Do you feel like there are some things that you just can’t ask for? How do you get what you truly need in relationship? And how do you navigate to true win/win solutions in a relationship where you and your partner feel excited by what you’ve created together, instead of feeling drained by compromise? In today’s episode, you’re going to learn a unique approach to getting your needs met, and getting your partner’s needs met. Instead of using a psychological approach, today’s guest, Max Rivers, is going to show you how to use the skills of mediation to breathe new life into your connection. In addition, through Max’s unique application of Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (which he calls “Embodied Nonviolent Communication”), you’ll discover another secret ingredient to effective communication within your relationship. Max Rivers is a trained mediator who teaches these skills to couples in a series of six classes. His forthcoming new book, Tired of the Same Old Argument, makes his concepts easy to understand and put into practice. And, of course, I’m excited to introduce him to you!
Why mediation? For those of you who may be frustrated with traditional couple’s counseling, mediation may be a more efficient and effective intervention for you. In psychotherapy couples can sometimes get stuck in a pattern of judgement in which they over-diagnose their partner. Furthermore, it can be much faster to go straight for the present needs and building conflict skills than it is to explore the psychological phenomenon that brought the conflict about in the first place. Mediation focuses on creating win/win solutions in which both parties work towards resolution. Resolution occurs when everyone is able to identify and communicate their needs- so much so that their needs are satisfied.
What do we mean by needs? Needs are not behaviors, not wants, nor do they refer to other people. Needs instead are our deep truths and speak to the places where our existential satisfaction lies. Needs have certain qualities- they are always positive in their intention, life affirming, and they are the relative and definitive truth of the person they belong to. Needs are the junction box inside our body where our universal and incredibly personal truths live. Know that you are carrying this box of greater wisdom everywhere you go. When we are able to drop down out of story, under the judgements and the thinking, we can come to find a felt sensation of our knowing.
Into me you see: The word intimacy can be broken down into the sentence: into me you see. Intimacy is created when we let another person see deeply into our heart’s desire and we show curiosity and interest in seeing into them. Dropping into an embodied sense of our own truth and then sharing it creates an increased connection. This connection alone is nearly 90% of the solution to conflict resolution! As Max Rivers says: “any two people with open minds and open hearts can solve any problem that comes in front of them”.
What is alive in me right now? It may take some practice and learning to be able to find your own needs. It is not that it is hard, rather that it is a turning towards ourselves in moments we have become habituated to turn outward. Remember that our needs do not communicate to us through words but rather through our feelings that arise from bodily sensations. Go to the body to listen. It is not what you are thinking but what you are feeling that has potency and can become a portal to clearer awareness of your deeper needs in any given moment.
Judgements: We are all guilty of hurling insults, blames, and judgements at our partner in moments of disappointment, rage, hurt, and pain. Why do we do this? Most often it is a tragic attempt to have our unmet needs discovered. They are our way of trying to poke and pry and push our partner into discovering our needs, however, because they communicate with such violence and damage they leave us alone, distant, hurt and in conflict. Make a radical choice to trust and believe that every judgement either you or your partner hurls at one another is actually a statement of needs disguised in the opposite form. From this perspective, you can begin to learn to listen to a judgement and recognize it as having no information about the other, but rather a trail into what the speaker is needing. Listen for what is underneath and ask yourselves: what is the reverse of this judgment?
Going straight for the anger. Know that other people do not cause our feelings. Perhaps try repeating this to yourself several times and letting it soak in. It is futile and ultimately frustrating to keep ourselves and our partners stuck in the shame and blame game. We must take the time to go past our stories and our histories and get straight to what is present right now for us. And then it is our responsibility to communicate our needs. Anger is frustration plus time, and the best way to avoid increasing resentment and rage is to communicate clearly and often. Your anger is yours! The intensity of your anger does not implicate the limitations of your partner (as we so often assume) but rather implicates you for not taking the responsibility of communicating openly. To move away from anger it is critical that we continuously tend to our subtle body sensations in the present moment, and speak to these. And it is so worth it! Not only will you avoid resentment, but you will be giving your partner an opportunity to fulfill your needs and this gives THEM pleasure as well!
Forbidden needs: Many of our conflicts arise from a frustrated and often violent attempt to satisfy our needs. All of us are carrying an embodied experience of having needs that went unmet in our childhoods and our earlier relationships. When needs go unmet for an extended time we conclude that these needs are forbidden either because they are inherently bad, or because it means that something is wrong with us for having the desire, or that there is another reason that nobody wants to meet the need. Due to the forbidden nature of these particular needs we try our damn best to live as though we do not need these needs. Our psyche tries hard to help us shun these needs, however, in doing so we get into a bind in which we reverse the content of the needs and we communicate the opposite of the want. We say “you are so cold” when we want warmth. We say “you don’t give me any space” when we want closeness. And on and on.
Make a feeling guess: As a partner when we hear these intense judgements it is easy to react and attack. Remember that these defensive and often offensive remarks really are NOT about you! Try your best to duck below the judgement and attempt to get curious about what need is being spoken for. Without ego, attempt to guess the opposite! If your partner is telling you that you suck at washing the dishes, perhaps they are really needing you to either thank them for their efforts or show them support around the home in another way. Make it your goal in moments of conflict to turn towards your partner with empathy, curiosity, and presence. Use questions to go under the leaves to find the truffles- help them get out of the past and the future, out of the story and the judgements and into their body. This process of embodied non-violent communication allows you and your partner to efficiently (and lovingly) get to the core of what is most true for them- shedding light on information that is crucial for both of you.
Moving from conflict to connection: Moving from conflict to connection requires this sorting through judgements and content to get to the deeper truths. In order to do this we 1) must observe and notice what is happening in and around us, 2) see what it is we are feeling, 3) identify the underlying need, and 4) breathe into these feelings. Breathing into the sensations in our body helps enlarge them so that we may find what is alive in there- what is it that is being communicated to us? What do these needs want from us? Remember that there will be a time to share and express what you discover with your partner, but not before you listen yourself. We can become habituated in relationships to offload the responsibilities of our needs onto our partner and this is a setup for being disappointed. So listen first, and see what your needs are asking of you before turning to your partner.
Beginning the beneficial cycle: You’ll know you have defined a need as there is a palpable shift into a sensation of softness and relief- an ‘Ah...I’m home’ sighing sort of feeling. The quality of time and space may shift and there will be an increase of kindness, non judgement, and excited curiosity. There will be a shift away from blame, and the total trust that no one is doing anything wrong or bad. The judgements begin to turn into intimate connections, the vicious cycle begins to slow down until it stops and reverses into a beneficial cycle. As you share what is true about you in any given moment it gives your partner the freedom and safety to share what is true about them, which in turn will give you more safety, which then creates a positive reinforcing cycle. And who doesn’t want that?
The benefit versus the disappointment of difference: What if we were to believe that the core value of relationship is difference? The reason we want to be in relationship ultimately is because the ways our partner is different than us helps to match what is needed in us. Max Rivers states that “a love match is this amazing mathematical combination of our strengths matching up with their forbidden needs, and their strengths matching up with our forbidden needs”. How have you been perceiving and experiencing difference in your relationship? Take a moment and check in on the messages you have received and the stories you hold about difference. The louder cultural stance, at least here in the US, is that difference is both dangerous and bad. From this belief, difference becomes a source of unending conflict as we try to change the person we are with into ourselves as we believe this may make things easier. But just imagine if you succeeded! It would be a disaster not only because you need difference to bring polarity and energy to a relationship, but also if you both truly succeeded then you would have simply switched places! Conflict is almost always caused by misunderstood difference. As you begin to re-appreciate the benefits of the differences between you and your partner and begin to acknowledge how your strengths and needs match up, you begin to pave your way towards mutual satisfaction.
You need the needs of your partner: As we understand needs more deeply, and move away from a culturally stuck view of ‘having needs’ equating to ‘being needy’, we can begin to fall in love with the ways that our needs bring us intimacy. We are in fact hard wired to get pleasure and fulfillment from meeting our partner’s needs. We begin to feel that our differences are being honored and celebrated, and we grow in our confidence that what we bring to our relationship is deeply and critically supportive for our partner, and vice versa.
Slowing down is also a strategy: Many of us have been programmed and raised to try to figure our way out of conflict. We quickly jump to solutions in an attempt to feel helpful and to avoid discomfort. In this speeding through of the process, we can miss the listening is necessary to actually identify what it is that is needing “fixing”. Invite yourself to see slowing down as a strategy in and of itself. Once ALL of the needs are on the table, then the creative process of solution and strategy finding can happen successfully- and often times much more efficiently. Once we are in a place of clarity around the needs, we will find ourselves with many more options. This is true because needs are incredibly flexible, and there are often endless ways of meeting our needs. Strategizing can become an energizing and loving co-creative process. Two people with open hearts and open minds, even when presented with an incredibly complex set of needs, will have a huge capacity for creating answers and strategies. Be open to surprising yourselves and each other as you work together as a team!
Listening them down to silence: So how DO you get all the needs on the table? The answer is simple, yet takes discipline, dedication, and practice: Invite your partner to share with you and be sure to listen openly and with excited curiosity. When they finish, reflect back what you heard, and ask “and what more?” Keep inviting them to share more until that sweet sigh of relief and release is felt by both of you- that sensation that yes, that is all.
Go to the breath to find what is alive in you. Here is a short meditation to help get into the body to listen lovingly to the truth and wisdom of your needs:
Take a few easy breaths. Moving deeper into your body. Notice what sensations are arising. Notice, without judgment, whatever it is you are experiencing right now. Observe what feels heavy or light, cool or warm. Is there a difference from one side of your body to the other? Is there a place of stuckness? And where is there movement? See if you can breath into those parts of your body and enlarge your experiencing of that space. Imagine that it has some deep desire for you. That it is positive in its intention and it knows precisely what it is you desire. Invite it to communicate in any ways it wants to. Does it have a message for you? What does it want for you in this moment? And what is it asking of you so that you may have that? Add breath into your questions and see what arises.
If you discover something which feels true- take a risk and share it with your partner! Share it with the intention of your partner seeing what is true and alive in you. Imagine that they will be delighted to know and to learn this. Every bit of truth that they find out about you is more for them to love.
Learn more about Max Rivers’ work with Teamwork Marriage Mediation where you can book sessions, watch videos, and read more!
Read Max Rivers’ new book Tired of Having the Same Old Argument? (visit his website and click the “Buy the Book” link for the latest edition)
Our Relationship Alive Community on Facebook
Amazing intro/outro music graciously provided courtesy of: