If you would like to build strong and healthy romantic relationships, Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a brilliant place to start.
Also known as Compassionate Communication, NVC is a way to communicate with respect and empathy. It helps us to understand and meet everybody’s deepest needs. It is not about ‘winning,’ blaming, or changing the other person.
This article will give you some examples of Non-Violent Communication for couples, so you can create unbreakable intimacy and resolve conflict in a way that makes your relationship even stronger.
How does Nonviolent Communication work?
NVC was developed by Dr Marshall Rosenburg. This compassionate approach to communication includes the following 4 steps:
- Observing instead of evaluating
- Stating your feelings
- Expressing your needs
- Making a request
Let’s take a look at some examples for each of these steps!
Examples of Nonviolent Communication
1. Observing Instead Of Evaluating
‘Observing’ means that you simply state what you see, instead of judging or evaluating it. It involves thinking dialectically. Or in other words, thinking from a more flexible or neutral perspective.
‘You’re always late!’ would be an evaluation.
Instead, you could try saying: ‘We agreed to leave the house at 9 am, but it’s 9.30 am now.’
Stating facts instead of making sweeping generalizations can prevent you from making unfair statements. Your partner will be less likely to feel defensive, so you can have a constructive conversation instead of an argument.
By observing, we try to avoid making assumptions.
‘You’re not listening to me!’, would be an assumption (and an evaluation!)
An observation would be, ‘I can see that you are texting on your phone while I am speaking to you.’
Another aspect of observing is asking clarifying questions instead of telling your partner how they feel. This will help you to understand your partner better.
Instead of saying:
‘You’re getting angry again.’
You could say:
‘I can see that your arms are crossed, and you are clenching your jaw. Am I right in thinking you’re angry?’
Your partner might respond:
‘Yes, I am angry.’
Or they might say:
‘No, I’m not angry. I’m nervous.’
Clarifying questions help you to understand better, so you can find the best way forward for everyone.
2. Stating Your Feelings
Once you’ve made your observation, you can state your feelings. Here are three examples based on the examples discussed above.
‘We agreed to leave the house at 9 am, but it’s 9.30 am now. I feel anxious.’
‘I can see that you are texting on your phone while I am speaking to you. I feel overlooked.’
‘I can see that your arms are crossed, and you are clenching your jaw. I feel threatened.’
Notice that stating the feelings started with ‘I feel..’ and not ‘You are…’
The difference is subtle but powerful. The following statements would be blaming/criticizing rather than stating feelings:
- You make me feel anxious
- You’re overlooking me
- You are frightening me
By taking the ‘you’ out of it, your partner will find it much easier to hear what you have to say without going into defensive mode.
3. Expressing Your Needs
After observing what you see and stating your feeling, it’s time to express your need. Be careful, though.
What we think we need is often just a strategy we use to get what we really need.
You don’t need your partner to do the washing up every day. You might need to feel like you’re in a fair and equal partnership.
You don’t need your partner to come with you on a walk. You might need to feel a sense of companionship.
So, find the need within your need. You might be surprised by the solutions you uncover!
Here some examples to help you understand how to express your needs:
‘We agreed to leave the house at 9 am, but it’s 9.30 am now. I feel anxious. It’s important to me to support my sister. so I want to arrive in time to help out.’
‘I can see that you are texting on your phone while I am speaking to you. I feel overlooked, and I need to share my experience with someone.’
‘I can see that your arms are crossed, and you are clenching your jaw. I feel threatened, and I need to feel safe.’
4. Making A Request
Finally, it’s time to make a request.
(Remember, it’s a request, not a demand!)
It can be helpful to use the phrase: ‘Would you be willing to…’. Try to avoid words like ‘should,’ ‘must,’ or ‘ought to.’
‘We agreed to leave the house at 9 am, but it’s 9.30 am now. I feel anxious. It’s important to me to support my sister, so I want to arrive in time to help out. Would you be willing to finish weeding the garden later on so we can leave as soon as possible?’
‘I can see that you are texting on your phone while I am speaking to you. I feel overlooked, and I need to share this with someone. Would you be willing to put your phone away for the next 10 minutes and hear what I have to say?’
‘I can see that your arms are crossed, and you are clenching your jaw. I feel threatened, and I need to feel safe. Would you be willing to continue this conversation at a different time when we are both feeling calmer?’
It takes practice to communicate like this, and it will probably feel quite weird at first. That’s totally normal! With time, you will find it more accessible, and you might be pleasantly surprised how much stronger your relationship gets.
More Aspects to Non-Violent Communication
What I have described above is a Non Violent Communication tool. But there are so many more aspects to NVC as follows.
NVC is about listening to understand rather than just respond.
It means that we aren’t rehearsing what we will say or thinking about advice or solutions that we are going to offer.
We just listen, completely.
2. There are no Winners and Losers
Compassionate communication forgets about the idea of trying to win. Instead, we try to understand.
This means approaching every conservation (even the hard ones!) with an open mind. Be prepared to have your perception changed, and don’t assume you already know the best way to do or see something.
It’s not about deciding who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong.’ With NVC, we try to increase empathy and understanding and find solutions together. We aren’t trying to change anyone, put anyone down, or prove anything.
3. Positive Body Language
Communication goes far deeper than the words we say.
NVC encourages us to consider our body language. Eye rolling, head tossing, or making faces can all break down trust and empathy.
We try to be careful about how we physically react to the other person, allowing them to feel heard and respected.
What to do when nonviolent communication goes wrong?
Compassionate communication takes practice, so don’t worry if you don’t get it perfect all the time. The fact that you are trying to change your communication style means you have already made a significant step on the journey!
I’ve been trying my best to practice NVC with my husband for years, but I still slip into old habits.
For example, I came home from walking the dog last week, and I saw that my husband hadn’t done the washing-up that he had promised to do.
Without thinking, I said: ‘Seriously!? Why do you never help me with the washing up!?’
I should have said:
‘I see that the washing up still hasn’t been done, and I feel frustrated. I need help with the housework because I don’t have time to do it all on my own, and it’s important to me to live in a clean space. Would you be willing to help me by washing the dishes?’
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip up. We are only human, and it’s normal for our emotions to take over and push us into ‘reactivity’ mode.
Just apologize and correct yourself.
After my dish-washing attack on my husband, I took a deep breath and said.
‘I’m sorry. I appreciate that was an unhelpful way to talk to you about my needs. I didn’t mean to attack you, I was feeling upset, but I was wrong to lash out. Let me try that again!’
And then I said what I should have said to start with.
(Luckily, my husband is far better at NVC than I am. He just smiled and welcomed me to give it another go!)
To practice Non-Violent Communication, you have to forget about the idea of a ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’, or who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong.’ Instead of trying to dominate or change the other person, you aim to express your deepest needs in a way that is constructive and helpful.
You should also listen attentively, without planning your response or rushing to give advice.
It may need some practice, but Compassionate Communication can help us to build solid and long-lasting relationships where everyone feels respected and heard.