Nonviolent Communication (NVC)

Nonviolent communication, or NVC for short, is a language practice that supports individuals and couples in having a dialogue where self responsibility and empathy are prioritized.

I like to explain nonviolent communication as compassionate communication to my clients because it speaks through the heart, utilizes understanding based and trains us to reach out, build a bridge and connect through conflict.

This language of compassion also improves observation skills, reframes our expression, helps us consciously and honestly respond, and become self aware of feelings, needs and specify what we want.  

So who would be great to imagine right now as you learn this? Who are you having a conflict with currently?  NVC has a basic frame that once you get down you can loosen and play with. Here’s how it goes:

Step one: observation without evaluation: share what you saw heard, exact wording, stick to the facts. An example: when I saw you do this (I roll) or when I heard you say “whatever” ...

These next three steps is where you take personal responsibility - so we use I statements - that takes back your power instead of choosing to believe others control how you feel or to give you what you need. I’ll explain: 

Step two: share emotions : remember emotions are synonyms off of the research based six: happy, angry, sad, and surprise, fear, disgust (So I felt rejected… Is not an emotion,  it’s a perception that has some emotions in it-maybe angry anger maybe sadness. I felt this will never change… Is a thought, not an emotion. But the emotions underneath the thought might have been fear or sadness“ does this make sense does make sense so far?

Step 3: Say what needs are connected to the emotions: Needs are where our core values, longings and vulnerabilities reside. Needs name and claim your power (and move you out of the blame game (I.E. I feel angry when friends don’t all because I want regular contact with everyone I’m close too OR When you say “I’ll try to pick that up after work, I feel scared that won’t happen and I need confirmation.” 

Step 4: A very specific request:  Use positive action language to ask for what you want through a measurable task.  (Would you be willing to plan a date night every other week starting this week?  OR I’d like you to tell me if you’ll be able to take out the trash every three weeks.”  Requests are not demands, they have room for a NO.  And then empathy comes in for all, and renegotiate.  

There are many more components to NVC, but for now you’ve got the basics.  Try it out with someone this week and let me know how this new practice goes. 

Queer Therapists

Being queer myself, I get a lot of inquiries from individuals, couples and colleagues looking for a queer therapist and I really understand the reasons behind this significant need for clients.  

As lesbian gay bisexual transgender or queer individuals, it HAS and is still for many, not safe to live and love publicly as ourselves.   Growing up, WE often learn how to hide and take on false identities. Many of us suffer post traumatic stress syndrome, or PTSD, from the constant pressure, hatred and anxiety experienced and feeling conflicted over who we are and with no one to talk to about it.

And while coming to terms with our sexual orientation, we have shitty or nonexistent sex education, mentor ship from our parents on being in relationships and the right of passage of coming out is NOT honored.   It wasn’t so long ago that we didn’t even have terms for LGBTQ identities - so it wasn’t discussed, yet once language was created, it gave society license to even more fully criminalized, oppressed, attack and discount us.

Having safe spaces and safe therapeutic relationships is very new.   In therapy as an adult, we get a chance to become more authentic, explore ourselves and get the guidance we needed in our youth. Today, many of us who identify as LGBTQ seek out therapists who we believe will understand our identity, our spirit and our diverse communities.  I think it’s also crucial that the therapist is queer affirmative and has the education and attunement to help us work through our own internalized oppression, homophobia or transphobia.

I’m sure you can imagine someone you connect with, someone where there is ease, laughter or comfort. In therapy, the relationship between therapist and client is everything. A queer therapist who celebrates and supports you in becoming your healthiest and most vibrant version of yourself is paramount.  Queer therapists often get us on the most intimate of levels and understand our feelings and needs. They are also connected to community resources: from organizations to groups to events and holidays.

Whether coming out, working through shame, traumas or improving relationships, there is a therapist out there that could be a fabulous fit to help you get to a better place in your life. If you or someone you know needs to be connected to a queer therapist, don’t hesitate to reach out. I look forward to talking with you.

How to Build Trust in a Relationship

Whether you’re building it from the beginning or rebuilding after a rupture or betrayal  - there are a few essential components that will help you get there.  

Listen, we are wired to attach and bond from birth-and we do this throughout our life in all relationships and trust develops when are attachment needs are fulfilled and we feel safe. 

Think of the people in your life that you trust the most. Focus on one person in particular, what is it that they do that deepens or holds your trust?

See? You already have a few great ideas.  And now can you make a commitment work through what happened so that the past can be left behind and both of you can forgive or be forgiven? 

Radical Honesty: Trust begins with radical honesty.  How transparent are you? Do you try to protect your partners feelings or fear what consequences would unfold if you were authentic? You may think you’re helping but being upfront and open builds reliability and predictability together. There is security in knowing that no matter what is brought forward, you can work through it together. 

Consistency builds trust. Reliability, stability, consistency-all of these and help generate trust in him and increased emotional safety. When we can predict or expect certain level of behavior from a person, we feel safe I don’t want to draw close to them.

Repair: Hurts, disappointments and sometimes ruptures are part of being in a relationship. If you can talk it through and take responsibility - Sit down and share.  the wounded person must share about their pain.  The other partner needs to acknowledge the impact, express remorse and empathize with their injured sweety. 

And there’s a settling when we hear I’m sorry from the heart - these pieces will help you rebuild the care and faith for a better future. 

Building trust can be as unique as the situation that broke it.  Be open to counseling or mediation if necessary for more guidance and direction.  Wishing you a powerful journey friends. 

To Open or Not To Open

Last week at a party, my friend introduced his other partner.  Yes, he’s identifies as gay and open.  This was the first time I was meeting his second of two partners (Clint and Ruben, the names have been changed to protect the innocent).  

Another friend perked up after the second partner left, “So how does this all work exactly?”

“Well”, our open friend smiled and sighed, “I’m dating both of them at the same time.  It lets me take my time, compare notes and never get bored!” he laughed.

“So you’re poly now?” Short for polyamorous, my friend asked.  

Noooo… I’m open… I mean – I guess technically I could qualify as poly right now, but I prefer an open relationship long term.”

My curious friend then shot off a bunch of additional questions because he was completely fascinated and confused.  Rightfully so, in San Francisco folks throw around these terms assuming we all understand.  But many don’t and, without educating themselves, they’re throwing themselves and their partner into open relationships and getting into deep trouble. 

I know, I’ve gotten countless calls from men inquiring about therapy to help their open relationships feel good again.  I usually ask them, 

“When did you both consent to be open?”  

“Uhmmm…” Is a typical response.  

“What agreements have you made together about how your open relationship works?”  

“Agreements?” Strike two.  

“How’s your communication and ability to repair after conflicts?”

“Not so good at the moment.  We get pretty heated and stuck.”  Yikes!

This guy and his partner are not ready to be in an open relationship.  They might not even know what an open relationship is, yet, they’re in one!  I tell my clients that an open relationship is a romantic relationship and agreement between two people, where it’s permitted to have intimate, romantic or sexual relations with others. 

What does that look like?  It’s different for everyone. For most, this looks like having one primary partner, while casually dating or engaging sexually with others.  While many are intrigued by the idea of having their cake and eating it too, most do not have the slightest idea what goes into a successful open relationship.  Believe it or not, the elements that make up a fantastic open relationship are the same for a monogamous relationship. 

There are, what I call, the Fab Five.  These are the main ingredients to making a delicious partnership with relations on the side.  They are Agreements, Boundaries, Communication, Negotiation and Security.  Even though these are necessary for any satisfying relationships, all partners in an open relationship must put forth energy and time into all of these.    

Agreements are quintessential for open relationships because they set the parameters for everyone involved.  Here’s a classic example: You and your honey go to party.  Someone else you’ve been dating or sleeping with shows up.  Who do you go home with?  It’s not gonna go well if you make a spontaneous choice at the end of the night.  Agreements that are set ahead of time help make these types of situations easier, emotionally safer and clear for everyone involved.  

Boundaries are rules, limits or beliefs about how someone wants to interact or have others to interact with them.   We need these to feel protected with others and they can build a standard of consent between you and your partner.  Think about a time when someone did something that left you feeling very uncomfortable.  There may have been a boundary crossing.  Being able to share your boundaries or when they are crossed helps others to relate to you in more comfortable ways.  

Communication that is clear, kind and responsible is key to healthy relationships.  Expressing boundaries and making agreements are important, as mentioned above, and even more vital is letting your partner know your desires and needs.  Withholding what’s in your heart or mind usually leads to disconnection or explosions down the line.  Having space to talk openly and vulnerably can lead to the next important element, which entails a communicating and working through each other’s differences. 

Negotiation occurs when you’re ready to mutually discuss and compromise with a partner.  It’s an important skill in any mature relationship.  How open are you to trying something you’re not comfortable with?  How willing are you to understand your partner’s perspective and deal with all the triggers that come up?  It takes hard work and patience, but the payoff is enjoying a relationship that’s satisfying for multiple parties.  If you’re game, you’ll learn to develop the agreements and boundaries that are necessary to get both of you on the same page, thriving and leading you to the final ingredient:   

Security in a relationship supports you in going the distance.  You must feel secure with yourself and with your relationship if it’s to work, especially in open relationships, where you’re putting each other in more risky scenarios.  Security involves a sense of safety and trust.  It helps you have faith and take risks.  With security, you can be more honest than you would normally.  Security allows each partner to explore themselves and relationships with or without their primary partner.   Security is so vital, it may require hard choices.  For example, if you open your relationship and are enjoying it, but your partner is becoming insecure and scared…would you be willing to close it if that’s what’s needed to for them to regain wellbeing and confidence?

On the flip side, just because you know what generates a fabulous open relationship doesn’t mean you’ll want one. Open relationships can be very challenging.  They can trigger our most basic attachment needs.  Attachment needs are universal and are expressed towards our caregivers when we are babies.  Some attachment needs are love, closeness, affection, care, reliability, engagement, and accessibility.  Sound familiar? When we don’t receive these growing up, we become wounded.  As adults, we look for them in our relationships.  When their met, we feel amazing, and when not, we are emotionally tortured.  

We’ve grown up with messages and values from family, friends and society about what is “okay” and “not okay” relationally.  It’s natural that many of us soaked those in.  Now as an adult, you’ll need to ask yourself: What type of relationship do I want?  You may just be learning about different types or be well versed in open, poly and other paradigms. The point is, it’s a choice.  To decide, you must ask yourself: 

What are my values or goals for a relationship?                                                                                Could I emotionally handle the person I’m in love with seeing other people on the side?         How willing am I to work at the Fab Five with a partner? 

Open relationships are not for everybody, especially those who do not have the elements listed above.  The most vital are security and trust.  If you do not have this foundation, forget about opening or enjoying your relationship. So whether you’ve decided to have a monogamous or closed relationship, go slow! This way both partners can become aware of their emotions and needs, while working through conflicts and developing a firm foundation.