NVC in Action: Car Conflict
(Time to read: ~ 9 minutes – I send one long one about every 2 months)
For me, NVC is about finding ways to meet my needs in more and more situations in my life – ways that also meet the needs of the other people involved. Because only when the other people’s needs are also met will my needs get met and stay met.
Therefore, every conflict presents me with the opportunity to learn how to meet more of my needs more of the time. And I get to choose which learning opportunities I choose to work with. The following is one that I chose to work with.
I’ve marked some key principles of NVC in orange, and what I would imagine saying in blue.
Generally, John and I get up each morning, work independently for a while, and then go for a walk, generally between 9 and 10 am. This includes a 15-minute drive to our favourite walk location, a boardwalk on the edge of Lake Ontario.
I woke up much later than usual today, at 8:15. When I checked in with John about walking, he told me that he needed to leave at 9 am with the car for a meeting.
What I thought and felt:
Felt: Angry, hurt, disappointed
Initial Thoughts: “He should have told me yesterday he needed to leave earlier than our usual walk ending time.”
What I said:
At first, nothing – so I wouldn’t share my initial thoughts which I knew would not be connecting.
What I did internally:
Let my thoughts run until I was willing to empathize with myself and ask myself what was important to me.
The thoughts eventually included “I should have paid more attention and asked for more specific details yesterday when he mentioned he had this meeting today.”
When I asked myself what was important to me right now:
1. Having a pleasurable connection with John
2. Walking on the boardwalk / in a natural setting
Then I thought about ways I could meet these needs.
Ways I Could Meet My Needs
Connecting with John – Possibilities
Stay in the kitchen with him, with the intention to connect?
I wasn’t confident that I was in an emotional place to connect in the way I’d like. And, based on my past experience, I wasn’t confident that there would be time to connect with John in the way I enjoy before he left, because he’d be very focused on preparing for the meeting. So this didn’t seem likely to be a needs-meeting strategy.
Do what I could to put myself in a happy state of mind by 9 am when he was leaving, to support us in briefly connecting pleasurably before he left?
This felt much more likely to create the positive connection experience I was wanting. One thing that helps me a lot to shift my emotional experience is to walk in a natural setting, so I shifted my attention to how I could do that.
Walking in a natural setting – Possibilities
I looked at the clock. If I left now, I could have 15 minutes on the boardwalk. That would be enough of a walk to help me shift to a happier emotional state.
What I said to John (some minutes later):
“Would you be willing to have me leave now and take the car to the boardwalk with the intention of being back by 9?”
John’s response was “Yes”.
What happened next:
I went downstairs to get ready to go. By the time I was really ready to go it was 8:30 am. I realized that I would just have time to drive to the boardwalk and back – no time for walking.
I felt disappointed – and I knew I had some other time windows in the day that I could walk. So for now I focused on thinking about what else I could do that would help to keep me in the happier place I’d gotten to when I imagined walking on the boardwalk.
I decided I could focus first on doing my stretches – which helps to make my body more comfortable and thus makes any walk more enjoyable. And then I could walk around one of my favourite nearby blocks that contains some trees and flowers.
Next I thought about whether there was anything else I needed to do to ensure that pleasurable connection with John before he left?
I realized I wanted to do two things: first, check that he was planning on coming down and connecting with me before he left (as he often does, but not always), and secondly, let him know that I wasn’t going to the boardwalk – that the car would be in the parking lot whenever he was ready to go.
This seemed important to support his peace of mind (and thus the pleasurable connection I was wanting with him), because I have not always been very good at estimating how long things take, and thus honouring our time agreements. So I called him and said:
“I’ve realized I don’t have time to go to the boardwalk and have the car back by 9:00, so I’m not going to take it – it will be in the parking lot whenever you’re ready to go.
(Pause to allow him to take in the information and make any response he wished.)
And it would be really meaningful to me to see you before you go. Would you be willing to stop here on your way out to have a hug?”
His response was something along the lines of “Thank you for letting me know. And yes, I’ll stop by before I leave.”
I did my stretches until he came down and we had a hug and wished each other an enjoyable day. Then he left.
My Intentions for Future:
While I did the best I could to meet my needs within the realities of this morning’s situation, I would prefer to have more options in future. So, while I was stretching, I also thought about what I could do in future to help ensure that.
Ask John if he would be willing to let me know the night before if he needs to leave, with or without the car, before 10 am.
I think I have made this request in the past, and I think John said yes. Which I take to mean that he will do the best he can to do this, and he may sometimes not remember, and I may sometimes not hear it when he does.
I decided I would like to make this request and find out if he is still willing to do this – even if he agreed to this in the past, things might have changed.
But if this is my only strategy, it puts the responsibility for meeting my needs onto him, which isn’t in alignment with my values. I view that it is my responsibility to meet my needs. So what could I do to take responsibility for this?
I could ask him the night before whether he has anything on that would involve him and/or the car being gone before 10 am, and write it in my calendar for the next morning.
If he does, then strategize with him about whether it seems realistic for us to be able to walk together on the boardwalk, and what I would need to do to support that. If walking together doesn’t seem feasible, then strategize about whether it seems realistic for me to walk on the boardwalk by myself and still support him in having the car when he needs it. If not, then figure out what I need to do to take care of myself around exercise and connection with nature.
Talking with John about the Future:
Some things I have learned about having pleasurable and satisfying connections with John when I share requests are:
To start by sharing what is important to me that I believe is important to him too. (e.g., a common need)
To share with him the requests I’m making of myself to help meet my own needs next, before I make any requests of him. So he knows I’m taking responsibility for meeting my own needs.
To make any requests to him last. And to immediately ask how that sounds to him.
If he doesn’t seem willing to do what I ask, not to argue with that, but to ask him if there is anything he’d be willing to do that he thinks will help achieve our common need.
If I have reservations about his strategy, to consider trying what he proposes and see what happens. After all, it is my responsibility to meet my needs around this – he only needs to help if he really wants to. So he should get to choose what he is and isn’t willing to do about that.
So how I would imagine this conversation might go:
“John, I really enjoy connecting with you in the morning by walking on the boardwalk. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to do that today. Would you be willing to explore ways to help avoid that in future, when we can?”
I’m guessing John will say “Yes.”
“Something I’d like to do is to check with you each day at suppertime about whether you and/or the car need to be gone before 10 the next day. Then figure out if it’s still possible for us to walk, or at least for me to walk before you need to go. Would that work for you?”
John might say yes, or he might say he doesn’t like the idea of doing it at supper – he might prefer before supper, after supper or before bedtime. My goal would be to come up with a way that I can get the information I want in a way that also works for him. Once we’d done that, I would consider whether I’d still like to make the next request of him. If the answer is yes, I might express it this way:
“I want to take responsibility for getting the information that’s important to me. And sometimes I might forget, especially if we go a long time on our usual routine. So I’m wondering, as a backup, if you’d be willing to intend to let me know as soon as you schedule a meeting for that time, so I can put it in my book? Either phone me or send me an email? And intend to remind me the night before if I don’t ask?”
I’m actually making two requests here. As John responds, I want to be listening for what’s important to him, and figuring out how we can honour that, as well as what is important to me.
So, for example, if he says “I don’t like the idea of doing that at supper.” I might want to either guess what about that doesn’t work for him, or another time that would work better. For example, “Is that because you’d like our suppertime to be focused on what’s alive for us right now?” or “Would after supper work better for you?”
Or he might be willing to intend to let me know when he books something that would require an alteration in our walk schedule, but not be willing to try and remind me if I forget to ask.
Again, if John is willing to support me on this, my goal is to come up with a way of doing that that works for both of us. And if he is not willing to support me on this, for me to come up with other strategies that will meet my needs.
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