Monday, January 2, 2012

Did You Marry a Friend or Foe?

I did a session this week with a couple who have learned the language of NVC, but were missing the starting point of the violence: the assumption that the person you are talking to is an enemy.

Obviously, we marry people we feel friendly towards. That happens to also be the starting assumption of any non-violent, compassionate communication.

It creates tons of slack - we listen using what I call the “Best Possible Interpretation.” If your new love says, “Jeeze, you’re such a bitch!” you assume they mean your are really assertive and you feel appreciated and respected. If they say, “I’m gonna take you out an buy you a new shirt” you think, “Oh goodie, a gift!”

The whole time you use LOVE as your guiding assumption of their motives, it’s really fun no matter what they say or do. We call this the Infatuation Stage - it’s stage one.

Then, when your relationship transitions into stage two, the Conflict Stage; you switch more and more of your motivation from LOVE to FEAR, and eventually, imperceptibly, your significant-other shifts from friend to competitor to enemy. This is accompanied by a shift from “Best Possible Interpretation” to “Worst.”

Suddenly, black becomes white, and white black. Now, if your love calls you a bitch, you assume they are being really, really mean. And if they say, “I’m gonna take you out an buy you a new shirt” you think, “They hate the way I dress!”

Each of the parties in the couple I was working with had pretty much changed everything that they were going to change to suit their partner. What was left was the actual difference that they had invited into their lives by picking this particular person. The other change they had made, was from lovers to competitors, and when things got heated, they made it all the way to enemies.

They both now know enough NVC to know that when their partner is angry, that’s just the frustration that comes when one of your needs isn’t getting met. But they couldn’t figure out what to do about that, because when your enemy is angry, it’s just a drag; it doesn’t seem like it would be fun to help them out.

So I took a turn “being” each of their partners. I said the same thing that their partner said that consistently made them angry, and when they responded angrily, I opened my heart and let my concern for my friend to spread through my body, and express itself through my words.

Same anger, same relationship, same issues. I just modeled what it feels like to be received as a friend, instead of an enemy.

They turned and looked at each other with renewed interest. Instead of issues and anger, the relationship suddenly came back into relief.

The relief that comes from relating with a friend.

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