When I was in Nelson, BC over the holidays, I bumped into an old friend who I hadn’t seen for a couple of years. He told me he’d heard that my former wife Melody and I were no long together. “Makes you think,” he said, “if two NVC trainers can’t make it, who can?”
I was unprepared for his comment, so all I said in response was that we are still good friends. This seemed to give him some relief.
I would have liked to ask him what it means to him for a couple to “make it”. If “making it” means simply staying together for the sake of not being alone, then I’m not interested in that kind of “making it”. Knowing my friend as I do, I’d guess that for him “making it” means something more than just staying together; it likely means having fun together, finding deep peace and happiness together, bringing out the best in each other, following dreams, giving unconditionally to each other, healing old pain and expanding love, thriving together, committing to finding the deepest connection and freedom as intimate partners. If that is what he means, then yes, I’m interested in that kind of “making it”. And no, Melody and I didn’t quite “make it”.
I suppose my friend was hoping that the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) process would be the thing that would help us make it. NVC helped us a lot. However, the NVC process is just a map and an instrument: a map that gives us directions to the places we might want to go to; an instrument that can be played in all sorts of ways. The NVC process cannot take us anywhere if we don’t want to put one foot in front of the other or if we don’t even know where we want to go. And it cannot tune our strings and play our music for us. That is to say that NVC can’t embrace our feelings, face our fears, ask for support, or heal our wounds for us. It can only point us in the direction and give us a vehicle to use get there.
For me NVC is about connection, which begins with self-connection and includes verbal communication as only one of many strategies for connecting with others. There is certianly good reason to become skilful at communication, and I strongly believe that the more we attend to self-connection and inner work, the better we will connect and communicate with others.
Melody and I worked hard to resolve the content of our conflicts with the NVC process. We were and still are dedicated to a needs-based, compassionate consciousness. However, on my side of the equation, I wasn’t attending deeply enough to my own inner work so that I could heal the cause of my part of our conflicts, heal the pain, fear and beliefs from my past so that I could better attend to my needs and be the kind of intimate partner I want to be. Once I began to do more of my inner work, it became clear that our relationship wasn’t meant to be. After our separation and after doing still more of my inner work, it became clear to me that I wasn’t yet ready for a committed relationship.
These days I’m more consistent with my inner work, and I’ve set up much more support for myself, something I didn’t have nearly enough of when I was with Melody. And, I still don’t know if I’m ready. It seems possible to me that I’ll never know for sure, but that isn’t stopping me from trying. Perhaps, as it seems with so much of life, the practice is to become more and more comfortable with not knowing.
As I’ve said many times before, I was never more grateful for my NVC practice then when Melody and I separated. I believe that it was largely because of our commitment to compassion that we had a very healing separation, including what was for me a profound separation ceremony with some of our family and friends. It was profound because of the support we received and because it helped me heal some of the pain of my parents’ separation.
And, yes, Melody and I remain connected as good friends. In fact, writing this post was interrupted by a spontaneous skype call in which Melody and I laughed together about some of our old relationship foibles.
I continue to be very grateful for my NVC practice now in my new partnership with Katherine. And, even though I struggle with uncertainty in relationship, I feel more hopeful about transforming my commitment issues if I continue to go deeper with my inner work.
“The distance from your pain, your grief, your unattended wounds, is the distance from your partner.”
–Stephen and Ondrea Levine