If I hadn't witnessed this myself, I'd say, sure, that's all it took?
In the past month, I have had the pleasure of working with a couple who were seeking some help in saving their marriage. I offered to teach them a few communication skills based on
Nonviolent Communication (Compassionate Communication), the work of Marshall Rosenberg, PhD.
When they came to me, they told me that they've been married 23 years and that they love each other. They were just so tired of arguing that they were ready to give up and move on. I was happy to share what I know about NVC because I believe that understanding and accepting the basic principles went a long way to saving my marriage in 2008 and since. In the years that followed my introduction to NVC, I have had hours and hours of training and hours of teaching it in a multi-week workshop with Bren Hardt, a certified trainer. I currently participate in three practice groups. I would have thought that change for newcomers to NVC might not happen until after several hours of training. This couple proved me wrong.
On our first meeting, I described the basic principles of NVC:
We all have the same needs.
Everyone's needs matter equally.
We are all doing the best we can, with the strategies we know, to get these needs met.
Our conflicts arise from the strategies that we use (not from "who we are").
When we can find the needs behind the strategies we can connect and work together to find new strategies that are supportive of everyone's needs.
There are other principles, but I stopped there to let these sink in and see if they agreed with these statements. Then I listened carefully to the strategies they use to communicate. I was searching for what needs might be behind their most typical arguments.
I guessed that the needs to be heard and the need for safety were in conflict with the strategies each were employing. I asked them individually if these were the needs behind their strategies and they shared an "aha" moment. We sat quietly for a while, slowly unpacking the strategies and how each one had relied on that for years and how the physical appearance of these triggered the other.
I gave them a homework assignment to simply put the list of needs in prominent places in the house or to carry it around. I asked them to notice their body sensations that alert them that something is triggering a feeling of an unmet need and ask them to get use to identifying that need. I asked them to come up with a signal, even if they cannot verbally respond to each other, just to let the other know that they are being heard, they just might need time before responding. Next we discussed the technique of reflective listening. This is a practice that is best done when the person reflecting the other person is calm and genuinely wants to connect.
This has been very helpful in working with toddlers and teenagers too. My guess is, anyone, that really values being heard and struggles to get that need met would benefit from the listener using this technique.
I was so inspired by the connection they had in hearing and accepting the basis of NVC. Within an hour of meeting them for the first time, I witnessed them sharing hope and inspiration. They told me that they had argued 3 times on the way to that appointment. A week later after practicing and getting familiar with their own needs and each other's, they told me they hadn't argued since.
We continue to meet periodically and we'll work on transforming some of the core beliefs that are responsible for common triggers. We just wanted to share this in case it can inspire others to take the time and make a commitment to allow NVC to open doors. Maybe an hour of looking at your current strategies and learning new ones can bring you closer to someone you love.
Life is too short to forget who you are,
fight with your partner,
yell at your kids,
or misunderstand your friends.
Grace in, peace out
for more information onNonviolent Communication, visit cnvc.org
Houston NVC Community, Power of Compassion, houstonnvc.org
The needs list shown at the top of this post comes from Jim and Jori Manske, certified NVC trainers. Visit their website at