It’s normal for all of us to have needs in relationships and one of the joys of being in relationship with another person is that we can take pleasure in the experience of having those needs met. When it comes to communication, gay relationships are no different from straight relationships. It’s just as important to be able to communicate your wants and needs in a clear and direct fashion. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen in the way that we want…
When your needs are unmet, you experience emotional pain
Many gay couples experience pain because their needs are not being met by their partner. Sometimes when one partner expresses a need, the other will respond defensively and angrily. Or the partner will not understand the need or simply ignore it. Some partners will retaliate by immediately expressing their unmet need, instead of responding to the need their partner has expressed. This is often the beginning of a cycle of anger, blame and criticism, which can then lead to contempt. And we know from the research that when a couple begins to feel contempt, the chances of the relationship surviving are significantly lower.
The Nonviolent Communication Model:
Marshall Rosenberg, in his groundbreaking book Nonviolent Communication (NVC), introduced a model for expressing needs in your relationship. This model can be simply transferred to same-sex couples. It’s a model that uses four steps:
1. Observation: This part of the communication process is about describing what you hear or see. Describe what you like or dislike, without judgment, evaluation or blame. e.g. “John, I notice that your clothes are on the floor” or “Max, I noticed you didn’t return my phone call.”
2. Feeling: This part of the process is about sharing your feelings when you observe this action, so that you are known by the other e.g. I feel hurt, scared, happy or angry. e.g. “When you leave your clothes on the floor, I feel frustrated” or “When you didn’t return my phone call, I felt hurt.”
3. Need: When we state our need, we are expressing what our values are, and how they are connected to the observation. Here is how you might link the first 3 steps: “John, I notice that your clothes are on the floor, and I feel irritated because I have a need for a clean house.”
It’s important to note that the need is not about John picking up his clothes. A need is often related to a value that we believe is important, and for this reason they tend to be more broad and general, such as, “I need to feel appreciated”; “I need to be professional and on time”; or “I have a need to be honest and open with those I love”. The need is the bigger picture, so step back and think about what values or beliefs is this reaction of yours tapping into.
4. Request: This is the part of the model where we make a request for change. The request is what we want from the other that would enrich our life. So the last part of the example might be “John, I would really appreciate it if you would pick up your clothes and put them in the laundry” or “I would like you to return my phone calls when I contact you.”
The great thing about this model is you can also use it in reverse so that you can deepen your connection and empathy with your partner. Use the four components to sense what your partner might be observing, feeling and needing and then become aware of what might enrich their life with the fourth part, a request. In my experience this is a wonderful way to deepen your relationship and to voice your feelings, needs and requests in a way that you can truly be heard.
Here’s an example of how you can use it in reverse: “John, I know you have seen my clothes on the floor, and I’m guessing you might feel irritated, because you have a need for a clean house. I’m going to work on being more aware of my own mess in future.”
By using the model in reverse, you can also anticipate your partner’s reactions and bypass conflict. This approach will also help your partner feel understood and acknowledged, which will bring you closer together as a couple.
Are your needs being met in your gay relationship?
Perhaps your communication around needs is not working in your relationship. Try this process in your communication with your partner.
The NVC Process
The concrete actions we are
observing that are affecting our well-being
How we are feeling in relation
to what we are observing
The needs, values, desires, etc.
that are creating our feelings
The concrete actions we request
in order to enrich our lives
If your gay relationship is needing the help of a professional, search Australia Counselling on our gay and lesbian counselling page for counsellors and relationship therapists that focus on working with gay and lesbian people. Australia Counselling has counsellors, therapists and psychologists in Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane.