Marriage Hack #5: Practice Non Violent Communication
This is actually a thing. Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a communication process developed by Marshall Rosenberg, who describes it as “a way of communicating that leads us to give from the heart.” NVC helps reframe the way we express ourselves and hear others. Instead of habitual, automatic responses that can lead to hurt and pain, NVC helps us express ourselves with honesty and clarity while simultaneously paying others respect and empathic attention (Rosenberg 2015).
If the opposite of Nonviolent Communication is Violent Communication, I am definitely a culprit of the latter! Despite my background in psychology, I repeatedly find myself communicating in a completely ineffective way with my husband (I’m a textbook criticizer and stonewaller). I’ve realized that due to the stress that has come along with our parenting journey, both my husband’s and my nervous systems have routinely been in a state of fight or flight. We are easily triggered and we immediately go into that limbic state where our ability to rationalize, empathize, and attune is hijacked.
I usually go into fight and my husband goes into flight, which does not make for particularly effective communication. In order to be able to practice NVC, you first have to be able to calm your nervous system so that you are in an open rather than defensive state of mind (see Staying Regulated When Your Child is Dysregulated for tips).
Once you are calm, you can apply the four components of NVC which are: Observations, Feelings, Needs, and Requests. First, you observe what is happening in a situation by discerning what the other person is saying or doing that is upsetting you. Next, you state how you feel when you observe this action. You may feel angry, irritated, hurt, sad. Third, you say what needs are connected to these feelings. Last, you make a specific request.
The second part of this communication involves being able to empathically receive the same four pieces of information from your spouse. For example, I noticed that you forgot to put C’s probiotic in his milk again. I feel upset because I am worried about his digestion and it’s important for him to take his probiotic regularly. Would you be willing to put a reminder in your phone to go off every morning so you remember?
Note the difference between that exchange and this one, which is a typical exchange in our household:
Me: Did you put C’s probiotic in his milk?
My husband: No.
Me, while rolling my eyes: Ugh, that is so annoying, I’ve told you a million times that it’s really important for him to take it and you always forget.
My husband: Silence. Looking at his phone.
Me, internal monologue: He is seriously the most annoying person on the planet.
Not the best way to start the morning! Again, this is an area that I have to work on every day. When I do use NVC, my husband and I feel so much more connected and our kids reap the benefits. Everyone is happier. You can get Nonviolent Communication on Amazon if you are interested in learning more.
Marriage is definitely work. And when you have a child with SPD, you have an extra layer of challenges that can put an enormous amount of strain on your marriage. But, there is hope! Have compassion for yourself and your partner for this very difficult journey you are on. Schedule a date, give each other the benefit of the doubt, express gratitude, or if you're not feeling particularly grateful, fake it, and give nonviolent communication a go. These hacks won’t solve all your marital issues, but they're sure to bring you closer and make everyone in your household feel happier.