Communicating our Needs
Last night during our PEPS group (a parenting group), all the dads went out to the bar and the moms were left to chat. So what did we talk about? The dads, of course!
We all shared how we were dividing and conquering the new responsibilities of the baby, as well as all the stuff around the house. (Sorry for the baby-centered intro, but it won’t be all babies). At the end of the day, it all came down to communication--effective, pro-active communication.
Here’s an example:
Last week, my husband and I were on vacation and our daughter woke up early and I reluctantly crawled out of bed to change and feed her, while my husband stayed in bed. I started muttering sarcastic things like, “Daddy’s really enjoying his vacation,” while pretending to talk to the baby. In reality, I was talking to my husband in a passive aggressive way, which wasn’t going to help the situation. I was annoyed with him mostly because I wanted to be lounging in bed myself. My jealousy was getting the better of me.
After my annoyance waned, I told my husband how I was feeling and he offered to help support me in the best way he could (he doesn’t have breasts that give milk, so I still had to do that part). The next morning he got our daughter out of bed, changed her, and brought her to me so that I could at least feed her while lying in bed. It worked out great and we did it for the rest of the vacation.
I realize that most of the time that I am annoyed or frustrated with my husband, it is really because I failed to communicate with him. I failed to tell him what I wanted or needed and failed to make a request of him. Telling my husband what to do doesn’t work, so instead I need to ask him. Sometimes my request is prefaced with the reason I am asking him (my needs), and other times I don’t need a reason, I can just ask because he knows what my needs already are.
This type of communication is aligned with a method of communication developed in the 1960s, by a man named Marshall Rosenberg. It is called Non Violent Communication (NVC) or Compassionate Communication. Through his research, Rosenberg found that we most often communicate the wrong thing, in the wrong way, so our universal needs are never met and an empathetic connection is never attained.
There are four main tenants to Non Violent Communication.
1. Make observations, not evaluations. When we communicate, we need to leave the judgment, exaggeration, criticism, etc. out of it. Just stick with what could be seen by a video camera.
2. Express feelings, not thoughts. “I feel like you don’t listen to me.” “I feel like you aren’t respecting me.” Those are all really just thoughts coached in the language of feeling. Rosenberg calls those “faux feelings.” Happy, Sad, Mad, Fearful, etc. are true feelings. Expressing our thoughts instead of our feelings usually isn’t very helpful when trying to connect with someone or get our needs met.
3. Identify needs, not strategies. We all have universal needs that need to get met—things like love and connection, autonomy, meaning, physical well-being, etc. Usually we communicate things like, “I need you to go to the store.” Although grammatically correct, we are really expressing a strategy or a way to meet our physical need for food, not really a need.
4. Make requests, not demands. Once our feelings and needs are laid out, it is best to make a request. Demands usually don’t align with the other persons need for autonomy.
So here are some examples of what it might sound like with your partner.
“Honey, I was feeling frustrated when I got up to change and feed Anouk this morning. I know you want to enjoy your vacation, and so do I. Would you be willing to get up and change her diaper, and then bring her to me in bed so I can feed her here and you can come back to bed too?”
“Honey, I noticed that you didn’t take the garbage out last night and I am feeling frustrated. I really need a sense of order in our house to be at peace. Would you be willing to take it out now? Is there a way that I can remind you without being a nag?”
“Honey, when I was telling the story of my accident at dinner last night, you interrupted me a few times. I get frustrated when that happens because I want to participate in the conversation and communicate in my own way. When I am telling a story, would you let me tell it my way?”
“Honey, I was not able to workout this week due to my work schedule and taking care of the kids. It left me feeling disappointed and lethargic because I didn’t get any “me time” nor was I able to de-stress. Would it be okay if I went to the gym this weekend for a couple of hours?”
Obviously, you can trade out “Honey” for your partners name, or whatever endearment you normally call them—the premise is still the same. (This kind of communication is also best done when tempers are not flared.) And, this isn’t just about communicating with our partners. This strategy works with bosses, parents, siblings, etc. At the end of the day our negative emotions are often tied to our own misunderstanding of our universal needs and our lack of empathetic communication.
Of course, getting your partners to listen with empathy and NVC is a whole other story, but I am going to stop here. If you want to learn more about NVC, you can click here.
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