Having Our Needs Met in Relationships

She looks at her watch and says in annoyed tone: “You are home late, again! You always come home late! Do you have to go to the Gym after work every day?”

His reply is defensive: “Yes, I do! That’s the only time I have to myself. You don’t ask me for permission to have your hair done or your nails! You like to go into work early at least three or four times a week and I always have to take the kids to school instead of going to the Gym.”

She retorts angrily: “You make it sound as if I only think of myself but I am working full time like you and I am sitting home alone with the kids, every night after I have run them around to their classes. You never help me! Once in a while, you could come home earlier and make dinner for everybody!”

This was the role play my partner and I acted out for one of my talks on non-violent communication just a couple of weeks ago. When I introduce my clients to the four steps of NVC, based on Marshall Rosenberg’s work, they seem so easy and straightforward. Yet, it is so ingrained in most of us to have conversations in which one or both people get defensive and feel attacked due to us using generalized critical statements and blaming each other. When we do not feel safe in a conversation, our fight or flight response sets in. We either attack, or we withdraw and shut down. Despite the anger on the surface, deep down both partners long for nothing more than a safe space to connect and express how they feel underneath the anger.

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Let’s look at how we can change these patterns of defending, withdrawing and attacking, using our example. What are the needs of both parents? She has the need for support; he has the need for alone time. They both have the need for recognition of what they do.

Based on those needs what do they feel? She feels alone and unsupported, he feels controlled. They both feel unappreciated.

Before you read on, put yourself in her shoes and using the four steps of non-violent communication find a more successful way of expressing her feelings, explaining her needs, and finishing with a concrete request made to her husband. Remember to make neutral observations free of judgments in regards to him going to the Gym. Then use “I” statements which reflect that she is taking responsibility for her own feelings. Nobody makes us feel a certain way. Our feelings are a result of the meaning we give our perceptions. Next help her express her needs, values or desires which are at the root of her feelings. End with a request that can be negotiated between the partners.

NVC 4 Steps

Here is one possible way for her to communicate using the four steps of NVC and a calm neutral tone: “I have NOTICED (step 1) that you tend to go to the gym after work and by the time you come home, the kids need to go to bed. I FEEL (step 2) a bit left alone when you come home late almost every night. I WOULD LIKE to (step 3) spend more family time with you and the kids. WOULD YOU BE WILLING (step 4) to come home earlier once or twice a week, so we can spend more time together?

Now, let’s not forget that he also has feelings and needs. How can we help him express his side of the situation?

He could for example say: “I FEEL (step 2) that I only have time after work to exercise. I NEED (step 3) to have some alone time. I also FEEL (step 2) unappreciated and taken for granted when I give my gym time in the morning up to take the kids to school. I really appreciate that you work full-time and run the kids to their after-school activities.” (He has recognized they both feel unappreciated and is giving her the appreciation they both need.) Step 4 is negotiating her request: “I am willing to come home early on Tuesdays and Thursdays if you can commit to taking them to school the next morning? I WOULD also sometimes LIKE to hear that you appreciate what I do.”

Now it is up to her to respond, to acknowledge what he does for the family and to perhaps make a concrete request to cook dinner once a week. If one of the partners is struggling to connect with their feelings and the needs underneath, the other one can help by asking, “I am wondering if you feel…?” or saying “Do you perhaps have a need for…?” and offering, “Let me know how I can help you get what you need.” Implementing a process like NVC takes patience and practice because most of us have never learned that our needs matter, how to connect with our more vulnerable feelings underneath our anger and to express our needs without blame or judgement.

To learn more about expressing our needs you can contact

Angelika for individual sessions or Shadow Energetics Workshops

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Accepting, Acknowledging and Honouring Feelings and Needs Builds Bridges

She is in the kitchen cooking. His parents are expected in an hour and she is starting to feel stressed that things aren’t ready yet. She asks her partner to set the table. In the past he has experienced being laughed at and judged for how he has set the table and he is not keen on experiencing this judgement again. He is also just finishing an e-mail, so he can relax when the guests arrive.

He says, “It’s too early to set the table now. Why are you always making such a big fuss about setting the table? And why are you so stressed about having my parents over? I’ll do it when they get here.” She replies, “Why can you never do what I ask you? I am slaving away in the kitchen and you are doing nothing. Now I also have to set the table. You never bother setting the table properly anyways…” And the couple is “off and running” with judgments and criticism instead of having a productive communication.

When we are communicating with our partner—or our children for that matter—and we have the sense that we are not getting through, what might be in the way are our power selves. Our primary personality parts or primary selves are often power selves. They have been helping us to survive in this world for most of our lives. We are so used to those voices that we often think that’s just who we are.

To figure out what some of your power selves and/or primary selves are, consider for a moment into what energy you tend to shift to cover up your vulnerability. Do you have an angry power self? A rational power self? A controlling power self? A moral power self? A righteous power self? A pusher primary part? A strong perfectionist part? A spiritual part you shift into? A psychoanalytical self? The list goes on. All those voices or energies help us to feel stronger and in control. In relationships, however, they keep the other person at a distance.

The more we are in touch with our vulnerable authentic self and can communicate from an Aware Ego, the more clearly our partner can hear us without needing to go into his or her power selves and put his or her defences up.

Accepting, Acknowledging & Honouring Feelings & Needs QUOTE 1

Our judgements in a partnering relationship give us the feedback that our disowned selves are operating. When we are coming from our primary selves, we tend to judge more harshly. If I am over-identified with the rational mind, I will judge a partner who is more emotional and makes his or her decisions from a feeling place. If I am identified with being extrovert, I might judge a more introvert person as slow or too quiet and might not understand why they need quiet time alone to think. The introvert in turn might judge the extrovert as being too loud, too quick and for needing or craving social interactions. When there is a doer and a dreamer in a partnership, they will judge each other’s approaches to life. Or if I am over-identified with that voice that worries what other people think, I might judge my partner for dressing more relaxed, not having good table manners or saying something inappropriate.

However, “the thing you hate the most and judge the most is the medicine that you need the most” (Dr. Hal Stone, founder of Voice Dialogue). What Hal Stone means by that is that whatever our partner is showing us is most likely an energy we are not in touch with. In order to be whole human beings and have the true freedom of choice of how we want to feel and act in each given moment, it is a good idea for us to consider embracing that trait which we judge.

Often judgments go both ways as in the example above. So what is happening with the couple in our example? They are mirroring each other’s shadows. They are judging each other for what they themselves have disowned. He is judging her for making a “silly” request, for caring too much about appearance and for being controlling and conscious of time. He is identified with a more relaxed attitude towards meals and having guests. She judges him as being lazy and unhelpful and incapable or possibly too uneducated or too carefree to meet her standards of perfection.

The couple has different priorities and different needs. How differently would the conversation go if they used non-violent communication to acknowledge the partner’s feelings and needs and express their own? A successful conversation could sound like this:

She :”I am starting to feel a bit stressed because I am worried that we won’t be done when your parents arrive. I am anxious because I want everything to be welcoming. Would you please set the table now?”

He: “I have noticed that you are feeling stressed. I know you like things to look nice and make sure that our guest are comfortable. Thank you for doing all this work. I would still like to finish my e-mail so that I can forget about work and relax when my parents get here. Is it okay with you, if I set the table in half an hour?”

She: “Thank you for letting me know about your e-mail. I understand that you would still like to finish. If you could make sure to use the new table cloth and find matching napkins, that would help me a lot. Can you please make sure we are done with the preparations when your parents arrive? I would like to be able to give them our full attention when they get here.”

Accepting, Acknowledging & Honouring Feelings & Needs QUOTE 2

They have both acknowledged each other’s feelings and needs. They have also clearly and non-confrontationally expressed their own feelings and needs. Setting the table has become an acceptable request, instead of a silly demand. How do we know if we have made a request, rather than a demand? Our partner has the option to either say no, or to negotiate how and when he or she meets the request.

The Four-Part Nonviolent Communication Process developed by Marshall Rosenberg includes: Clearly EXPRESSING what I observe, feel and require, and making a clear request; openly RECEIVING what my communication partner observes, feels, needs and requests.

The steps of non-violent communication are not complicated. However, it requires discipline to remember to communicate with I statements, expressing how we feel, and without generalizations (“You always”, “You never”) or why-questions which can be taken as criticism (Why is the table not set? Why are the children not in bed yet?). When you use the words “I feel because I…” it reminds all communication partners that what we feel is not because of what the other person did, but because of our perception and a feeling choice we made regarding our perception.

Accepting, Acknowledging & Honouring Feelings & Needs QUOTE 3I often hear one partner saying, “I just don’t understand why he/she feels this way!” That statement is a hidden judgment. It prevents us from building a bridge. Change it to “I am willing to understand how he/she feels.” It helps if we can truly empathize and understand why our partner has a certain feeling or need. However, ultimately it is immaterial if we understand on a rational level; we need to respect feelings without judgments, even if they are different from ours. It helps if we can really empathize. What is needed is to arrive at a point where we can accept the other person’s feelings the way they are. In order to communicate most successfully, we need to move beyond needing to be right and beyond making the other person wrong. If we want our feelings and needs to be respected, we need to stop judging other people’s feelings and needs and begin to truly accept and respect them.


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The Surprising Purpose of Anger

The central idea behind Marshall B Rosenberg’s system of Non-Violent Communication is people’s needs and whether they are being met. NVC shows us how to express ourselves in ways that increase the likelihood of getting what we need. It also teaches us how to listen to and respond to the messages of others from our heart. Once the needs of all people involved have been acknowledged and understood, compromises or solutions can be found. We have a natural inclination to help others out and make life better for them. When we are approached with a true request, we tend to grant the request, if possible.

If anger is present, it is more likely that the interaction is not going to be very constructive. Suppressing or denying anger never works. We need to ask what is going on underneath the anger. Anger is like the indicator light in your car. We wouldn’t ignore that warning light. It gives us useful information about what our engine needs.

check engine light

The first thing we need to let go of is blaming others for our anger. Nobody makes us feel angry. The behaviour of others might be the trigger for our anger but not the cause. When you find yourself thinking “He/she is making me feel angry because…” stop and reframe. We are never angry because of what others say or do. We are angry because of what we are telling ourselves about the situation.

“The cause of anger lies in our thinking—in thoughts of blame and judgment.” (Marshall Rosenberg, Non-violent Communication, 143)

Here is an example: If you have agreed to pick me up at 6:00 but you show up at 6:30, am I angry? It depends on what I make this mean. Do I tell myself that you don’t care about me or my time and that you are disrespectful toward me? Do I judge you as unreliable and inconsiderate? Do I stress myself out because we might now be late for something? These are all stories which will make me feel angry. If I don’t give your lateness any meaning, don’t take it as a personal attack, I don’t feel angry. If you arrive late and my need is to spend time purposefully and constructively, I might feel frustrated or angry. If my need is for 30 minutes of quiet time or to finish something myself, I might feel pleased.

It is not you who has made me feel angry, it is the story I tell myself based on my underlying need. When we are connected to our needs, we don’t need to move into anger. Instead of engaging in righteousness, we can connect with our own needs and those of others. Instead of believing we are angry because somebody else made us feel this way, we can shift to “I am feeling anger because my need for… is not met.”

Marshall Rosenberg quote

We have the choice to take four steps toward expressing anger constructively:

  1. Stop what we are thinking or saying and breathe
  2. Identify our judgmental thoughts and stories
  3. Connect with our feelings and needs underneath the anger
  4. Express our feelings and unmet needs
  5. Make a concrete request of how our needs can be met

When I share the steps of non-violent communication with my clients, three different hurdles usually show up. One, many of us have never learned to recognize what our needs are. Two, nobody has ever taught us how to express them. Three, we need to be okay with the other person denying our request.

Here are some examples for beliefs that we need to balance at a subconscious level to communicate more successfully:

  1. My needs are important / as important as other people’s needs.
  2. It is safe for me to express my needs.
  3. I am willing to communicate my emotions.
  4. I express my needs calmly and clearly.
  5. My needs are acknowledged / heard.
  6. I deserve to have my needs met.
  7. I love myself when others deny my requests.
  8. I listen with an open heart to other people’s feelings and needs.
  9. I respect and honour other people’s needs.
  10. I lovingly accept others as they are.

For examples of non-violent communication please read my blog “Communicating More Successfully”.

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For Belief Change Coaching and Relationship Coaching contact Angelika



Communicating More Successfully

When I coach couples, or parents and children, the main issue is usually communication. One of the big shifts that can be made in their relationship happens by changing their way of interacting and communicating with each other.

When we judge and criticise others, they feel unloved. When we use general statements like “You always…”, we label them and push them into a corner. When we blame them, they shut down. When we want to change another person, he or she feels “not good enough”. When we try to fix them, we are forgetting that everybody–no matter what age–is perfect, whole, complete and resourceful. We all have the answers and the solutions for change inside us.

By communicating from a place of love and acceptance, you can help the other person open up to change. Successful communication uses “I” statements, expresses how YOU feel without judgement or blame and ends with a concrete request from your side, so your family member, friend or colleague knows what you need.

Marshall Rosenberg in his acclaimed book “Nonviolent Communication” explains the NVC Process as follows:

1.      State the concrete actions you have OBSERVED that affect you.

2.      Share how you FEEL in relation to what you have observed.

3.      Explain the NEEDS, values, desires etc. that create your feelings.

4.      Make a concrete REQUEST in order to improve a situation or relationship.


One example for non-violent communication is:

“I have NOTICED that you spend a lot of time at the gym. I FEEL a bit left out when you come home late almost every night. I WOULD LIKE to spend more quality time with. WOULD YOU BE WILLING to come home earlier once or twice a week, so we can spend more time together?”

Another example is:

“When you make negative comments about my family I FEEL criticised and embarrassed. I love them as much as I love you. I NEED to feel I can see them whenever I want. WOULD YOU BE WILLING to keep negative comments to yourself, or to focus on the good sides they all have?”

By using those steps, we are showing the willingness to be emotionally responsible and the willingness to talk straight. We are taking responsibility for our own feelings, and acknowledging our needs. Nobody makes us feel a certain way; that is an inside job. By communicating our feelings clearly, we are in integrity in our relationships.

We are also making clear requests, not demands. How do you know when you have made a request, not a demand? If it is a true request the other person has a choice to say “no”.

For Relationship Coaching contact Angelika