But My Partner Doesn’t Want to Meet My Needs!
Recently a student said that Compassionate Communication (NVC) assumes that each person cares about the other's needs and if that's not there, it won't work. It's true that NVC is based on the premise that your natural state is one of compassion and therefore you naturally care about others' needs. If this weren't true, NVC would have died out in its first few weeks of life. The second part of this premise is where things get tricky. It says that you can only access this natural state of compassion when a particular quality of connection is formed.
Creating this particular quality of connection is where the practice and effort with mindfulness and the consciousness, skills, and framework of compassionate communication is essential. In other words, if you are working hard to meet your partner's needs, and it seems to you that she or he doesn't make much effort to meet yours, then the first question to ask is: "Is there anything I can do or ask my partner to do so that we have a quality connection that allows our natural state of compassion to flow?"
To answer this question it helps to understand the foundation of this particular quality of connection. It rests on the following:
Both partners have and sense that they can be heard and seen without judgment. This means that hearing each other with empathy is a priority in the relationship. It also means, that differences are honored and talked about rather than perceived as a threat and becoming the trigger for convincing, criticizing, and minimizing.
There is a basic sense of safety. This means that you trust each other to manage reactivity so that it doesn't get expressed through blame, judgment, anger storms, and analysis of each other.
There is a solid sense of trust. This means you keep agreements, little ones like showing up on time and big ones like having the courage to be honest around difficult situations and communicate about your needs and requests. When you are giving your partner the benefit of the doubt in a confusing situation, it likely means that this trust is present. In the larger sense, trust is earned when you see each other living consistently according to a shared set of values.
To maintain a sense of mutual respect, you set boundaries early and often.* This might be the hardest part. It requires you to know deeply that you are worthy of respect. This knowing enables you to find the courage to speak up and let your partner know when an action doesn't meet your need for respect. So much so, that you are willing to interrupt the harmony of the moment to let your partner know that he or she has just crossed a boundary or to end the relationship if your partner is unwilling to work with you around respect for boundaries.
If you find yourself defending, justifying, pleading, apologizing, blaming, when there is a difficulty with your partner, then it likely means a part of you is pretty insecure about your own sense of worth. Somewhere in the background there is a part of you that's not sure if you are really a good person worthy of respect. This means it's time to get some support around anchoring yourself in the truth of your own innate goodness.
Reading all this you might be thinking to yourself, "Yeah, I know all this, but it's my partner who needs to change". Of course you can't force your partner to make an effort to change in any of these areas. You can only do your own work, not in hopes of changing your partner, but simply to be responsible and integrity with your own values. When you are thorough in your efforts to prioritize listening with empathy, create safety by managing your own reactivity, build trust by making and keeping agreements, and set boundaries to maintain respect, your partner will either be inspired to make an effort to meet you, or you will be able to end the relationship knowing that you did the best you could.
If you only stayed in a relationship when all of the bullet points above were completely fulfilled, you might end up never having a partner. The point isn't to be perfectly fulfilled in these areas. The practice is simply to pay attention and make an effort toward cultivating empathy, safety, trust, and respect every day.