YOU FIGHT THIS DRAMATICALLY.
But fights, flights, and freezes in communication are pretty common. And not just in romantic relationships but with friends, family, coworkers, and that guy who cut you off in traffic who you flipped off.
I knew we had a problem that I wanted to fix because I loved him and wanted things to work out so I started doing some research and found the Non Violent Communication book.
We started applying the method very diligently. He even kept a notecard in his pocket with the four steps written on it so that if we were in the midst of reacting and not thinking rationally, we could pull it out and just follow the steps.
It worked. Pretty soon we were not having big fights anymore! Our relationship did come to an end eventually but I learned a big lesson: communication can be improved with work. So can relationships.
According to wikipedia:
Nonviolent communication (abbreviated NVC, also called compassionate communication or collaborative communication) is a communication process developed by Marshall Rosenberg beginning in the 1960s It focuses on three aspects of communication: self-empathy (defined as a deep and compassionate awareness of one’s own inner experience), empathy (understanding and sharing an emotion expressed by another), and honest self-expression (defined as expressing oneself authentically in a way that is likely to inspire compassion in others).
Nonviolent communication is based on the idea that all human beings have the capacity for compassion and only resort to violence or behavior that harms others when they don’t recognize more effective strategies for meeting needs. Habits of thinking and speaking that lead to the use of violence (psychological and physical) are learned through culture. NVC theory supposes all human behavior stems from attempts to meet universal human needs and that these needs are never in conflict. Rather, conflict arises when strategies for meeting needs clash. NVC proposes that if people can identify their needs, the needs of others, and the feelings that surround these needs, harmony can be achieved.
While NVC is ostensibly taught as a process of communication designed to improve compassionate connection to others, it has also been interpreted as a spiritual practice, a set of values, a parenting technique, an educational method and a worldview.
The steps are as follows:
How to apply:
Before typing that angry email at work, take a look at the steps and see how you can first acknowledge your needs and the needs of your coworker or boss. Write the email using the steps. I do it all the time and get great results. No one likes being accused but everyone, even professional contacts, love empathy and feeling heard and respected. Watch your power at your company soar when you employ this technique. Pretty soon coworkers will start to identify you as the good communicator in the office.
If you have a significant other already and you’ve had some conflicts, arguments, or fights* you will need to get buy-in from them before you start this process. Maybe you both go to therapy together to help mediate your conflict. At therapy you can ask your therapist to help you both learn the NVC method together.
Ask your partner to read the book along side you.
Steal my trick of writing down the steps on a notecard and keep it handy incase you’re both too angry to be rational.
Practice, practice, practice! You WILL get better if you keep trying, even if it’s not perfect at first. Focus on doing all the steps each time you have an argument, even if you don’t want to and even if you want to skip a step. Perfect the process first before modifying it.
If you don’t yet have a partner but know that you want to have great communication skills for when you find that special someone, you can practice with your friends, family, and at work (see above).
Many cities have an NVC meetup group! Check meetup.com to see if there’s one near you.
Here is a list of free resources from the NCV website.
*This is referring to verbal fights. If your fights are physical, please seek help immediately and/or report attacks to the police when necessary. Google “victims of domestic violence support” and the name of your city/town to find the right number. Physical violence at home is never okay.