NVC in Action: Suppertime
(Time to read: ~7 minutes)
In my experience, one of the most powerful uses of NVC is in helping me find ways to meet my own needs when other people are unable or unwilling to make changes that would better meet my needs.
This piece is a celebration of John’s self-empowering use of NVC in a challenging aspect of our relationship, where I have not consistently made the choices that he would prefer.
In my experience, in all relationships there are a few core situations that come up over and over again, in which the people involved find it very challenging to meet everyone’s needs.
Some ways of understanding these situations suggest that this is because they relate to “core wounds”. I prefer NVC’s perspective – that we simply haven’t yet come up with strategies that work for everyone in those situations.
Which often means that we haven’t yet uncovered and understood all the needs at play in the situation. This invites us to
- Understand all the needs that are “up” for each person in the situation, and then
- Exercise our creativity now to find new ways of meeting them in the current situation.
One ongoing challenge in the relationship between John and I relates to the timing of supper.
John is the chef in our family and prepares our evening meal.
My office is five floors below where we live, in a multi-unit loft building. It takes about 7 minutes for me to walk from door to door.
So theoretically, from the moment than John calls and says that supper is ready, I should be able to be there within 10 minutes.
But consistently John was finding that this was not happening. Fifteen, 20, even 30 minutes or more would go by and I would still not be there.
Now of course I “should” have been. I know that and so does he. If I am fortunate enough to have someone willing to prepare a meal to share with me, I “should” be willing to immediately jump up the minute they call, as an expression of my appreciation.
And John and I talked about it, and I set repeated intentions to do this. And still it didn’t always happen.
So John had some choices. He could simply accept that “that’s life”, perhaps with some corollaries like “you can’t trust other people”, or perhaps the more personal “Glenda is thoughtless and inconsiderate”, perhaps with the softening addition “when it comes to mealtimes”.
He could simply choose to go ahead and eat by himself when the food was ready and let me eat the food cold whenever I arrived.
I think he did try that a few times, and my experience was that I arrived and stayed in good humour – expressing appreciation for the food and his preparing it, regret for my delay in arriving, and offering empathy for his needs not met by my choice to continue working after he called.
John Using NVC
1) My experience is that John started by becoming aware of the judgments he was holding of me and himself. Such judgments form a wall that keep us from understanding and accepting the reality of what is currently happening.
(Things like “She is thoughtless and inconsiderate. She should come up when I say it is ready. She should do what she says she will do.” and “I’m a wimp – I shouldn’t sit around waiting for her. I should be able to get her to honour her word.”)
2) Then he got clear about what needs these thoughts were bringing to his attention. For example:
- Care and respect
- Self-care and self-respect
- Pleasure (eating the food when it is most tasty & hot)
3) He sat with these needs, feeling the pain of their not being consistently met in this situation, until the pain melted into connection with the beauty of the needs he was wanting more fully met in this situation.
This is such a key part of the NVC process – supporting us to shift our energy from constricted and “negative” with a flavour of hopelessness; to being hopeful, expansive and “positive”. It is this energetic shift that allows us to expand our creativity to find new ways to handle situations that haven’t worked in the past – new ways that will be more satisfying.
4) Next John got clear about what needs he was seeking to meet by waiting to eat until I arrived, however long that took:
5) Then, he made some guesses about what needs I was seeking to meet when I didn’t come when he called:
- Ease, Flow (by completing the task I was working on)
- Peace of mind (knowing the task was finished)
- Contribution (the contribution I was hoping to meet through the task I was completing)
I think we may have talked about these in an earlier conversation, as well as my recognition and regret about the needs I am not meeting (e.g., integrity, care, consideration). And I know that he wants these needs to be met – for me and for himself.
6) Then he thought about what he could do that would better meet all of his own needs (including both connection and warmth, and predictability, pleasure, self-care and self-respect).
It has taken some trial and error, but this is what he has come up with so far that seems to be working:
- Checking in with me before he starts preparing supper for anything that may affect when I will be available to eat, so he can make most effective use of his time.
- Calling me again when he reaches a pause-point in food preparation, where there is 10-15 minutes more preparation to be done.
- At this point, asking me to call him when I am going out the door.
An Analysis of John’s Choices
There is so much that I recognize and appreciate in John’s choices around this challenging situation.
- Self-empowerment – John is not holding himself hostage to my inability to estimate time accurately and my desire to cram as much activity as possible into every day. He is not waiting for me to learn how to act in more fully needs-meeting ways. He is recognizing and accepting the reality of the situation, and determining what he can do to meet his own needs.
- “Reality” – I haven’t seen this word on any needs list, but for me it is an important part of being able to meet our needs: to be aware of and accept what is actually happening (and not happening) in a situation – not to hope or wish that it will magically never happen again.
- Compassion – For me, this is a very clear example of compassion in action. In John’s recognizing and accepting my current learning edges (the places where I don’t yet know how to meet all my needs), and seeking ways to meet his own needs in spite of this, I experience great compassion.
Another thing I appreciate about this example is that it helps to dispel one of the myths that people sometimes hold about NVC – that it is all about having conversations with other people, and how to make requests that they will say “yes” to.
Again, in my experience, one of the most powerful uses of NVC is in helping me find ways to meet my own needs when other people are unable or unwilling to make changes that would better meet my needs.
Is there somewhere in your life that could benefit from that powerful combination of self-empowerment, “reality”, and compassion?
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Would you appreciate some support in finding strategies that are self-empowering, accepting of current realities, as well as compassionate? Perhaps I can help. Click here to learn about some options.