I read Nonviolent Communication, finally, while J and I were on vacation. I’ve seen it touted among the poly community for forever as a staple in communication skill building. Reading the book gave me more insight and awareness into the structure that the model articulates, and I feel pretty invested in cultivating my ability to practice it.
Essentially, NVC asks you to:
Communicate what you observe without using judgment words
Communicate how you feel
Communicate what you need or value
And, make a specific request without making a demand
Here is an example:
When I saw you come home last night drunk, I felt worried about you because I value your safety. Would you be willing to call me or a cab next time you go out drinking?
When I didn’t receive a phone call or text from you last night when you said you would, I felt lonely and disconnected because I value growing our connection. Would you be willing to share information about why I didn’t hear from you?
I think this communication can be anxiety provoking and highly vulnerable. Many of us are quite used to blaming and shaming others, and keeping ourselves in high esteem as if our actions and intentions can rarely be called into question. It can also feel much easier to say “it’s your fault you feel shitty. I did everything right.” This method both asks us to own how our feelings derive from values and needs while also listening to how we do or do not understand, empathize with, and honor the values and needs of those we are relating to. It also emphasizes creating authentic communication and actually tuning into the people we’re talking to- it’s not about being “right” or trying to make someone feel bad or guilty for how we feel.
If you’re looking to take your communication and relationships to a deeer level, I can’t recommend this book and practice enough.
On my flight back to Portland, by way of Salt Lake City, I sat next to a very friendly young guy- 21 years old, Mormon, and exceedingly friendly. In the culture of staring at phones while in public places, lest one catches the eye of a stranger and feels obligated to say hello, his immediate engagement in having a conversation with me was startling. And refreshing.
He asked me what I do in Portland, and I held back little in telling him about teaching Human Sexuality. After just teaching the week on sexuality education, I was highly curious to know how this person connected his religious background to his perception of relationships and sex. He was able to talk articulately about being committed to abstinence, not feeling ready to get married, and loving to date (he goes on 3-4 a week with different people). He also asked for my thoughts on what kind of sex ed I thought teens should get, and seemed to be able to hear me talk about comprehensive education and allowing teens to have choices and options over their sexual and relationship decisions.
Talking with him reminded me of an experiential assignment I have this quarter in my sex therapy class: I’m supposed to find some kind of sex related event to attend, one that pushes my comfort zone. I’ve been a little bit stuck with this- what am I uncomfortable with? I’ve been to swing clubs, strip clubs (male and female), tantric events, kink events, and poly meetups. I haven’t been to all gay male spaces or cuddle puddle events (and other things I’m sure I’m not thinking of right now), but I’m not uncomfortable with them. But I realized something very important during my conversation on the plane: I am uncomfortable talking with someone from a conservative religious background about sex. That sort of blows my mind. It was challenging for me to explain my perspectives without using language that could alienate him or result in some kind of disengagement. How can I be diplomatic when I have such strong beliefs of my own about sexual and relationship rights and autonomy?
Thanks, Taylor, for a wonderful conversation and for reminding me where my growing edges are.