Midway through my twenties, I thought it a good idea to get married. Which likely would’ve turned out pretty great, had I actually partnered someone with whom I was remotely compatible.
Brian was a socially and politically conservative graduate of West Point Military Academy, and when we married, he was a Lieutenant Colonel on the fast track looking for a supportive, stay-at-home Army wife.
And he was a Republican.
People who know me can likely predict what a train wreck that turned out to be.
In hindsight, I kinda knew it was doomed from the start. During a pre-marital counseling session – you know, just after our priest (clue #576, with an aversion to organized religion, I agreed to be married by his priest) suggested that communication would be the key to a healthy relationship – our conversation went something like this:
Him: You’re going to quit your job once we’re married, right?
Me: * glare * Are you telling me I’m quitting my job or asking me?
Him: Seriously. I’m going to need someone to support my career next year when I make Colonel. Oh, and, I forgot to tell you I found out two weeks ago we’re getting transferred to Kansas in June.
Me: Wow. Could you be more controlling? Everything is all about you always.
Him: Hey, you know what you were getting into when you decided to marry me.
Me: I can’t hear you. LALALALALALALA.
In hindsight, it is evident why our relationship went down in flames: That we were a total mismatch notwithstanding, I wasn’t at all connected to my own needs – or his – and with regard to communication, never took responsibility for my own reactions. Unsurprisingly, our marriage imploded about a year after we said “I do.”
I must admit the marriage left me with a little PTSD around commitment and relationships. For almost a decade after, just about any conflict had me reacting this way….
In 2005, though, I “accidentally” stumbled into a 2-hour workshop on Non-Violent Communication (NVC), while on a retreat to Breitenbush Hot Springs with Seattle yoga teacher Chiara Guerrieri.
I say “accidentally” because clearly I had read the schedule wrong; for had I heard “Non-Violent Communication”, for sure I would’ve opted for the sauna that afternoon. I mean, violent?? I may be rude sometimes, but come on; I’m not violent. I don’t say abusive things. And I certainly already know how to communicate.
I was plotting my escape when Ciara piqued my interest, “NVC is the language of compassion.” Compassion. Hmmm, I could use some of that. I was hooked enough to stay, and as a result, began to learn some concrete tools to understand what triggers me, how to take responsibility for my own reactions, and to deepen my connections with the people I love. The result? I planted the seed to begin to transform my habitual responses to life. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know how hard it is to turn these samskaras around.
It’s radical, really.
Had Brian and I used NVC early on in our relationship, things may have turned out differently. Our pre-marital conversation may have gone more like this:
Him: You’re going to quit your job once we’re married, right?
Me: (thinking to myself) * Ok, slow down here… if I keep reacting the way I’ve been; we’ll just get into another fight. Instead, let me try this *……
Step 1) Chose to act, not react.
In this moment, it would’ve helped to remember that there were probably three things happening. First, I had an unmet need. Second, I had a judgment that my partner was being a controlling, selfish ass. Third, I was about to get into another fight with my fiancé if I don’t do something differently. The unmet need portion was the radical part; because we’ve all learned to blame someone else –and ask for a behavior change on their part – for our unmet needs. AMIRIGHT? How many times have we wished that our partners would act/do/say things differently so that we would be content??
Step 2) Give yourself empathy.
What did I really feel and need in this moment? At the time, I was on the cusp of ending my own career to marry the man I loved. As someone who had been financially independent since the age of 18, it was a terrifying tradeoff. First and foremost, I was feeling afraid. I needed to be seen, needed to have more ease, and I’m sure I would have liked some more connection and safety.
Step 3) Listen Empathically to the Other Person.
This could’ve been the moment of truth. The NVC manifesto says “All acts are an attempt to meet needs.” What needs of Brian’s could he have been hinting at when he confirmed for the fifth time that I was, indeed, planning on discontinuing my career? Perhaps he was afraid that our marriage wouldn’t measure up to the kind of marriage that was valued in the Army’s high-ranking officer culture. Or he could’ve been longing for that connection that he thought would arrive when I was free of my career distractions. Had I been considering his needs, there’s a chance that, right before my eyes, Brian would’ve changed from my current judgment – he as a sexist, controlling douchebag – to a man who loved me and wanted “us” to succeed as a couple. Or maybe, because he knew I’d always carried the pressure of supporting myself financially – he was just trying to let me know that I didn’t have to work so damn hard anymore; that he would take care of things for a while.
….. Him: Jen, did you hear me?
Me: Brian, I understand you’re saying it’s hard enough to have a successful marriage, let alone one in the Army. It really sounds like you want us to succeed as a couple and are also concerned about my stress level if I continue to work as hard as I have been.”
What do you think would’ve happened had I responded like that; compassionately, with a nod to both of our needs?
I’ll never know, though, because instead we spent the remainder of our marriage fighting, defending ourselves, and trying to convince the other that we were right and they, wrong.
I wish I knew of Non-Violent Communication back then. I’m not sure if it would’ve changed the outcome of our relationship, but it sure would’ve relieved a ridiculous amount of personal suffering over the years.
And while I can’t claim to be an expert on the topic, I know someone who is! And we are thrilled that she’s chosen to come to Twist Yoga in January.
Won’t you join us the weekend of January 16 – 17, when honored teacher Judith Hanson Lasater will teach the workshop What We Say Matters: Language as a Spiritual Practice.
You’ll save $60 with early registration, which ends December 16.
Click here to secure your spot in this game-changer of a workshop. Pre-registration recommended; this one will be a sellout.
Judith Hanson Lasater, Ph.D., Physical Therapist, has been teaching yoga since 1971. She trains students and teachers throughout the United States as well as abroad, is one of the founders of Yoga Journal magazine,
and is president of the California Yoga Teachers Association. She has written eight books.