Preferred Strategies in Relationship Negotiable & Non-negotiable
Sincere and deep love, care, and commitment doesn't necessarily make a relationship work for you. If you are a long time student of Compassionate Communication you know that shared respect and mutual understanding of needs can go a long way towards finding harmonious strategies that meet both you and your partner's needs. Yet it is still important to honor the core ways in which you nourish yourself. Sometimes there are preferred strategies for meeting needs that neither you nor your partner are willing to give up. This isn't a bad thing. When you find particular strategies that deeply contribute to your thriving, it's reasonable that you would want to keep engaging those.
For example, if you know that you are rejuvenated by spending most of your free time doing art and hanging out at home in a quiet relaxed way and your partner is rejuvenated by spending most of her time doing extreme sports, it might be hard to find enough time in a week in which you can bond and enjoy intimacy. Not finding this time is pretty hard on the relationship regardless of how much you care for each other. If your relationship hinders these core ways you nourish yourself, things get even more difficult
Coming from a foundation of honesty, mutual respect and care, there are no "shoulds" about what to expect or not expect of your partner. You get to choose the kind of challenges you are willing to work through with a partner, and those you are not willing to meet. You get ask for what you want and how you want it (strategies to meet needs). Sometimes the hard part is finding the confidence and courage to be honest about what does and doesn't work for you. While your own misinterpretations of your partner's behavior can create a lot of suffering, it is also true that certain behaviors impact you in a negative way (don't meet your needs) regardless of whether you are clear about your partner's intention or not.
The key to communicating what works for you and what doesn't work for you is to make a distinction between those behaviors that are deal breakers (these might be things like physical abuse, drug addiction, name calling, etc.) and those that you are willing to work with as they arise. For example, let's say you tell your partner that raising her voice in anger at you, is not a deal breaker, but is something you have very little energy to practice with because the impact on you is so painful. In communicating this it's important to include 3 basic elements:
1. Dialogue when you can both find a centered and spacious time.
2. Help your partner understand the impact that raising her voice in anger at you has on you. Describe what happens in your body, heart, mind. Name your feelings and needs. Be careful here that you don't slip into trying to convince your partner how wrong she is or how right you are. Stay with a description of your experience. Bring your partner into your experiential world. This gives rise to empathy and compassion and de-escalates defensiveness.
3. If your partner is willing to practice with the behavior you name, make a specific do-able plan for what you will do the next time it happens. Here is a specific do-able plan you might propose given our example: "The next time I perceive you raising your voice at me in anger and I am getting overwhelmed, I will put my hand my heart as a signal to pause. In that pause we could each take three deep breaths before beginning the dialogue again. When we begin again, would you be willing to begin with a lower the volume of your voice?"
Take a moment now to reflect on your relationship. Is there something that your partner is doing that negatively impacts you and you have not yet shared about? Notice what is happening as you let more time go by without addressing this behavior. Are you closing down? Are looking for ways to be out of the house more often? Are you making passive aggressive comments? Are tip-toeing around your partner hoping not to trigger the behavior?
Use the three elements above to guide you in making a plan to talk to your partner.