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A Safe Space to Share

You love sharing your experiences with your partner.  You want him or her to hear and understand your experience of life, what touches you deeply and what scares you.  You remember how at the beginning of your relationship there was an intimate flow back and forth, you both shared so much.


And then, something changed, maybe you don't quite know when or how, but your current experience is a sense of distance.  You feel lonely in your own world and disconnected from your partner's world.  You try to share, but you don't see a response in his or her face.  You feel yourself retreat or talk louder or faster hoping to engage him or her.  


Then you become angry and critical.  Either in your thoughts or out loud there is a paragraph that sounds something like this; "Why can't you take an interest in me?!  Is it so hard to show some emotion, ask a question, or show me that you understand?!  You did it before.  You're just holding back on purpose.  I guess you don't want to be close. Maybe we are just too different."


In your own sense of disappointment, anger, and reactivity, you try to get your partner to engage by alternately criticizing, convincing, talking more, and withdrawing.  This doesn't work so well.  Finding your center and starting from a different place requires humility and mindful intention.  


Humility

If you could analyze and suss out all the reasons that you and your partner aren't sharing in a way that creates intimacy for you, you would have volumes and volumes compiled and still no greater intimacy.  The reasons we miss each other in connection are many and complex and knowing them doesn't particularly help.  Thinking you know them typically makes things worse.  Let yourself be humble in the face of this complex web of causality.  Admitting that you can't solve this with analysis helps you to let go of assigning blame and getting angry about how things should or shouldn't be.


Mindfulness

Direct your attention toward what's happening with compassion and gentleness.  First, notice when you are criticizing, convincing, talking more, or withdrawing or when you start to feel disconnected.  As soon as you notice this (that is, don't wait for 10 minutes to go by hoping something will change!), pause, and ask yourself, "What do I want to create right now?"  Focus on the felt sense of your longing for sharing until the sense of this longing is more noticeable than the hurt, anger or impatience.


Then make a request, offer an appreciation, or invitation from this place of longing.  Requests that create a safe place for sharing sound something like this:

  • I'd love to share about my day and hear about yours.  Is this a good time or would after dinner be better?

  • I'm curious what comes up for you as you hear me?

  • It helps me to have a sense of connection when I get some sort of verbal sign.  Would you be willing to give me a yeah, or u-huh if you are understanding me?

  • Hearing you ask me questions about my experience really gives me a sense that you care.  Is that something you could do as I share?

  • When I tell you I am feeling sick, it's so comforting just to hear you say something like, "I'm sorry you're not feeling well."

  • When you look out the window as I'm talking, I make up a story that I'm boring you.  Could you help me understand what's happening for you?

  • Sweetie, did you hear me?  I'm looking for a response.

  • When you are silently taking in what I say, I get nervous that you have drifted away.  Could you let me know you are still processing?


Appreciations & Invitations

  • I know sharing with words is more my thing than yours.  So I appreciate your willingness to take time to share this way.  I get that you care about our connection.

  • I'd like to hear anything about your experience, nothing is too small.

  • What else?

  • So you're feeling (insert feeling guess here)?

  • Let me see if I get it..(reflect back what you heard).  Is that right?

  • I hear that you value (guess a need), yeah?

  • Take all the time you need (to formulate thoughts and words).

  • (Offer affection while you are listening like hand holding, foot rub, cuddling, etc.).


A safe space to share is something that is created over time as you consistently offer these requests, appreciations, and invitations.  Consistent, in this case, means that these things become a regular part of nearly every conversation.  


Practice

This week watch for little moments of disconnect and pay special attention to what you do with that disconnect.  Likely you engage in one of the behaviors mentioned above (criticizing, convincing, talking more, or withdrawing).  For this first week of practice just focus on catching yourself in this behavior and then breathing into the longing underneath until you can feel it fully.


Once you have cultivated more mindfulness around that part, study the list of requests, appreciations, and invitations above and begin practicing them.  Let your partner know about your new practice and hope to create a safe space for sharing.

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Why Words Don’t Help


2 Responses

  1. Apr 10, 2014

    Hi, LaShelle ~~

    I'm inspired to comment here on a few points. One, I believe it is exactly my analysis of myself and my partner that has enabled me to let go of blame and anger, at both of us, for our disconnections. I am viewing the use of the NVC model as a form of analysis. As we teach and learn NVC to use our intelligence to understand our reactivity and respond mindfully, is that not analysis? Am I getting hung up on words? :-)

    And, I'm doing a lot of thinking these days about the absence of attention in NVC teaching to the possibilities that a person might have limited capability for connection/ compassion/ empathy. Emotional /physical (we know more all the time that these are not separate) brain damage or other trauma may not be reparable. If a person identifies themselves as damaged, then perhaps new skills can be learned; but if they don't, then are we not more compassionate to simply accept them as they are, and make our self-empathic choices accordingly?

    My work with limited-functioning yet extremely sensitive people is being an incredible crucible for my practice of NVC; an almost constant reminding to notice my own reactivity, and to be empathic of theirs. Would love to hear your thoughts on any of this!

  2. Apr 10, 2014

    Yeah, I think we are probably disconnecting on semantics. I mostly am pointing to the way I see folks go in circles with analysis but not experience real change. I wonder if what you are referring to in your relationship is more akin to insight and observation.

    Accepting folks as they are is the ground for transformation. Getting stuck on idea of what that transformation "should" look like is the snag I think I hear you referring to.

    Thanks for your thoughtfulness here.

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