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Asking the Impossible vs. Do-able Requests

You have been very clear with your partner. You let her or him know that when s/he uses that particular tone of voice you get triggered and could hear her or him much better if s/he was willing to speak in a respectful way. And yet, a tense moment comes up and there's that tone. How many times do you have to ask?!

This is a common story I hear in working with couples.In this example, you can substitute tone of voice for any habitual or reactive behavior that you don't want your partner to do.The request is clear and often even connected to feelings and needs, but it is not do-able.

First, it is request about what you don't want, rather than what you do want.Second, it addresses a behavior that's a part of habit energy and reactivity, which is not something someone can typically change immediately.

If your partner has a reactive behavior that is difficult for you, you have a few choices.

One, you can let your partner know that you have no ability to work with it and thus will end the relationship if it is expressed again.This sometimes happens in the case of physically violent behaviors.In the best case scenario, your honesty and the value of the relationship inspires your partner to get help that allows him or her to change.

Two, you can ask your partner to do something specific to help prevent the behavior.This might sound like this:

  • "When you are feeling angry would you be willing to take ten deep breaths before interacting with me?"
  • "When you are feeling defensiveness about what I am expressing, would you be willing to ask me to say it in a different way?"
  • "When you are wanting to let me know that something I did didn't meet your needs, would you be willing to start by describing your need rather than my behavior?"
  • "Would you be willing to practice NVC once a day by celebrating the needs we met for each other at the end of each day?"
Three, you can offer to do something specific with your own reactivity to their behavior.It might sound like this:
  • "When I hear you speak in that tone of voice, I am going to remind myself that I am not a little kid in trouble anymore, that this is just you feeling upset and trying to connect with me."
  • "When I perceive that you are criticizing me, I am going to call for a time-out until I can come back and hear the feelings and needs behind your words."
Four, the two of you can come together to help change the behavior.This might sound like this:
  • "When either of us starts to feel reactive, s/he can use the time-out signal and we will sit silently for three minutes internally doing self-empathy."
  • "When either of us starts to feel disconnected, s/he can ask for a slow down and use the list of feelings and needs."
  • "Once a day we will have a check-in for at least 20 minutes.During the check-in we will start and end with a celebration and in the middle talk about any little disconnects we experienced with each other that day."
  • "On Saturday morning before the kids get up, I will give you empathy for ten minutes about anything alive for you.You will do the same for me on Sunday morning."
Take a moment now to reflect on something your partner does that triggers you.Come up with three requests regarding it:one for yourself, one for your partner, and something the two of you could do that would prevent or skillfully interrupt that behavior.

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3 Responses

  1. Oct 05, 2009
    Robert Finkelman

    Very helpful, LaShelle. Thank you. I want to wish you well in whatever is next for you. Is there someone else doing the Non-Violent Commmunication you feel comfortable with in recommending who is in the Portland Area? I give referrals for couples when their issues exceed my skill level. Blessings, Robert, LPC

  2. Oct 05, 2009
    Robert Finkelman

    Couldn't tell if I'm subscribed, even for 1-2 months would be great. Blessings, Robert Finkelman

  3. Oct 05, 2009

    Dear Robert,

    I will make sure you are on my subscriber list.

    Sure, here is someone I am referring couples to that I have a lot of faith in. She is not NVC trained.

    Jessica Montgomery 503-449-4978

    This person also works with couples and has NVC training:

    Jim Hussey 503 740-7074

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