The Relationship Score Card
Have you ever felt confused about the difference between maintaining a sense of mutuality and keeping a score card about who did what for whom in your relationship?
When you are first learning Compassionate Communication (NVC), it is important to learn how to get specific about observations, feelings, needs, and requests. Doing this decreases reactivity, supports self-responsibility, and provides clarity and connection. Unfortunately, learning to be specific can sometimes morph into keeping score.
When you notice yourself, keeping a tally of how many things you did for your partner and how many things s/he did for you or saying if-then statements like, "if you do this with me, then I will do that other thing for you; you might be headed toward score keeping.
The purpose of NVC is not to get your partner to meet your needs. The purpose is to create a quality of connection that inspires a natural giving from the heart. NVC is based on the assumption that, in our hearts, we all want to contribute to life.
My guess is that the number one reason you start a relationship score card is that you are attempting to meet your partner's needs from a place of obligation, avoiding conflict, fear of not being loved, desire to win approval, or from feelings of guilt. Acting from any of these means you have lost connection with your own heart and your need to contribute.
Here are some ways you can find your way back to a truly mutual relationship rather than a relationship score card.
- Take a look at your thinking. Are there critical voices lurking about? They might sound something like this: "My partner should . . . ", "S/he gets to do that and I don't.", "S/he never (always) . . . " Take each of these voices one at a time and identify the feelings and needs behind them.
- Check in with your own needs. Have you been sacrificing your needs? If so, how can you begin to meet your needs more consistently, whether in or outside of the relationship.
- Spend more time focusing on met needs. Make a list of the needs that are met in your life right now and what you and others did that helped make that possible.
- Take time each day to tell your partner what you appreciate about them (how they are meeting needs).
- Take time to look at your partner from a distance. That is, remember to see them outside of the role of "your partner" (or the toxic idea of someone who is supposed to meet your needs) but rather as a person on their own path. It might be helpful to remind yourself of their unique qualities, personal history, challenges, strengths, values, passions, etc.
Perhaps the most essential underlying principal here is staying grounded in choice. You get to choose moment by moment how you show up in your relationship. If you hear yourself say "I'm trapped" or "I have to", know that that is actually about an unwillingness to face the cost of a particular choice or simply a lack of support around how to meet needs in a new way. Your partner is also completely at choice. They don't owe you anything. You hope they know themselves well enough to make and keep agreements from their truth and heart, and yet they can freely choose to break any agreement. The question isn't, "What is your partner supposed to do?" The question is about what you choose to do in face of what your partner offers and does not offer. Only you know what is an integrous choice for you. Let this integrity guide giving and receiving in your relationship.
Take a few moments now to reflect on situations or decisions in which you notice a sense of demand, desperation, resentment, or anger regarding your partner's choices. Identify your feelings and needs with regard to these situations and discern how you would respond if you trusted your needs could be met without your partner and if you deeply respected for your partner's autonomy.