As I continue to reflect on my couple counselling sessions, the prevalent theme of emotional distress in couples beckons a deeper exploration into the roots of relationship pain.
Among the myriad of factors, unmet needs stand out as a recurring source of anguish. While the prospect of having our needs met is a fundamental allure of relationships, the reality often falls short of this ideal.
On the contrary, some individuals hold steadfast to the notion of ‘perfect, unconditional love.’ This idealised belief can breed distress when the perceived imperfections in the relationship create a stark contrast to the envisioned utopia.
The Ripple Effect of Unmet Needs: Emotional Pain
The nexus of pain in relationships frequently stems from unmet needs. When partners express their needs, responses may vary from defensiveness and anger to misunderstanding or outright neglect.
In some instances, partners retaliate by swiftly articulating their unmet needs, igniting a destructive cycle of resentment, blame, and criticism. This cycle, if unchecked, can escalate to the toxic realm of contempt. The research underscores that once contempt infiltrates a relationship, the chances of its survival diminish significantly.
Embracing Effective Communication: The Nonviolent Communication Model
In confronting these challenges, Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (NVC) model emerges as a beacon of hope, offering an effective avenue for expressing needs through effective communication. Within the realm of couples counselling, the profound impact of this model becomes evident.
I find this model particularly useful when working with couples. It is a model that uses four steps:
1. Observation: Describing Without Judgment
The first step involves articulating observations without the weight of judgment, evaluation, or blame. For instance, a simple observation might be, “John, I notice that your clothes are on the floor.”
2. Feeling: Acknowledging Emotional Responses
Subsequent to the observation, sharing one’s emotional response to the action creates a bridge for understanding. In the example, “I feel irritated when I see your clothes on the floor.”
3. Need: Expressing Core Values
The third step entails expressing the underlying need connected to the observation. Needs are often linked to broader values, transcending specific actions. For example, “I need to feel appreciated and have a clean house.”
When we state our needs, we are expressing what our values are and how they are connected to the observation.
Here is how you might link the first 3 steps: “John, I notice that your clothes are on the floor, and I feel irritated because I have a need for a clean house.”
It is important to note that the need is not about John picking up his clothes. A need is often related to a value that we believe is important, and for this reason, they tend to be more broad and general, such as, “I need to feel appreciated”; “I need to be professional and on time”; or “I have a need to be honest and open with those I love”.
4. Request: Fostering Positive Change
This is the part of the model where we make a request for change. The request is what we want from others that would enrich our lives. So the last part of the example might be, “John, I would really appreciate it if you would pick up your clothes and put them in the laundry.”
This model, when employed effectively, not only resolves immediate issues but also establishes a framework for deeper connection and empathy. A remarkable facet of this approach is its adaptability in fostering understanding.
By reversing the model, you can gain insights into your partner’s observations, feelings, and needs, ultimately making requests to enrich your partner’s life.
Use the four components to sense what your partner might be observing, feeling and needing and then become aware of what might enrich their life with the fourth part, a request. In my experience, this is a wonderful way to deepen your relationship and voice your feelings, needs and requests in a way that you can truly be heard.
NVC Process Recap:
- Observation: Conveying concrete actions impacting well-being
- Feeling: Expressing emotional responses to the observation.
- Need: Articulating values, desires, etc., creating feelings.
- Request: Making concrete actions requested to enrich life.
As we delve into the intricacies of relationship dynamics, armed with effective communication tools, we pave the way for a more nuanced understanding and a deeper connection that transcends the surface-level challenges.
Are your needs being met in your relationship?
Perhaps your communication around needs is not working in your relationship. I encourage you to try this process in your communication with your partner.
If you need help with your relationship, contact Clinton Power at (02) 8968 9323 to discuss your situation and find out how he can help.
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.