"We are asking one person to give us, what once an entire village used to provide"
say's Esther Perel.
The model of 2 people (plus the kids), has become the "norm" in our modern, western society and culture. I enjoy the idea of a family nest with parents and children living under 1 roof and so by sharing this quote with you, I am not suggesting that this model is "wrong" or "bad", I simply connect with the wisdom and learning that we can take from Esther's perspective.
In this interview Esther explores how the family of 2 can quite easily create a pressure cooker of expectations where we look towards our partners to fulfill ALL of our most precious and sacred needs for belonging, family, support, recognition, partnership, shared reality, sexual expression, love, connection and so so sooooo much more..
And so we end up looking for "The One", the one person with whom we can spend and share the whole of our lives with. I personally do believe that it is possible to have a partnership where you feel inspired, connected and safe, meeting so many of your relationship needs with only the 2 of you under 1 roof. And yet I recognise from my own past experiences that those moments when the relationship was close to breakdown, were the moments when I wanted my partner to be the one to meet ALL of my core needs for me or with me, which inevitably lead to stress, distance and frustration on both sides.
Often on this journey of compassionate and authentic communication, I am keenly reminded that there are MANY ways for me to meet my needs. This remembrance often comes with relief and at the same time, a deep mourning, because it is quite understandable that I would LOVE to meet my needs in exactly the way that I dream and with the people I hold close to me. The mourning then so naturally comes when I realiese in those moments, that perhaps the dream strategy I was hoping for will not come true for me now.
My partner wants more time to work on a project this evening and we had made plans to spend time together tonight.
I feel hurt and frustrated
I have a deep longing for closeness, connection and warmth
My dream is that he would work for 30 minutes maximum on his project and then spend time with me..
Really I long for reassurance and to know that I matter..
And I am stuck on the idea that "if he doesn't spend time with me tonight / choose me over his project" = "this means that I don't matter / that he doesn't care how I feel / that he loves me less etc etc.."
So I may fall into either pleasing (and secretly hating him) by giving up on my needs and going to my room to sulk.
OR I start to make demands of him, guilt tripping and reminding him of our plans in the hope that he will feel bad and change his mind.
In both of these cases we both LOOSE because one of us will be stretching and dropping our own needs in order to please the other. This leads to resentment and further arguments down the line.
When I am able to mourn that my dream scenario of him dropping his project to spend time with me will not come true, and allow myself to feel sad about it, I may move closer to recognising what is truly important to me. In this case, I want to know that I do matter to him and I long for reassurance "that he does indeed care about us spending time together", so in recognising this I can:
Ask him for reassurance :
"I notice that I feel sad that you will be spending time on your project tonight, because I have a need for reassurance, does it feel available to you to remind me of how much I mean to you? And / OR can you tell me when you like to spend time together again / can you remind me of the importance of this project for you, so that I can connect with your needs and remind myself that your choice to cancel tonight is related to something important for you... There are literly 10000,00000's of examples of how to ask for reassurance in this moment as EVERY strategy will be unique to the person and situation it applies to.
I can then also take care of my other needs for closeness, connection and warmth.
To name just a FEW of the many way's I could experience those needs:
- We sit on the sofa together cuddling - he works on his laptop whilst I read my book / watch a movie
- I go out and meet up with some friends and we agree to spend 30 - 45 minutes in bed together before sleep sharing appreciation for each other
- I meet with a close friend who is happy to have a cosy evening of blankets, tea and sharing about our lives together..
The options are endless..
And so in this example we can see that I am open to meeting my needs in many ways, instead of expecting and demanding from my partner that we meet ALL of those needs in EXACTLY the way I was dreaming we would together.
I worry that when I bring up the idea of meeting our needs in many ways, readers and listeners may unfortunately miss-hear this as a call for super "independence" or giving in to our partners and allowing a part of ourselves to die and feel alone, frustrated and not seen. What I am talking about is quite the opposite.
What inspires me about Esther's perspective, is the very empowering concept of community supported relationships. When imagining this concept, I do not believe that we all now must live in communities with many people under 1 roof. Rather I recognise how much my relationships thrive, when I have an openness to meet my core relationship needs both within and outside of our "household". The art here, I have found, is also to stay in dialogue within the relationship and stand firmly for my needs, whilst staying open, so that I do not fall into people pleasing, distancing and giving in (a very unhelpful past pattern of mine) neither do I want to move into dominance, control and expectation (also an unfortunate and very human reaction that I could fall into at times..) .
So with all my humanity in tact (i.e. I will inevitable fall into demand / pleasing tendencies at times) I try to remind myself of the abundance of ways in which I can meet my needs and stay open to dialogue with my partner, knowing that I have a community of resources available to me, which enables me to stay open towards new and different ways for us to meet our relationships needs together, because the safety net of the community is there to catch and hold each of us whilst me and my partner continue to explore this dance of life together.
I like to call this "needs based relationships" since hearing my teacher Yoram Mosenzon use this term to describe his approach towards relationships.
And to me this term is another way of describing interdependence:
Interdependence is a quality that we often speak about in Nonviolent Communication:
My understanding of this quality looks like this:
I - I care for my needs
You = you care for your needs
We - We care of one anthers needs as equally as important as our own
+ Needs are abstract and do not belong to any particular person, strategy or idea therefore we can meet needs in so many different ways together.
And this quality of holding presence, curiosity and compassionate care towards ourselves and one another simultaneously, is the core philosophy and way of life that supports me to live my life and engage in relationships from my center, my power, my vulnerability and integrity to my humanity.
This is what I believe Nonviolent Communication is pointing towards, every step of the way.