Compromise: “Sharing the resentment 50:50”

Typically, when a couple first comes to me for mediation, they’re each firmly rooted in their ‘corner of the ring’. Often, the main issues they’re wanting to talk about have been discussed many times before, with increasing degrees of pain and hopelessness of ever resolving them.

The more each person clings to the outcome they’re wanting, the more difficult it is for them to budge from their respective positions.

About now, some well meaning friend or relative is likely to give them the time-worn advice that “all relationships take compromise.” This may add to their sense of guilt that they’re being unreasonable, but is not likely to allay their fears of ‘losing’ themselves if they ‘give in’.

Indeed, if one of them does compromise, they’ll both ‘pay’ sooner or later. I love Marshall Rosenberg’s definition of compromise: “agreeing to share the resentment 50:50.” If one person does ‘cave’ to the other’s demand, their ‘yes’ is not wholehearted, and they either do it begrudgingly or inconsistently. This resentment only grows and toxifies the relationship more over time, each partner keeping a ‘scorecard’, cultivating a climate of competition rather than co-operation.

When I first heard Marshall’s definition, I couldn’t quite get my head around what he meant. Isn’t compromise a loving, giving thing to do? And how do you come to agreements without at least one person compromising, if you both want something different?
I’ve come to see that we’ve been sold a lemon! – that much of the relationship advice and modelling I’ve been given over my life simply reinforces a joyless, obligation-filled sense of duty that takes all the fun and pleasure out of our natural state of wanting to love.

I was excited to find that through NVC, there is a way to resolve conflicts that doesn’t involve anyone giving in, giving up or ‘losing’. When we’re willing to take on board the premise that all behaviour is an attempt to meet needs, it shifts our whole viewpoint: when someone wants something different from me, instead of it being a threat, it becomes a process of discovery, fuelled by curiosity.

When we are focussed only on outcome, or the strategy we’re attached to, there will often be conflict, because you can’t have both things at once.

Let’s take an example that may sound stereotypical, but you’d be amazed how often it comes up with couples!
He comes home later than she’s expecting him, say a couple of times a week. She gets annoyed and calls to ask where he is. He’s angry that she’s ‘nagging’ him. Later they talk about it calmly and he agrees to call if he’s going to be late. But really it’s just to ‘get her off his back’ and so, when he remembers to call, it’s with some resentment about ‘being controlled.”

What’s challenging about living the principles of NVC, is that it requires us to empathise with the needs another person might be trying to meet by their behaviour, even when I’m not enjoying the strategy they’re using to meet those needs. This is the part that can feel scary, cos ‘win/lose’ is so bred into us that we believe that if we ‘agree’ with someone, we may have to give up what we want.

However, the rewards of loosening off my fearful grip on my preferred strategy just enough to make space for hearing what is important to the other, are beyond imaginable!

Back to our example, when she hears his needs for coming home late – perhaps choice, freedom, trust – and he hears hers for wanting him to be home – maybe support, consideration, connection – and I mean really hears, and empathises with those needs, connection can begin to take place.

That part of the process is what can take quite a while, particularly with longstanding conflicts. But once a heart connection has been made at the level of needs, solutions emerge almost by themselves. Sometimes it might be a strategy they’ve already been using (e.g. call if you’re going to be late), but now with what we refer to as ‘shift’ rather than ‘compromise’: 100% willingness on the part of the giver, and 100% gratitude on the part of the receiver. Other times completely new, creative solutions emerge in the new, much more expansive space of compassion, care and connection.

It is truly nothing short of a miracle some of the healing and connection I have witnessed taking place between couples, family members and work teams when this state is reached.

Next time you’re at loggerheads with someone you care about, why not have a go at pulling out your needs list and getting curious about the needs that each of you is trying to meet? From there, you may be surprised how simple it is to come up with creative strategies to meet both of your needs.

If you need any support with this new way of approaching conflict, feel free to give me a call.


Using Observations to reduce overwhelm

If you know a little about NVC (Nonviolent Communication), then you have probably experienced the benefits of using the first of the 4 steps – observations – effectively in your communication with others.

For example, instead of talking with your partner about them forgetting to buy the milk on the way home from work by starting with ‘why are you always so forgetful?’ you’ve probably figured out that you’ll have more chance of being heard if you begin with something like “when I see you come in without the milk….”
The power of stating specifically what it is that we are reacting to is that we’re beginning the communication on common, factual ground, rather than an opinion or interpretation or judgment that is open to dispute or defence (such as ‘you’re so forgetful’).

Did you know though, that honing our ability to be specific about observation is also a very powerful way to support self-connection and reduce overwhelm? Here’s a recent example from my life: I’ve been spending a lot more time than usual lately on the computer, promoting courses and raising the profile of Communication for Life. At times, I’ve been feeling depleted and overwhelmed, so I decided to start catching some of the messages in my head. One of the main stories I heard was: ‘I’m always working and getting nowhere’.

When a story is global and nonspecific such as this, it quickly leads to a feeling of overwhelm and powerlessness, robbing us of energy and joy. And it seems to gather a wild momentum all of its own, until very soon we’re believing the story. No wonder Krishnamurti said “The highest form of human intelligence is to observe without evaluation.”

Stepping back a little and taking the objective view of ‘what a video camera would see’, I noticed that I wasn’t in fact ‘always working’ – what I was doing though, was turning on my phone as soon as I woke up, and having it and/or my computer accessible all day until bed time, I didn’t have set times for work and set times for other things, and I didn’t have scheduled days off. Once I had identified this, it was easier to make some requests of myself, such as deciding on specific times to receive emails (this may involve if not hiding the phone from myself, at least turning off the data for periods of time), and deciding on a schedule of work and ‘other’ time.

This may sound like a no-brainer to some of you, but it’s amazing just how much vague, global stories can cloud our common sense.

Think about some areas of your life where you commonly feel overwhelm, and you may find that you have similar non-specific, judging stories going on in your head, preventing some obvious simple solutions. E.g. do you find yourself saying to yourself ‘the kids are always fighting’?

If you get specific about what’s actually going on, you might notice some patterns, and that it’s not in fact ‘always’ happening. For example, maybe you notice that they fight most frequently when they return from a weekend at their other parent’s place. That observation might give some clues about possible solutions – make sure there are no after school activities that day, and spend quality time reconnecting with them, have one-on-one time with each child, etc.

Or maybe your pet ‘overwhelm story’ is something like ‘I’m just so messy’ or ‘I’m hopeless with money’. Getting specific about what’s triggering these evaluations can give direction about what you want to do about it, rather than falling deeper into the ‘I can’t’ hole.

I’d love to hear from you about examples in your life where making a clear observation has helped you reconnect with yourself and empowered you to meet your needs.

INTIMACY TIP: #Treat your partner like a stranger

You’re kidding me! How’s THAT going to make us feel closer??!!

Well you know, those ‘old sayings’ don’t become that way without there being some truth to them. So let’s have a look through an NVC lens at how familiarity would breed contempt (and therefore kill intimacy and connection…)

One of the premises of NVC is that our natural state is compassion and generosity. Simple litmus test: think of the last time you did or said something kind to someone, just spontaneously cos you wanted to. How did it feel in your own body?  Great, right?
What takes all the joy and pleasure out of that kind of giving? Yep, any sense of ‘should’ – duty, obligation, guilt-tripping, being taken for granted (whether it comes externally or internally).

So getting back to the stranger thing – have you ever noticed how, if you ask a favour of someone you don’t know so well, you have no sense of entitlement to anything from them? Contrast that with what most often creeps into our close relationships – an attitude that our loved ones ‘owe’ us something, or are even there just to do our bidding. We’d never admit that, but it’s what we’re saying with our energy – (I don’t want to give away Marshall’s punchline, but check out his funny skit here to see the all-too-common definition and unspoken contract of ‘love’).



Practice: So, next time you want to make a request of your partner (or kids, parents, siblings, close friend or anyone else who has been reduced to ‘familiar’ status), notice whether you are approaching them with a ‘demand’ energy. If this is the case, you will be robbing them of the opportunity to enjoy freely giving, and also decreasing the chances that you’ll get what you want.

If you tighten up in panic at the thought “but if I don’t make them do it, I’ll end up doing everything!” remember, making genuine requests (as opposed to demands) isn’t about giving up on your needs. A ‘no’ to a request is the beginning of the conversation, not the end. It is about getting curious about what the other person is saying ‘yes’ to behind their no, and continuing the conversation with willingness to find a solution that meets both your needs. When your partner feels your sincere intention to care for their needs as much as your own, you’ll be amazed at how willing they are to co-operate with you, and what creative strategies you might come up with together that you’d never considered before.

For more help in how to navigate that kind of conversation, come along to one of these one day trainings, or make use of the many other opportunities for learning more about NVC.

“If you really loved me…”

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How many people, when they’re talking about Mr or Mrs Right, are referring to themselves?

Most of us haven’t been taught that it’s how we are thinking about ourselves and others that is causing our unhappiness. We are largely unaware of how much responsibility for our happiness we are putting outside of ourselves – and therefore how much demand and expectation we are putting on others.

I clearly remember when I was younger (and not so young!) the feeling of being ‘in love:’ ecstatic, exuberant, blissful, ridiculously positive about everything, completely obsessed with the object of my ‘love,’ totally ungrounded and well… mad!

And then? The same phenomenon experienced by every couple I’ve ever worked with: inevitably, that initial euphoria wore off and the relationship mostly just started to feel like hard work.

Would I denounce that temporary high; warn adolescents that ‘the honeymoon will end,’ advise them to skip that phase and become emotionally ‘mature’? Hell no — that pleasurable experience is great for the body: alive, vital, open, soft, generous, confident, positive and warm.

The thing is though, that when we think another person is causing all those wonderful feelings, we are putting our happiness and wellbeing into the hands of something external, transient and impermanent. When we think our happiness is dependent on external conditions we live as a victim, and we have no option but to try and control others, ourselves and our circumstances if we want to stay happy.

This is not only a burden on me; it’s also a burden on my ‘lover.’ When I think that another person has caused my happiness, then I expect them to keep coming up with the goodies to maintain my feeling.

Likewise, it also follows that if I’m feeling bad it’s because of them too, and they should do something about it. For example, it seems to be an unspoken law that if one person in a couple is feeling sad or hurt it must be because of something the other has done (or not done), and that even if it isn’t, they should ‘care’ enough to do something about it.

If we’ve been around the relationship block a few times we know, really, that this kind of contract is not sustainable, but we set out anyway down the slippery slope of desperately trying to hold on to these blissful feelings, hoping against hope that this time will be different.

When yet again the ‘love’ ebbs and the relationship deteriorates into mediocrity, power struggles, resentment, jealousy, disappointment, feelings of entrapment and a sense of losing oneself, we can end up feeling hopeless, bitter and cynical about love and relationships.

What on earth is going on, that something that starts out so pleasurable so commonly follows this trajectory?

The unspoken contract

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Underlying our relationships is often the unspoken contract that “You should keep me happy and I should keep you happy.”

Our focus is so often on taking rather than giving. Even when it looks like giving to another, all too often it’s still self-serving behaviour, thinly disguised.

Some questions to ask yourself: do you go into a new relationship looking for what you can get, or what you can give? Do you have a check list of everything you’re looking for in a perfect partner, or of everything you’re offering?

If we got honest with ourselves, I reckon most of us, even an apparently ‘happy, fulfilled’ person, would discover that actually we are ‘waiting’: waiting for something or someone outside of ourselves to make us feel more complete.

When we see this, it’s no surprise that ‘love’ wears off. It stands to reason that if both people have entered into a relationship to try and ‘get love,’ then they’ll suck each other dry sooner or later.

One of the most confronting truths I’ve had to face in myself has been the realisation that in all my previous relationships, I’ve never been unconditionally in Love. What I’ve called ‘love’ has included wonderful moments of intimacy, closeness and deep connection, but always with the knowledge that certain things must be sacrificed or compromised in order to maintain the benefits.

There’s been a little bit of wriggle room for each partner to follow their own impulses, but only if they don’t deviate too far from what the other wants.

The costs may seem insignificant at first: maybe a slight restriction on what I feel I can do, who I can be with, or how I can express myself. I may brush them off for a while — these are just small compromises that are part of being in relationship, right? We’re a ‘couple’ now, so ‘the relationship’ comes first — of course you have to shelve certain aspects of your own life… right?

In time though, these ‘small sacrifices’ have always become intolerable, the ‘benefits’ no longer outweighing them. This is not surprising, as conforming to what we think someone else wants rubs right up against the vital human need for freedom and autonomy.

Nothing kills the enjoyment of giving more than a feeling of expectation or demand from the person we want to give to. Just think about how you feel when you’re about to get up and make your partner a cup of tea and they say, “About time you made me a cuppa, isn’t it?”

I’m with Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of Nonviolent Communication, when he says that our natural state is one of compassion: that humans genuinely enjoy giving and loving when it is freely given and received.

“Just let me get on and love you”

Most people want intimacy and yet most of us also abhor the feeling of being trapped.

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) says that all humans share universal needs, such as connection, support, intimacy and understanding; that we thrive when these and other needs are met and suffer in some way when they are not. In our couple-based culture, it’s an easy leap from this piece of information to the conclusion that therefore our partner is responsible for meeting those needs for us and to begin expecting — demanding, even — them to meet all of our needs. In turn, we then feel obligated to meet all of theirs.

However, this is a gross misinterpretation of the spirit of NVC. Applying the principles of NVC leads to a quality of connection with ourselves and others, which inspires a natural giving from the heart. Along with this is a sincere desire for the freedom and growth of our loved ones, rather than a drive to keep them limited to what suits us.

Why would we assume just because we enjoy someone’s company and want to share aspects of our lives with each other, that they are suddenly responsible for meeting all of our needs?

Resentment, anger, feeling of ‘no choice,’ finding it hard to say no, thoughts and speech full of ‘shoulds’ and ‘have tos’ and keeping a mental scorecard of who owes what, are some of the dead giveaways that we are stuck in a pattern of expecting each other to meet all our needs.

When we demand that someone acts in ways that keep us happy rather than being themselves, it’s no wonder that over time both start feeling cramped and resentful.

Obviously, in a healthy intimate relationship, a lot of our needs will be met. What determines whether this will continue to be a pleasurable exchange or deteriorate into a drudgery of obligations, is how much self-responsibility each person is willing to take for their own happiness.

What to do, then?

ecstatic man jumping for joy

To change a lifetime’s habit of putting responsibility for our needs outside of ourselves requires courage: it can be confronting to realise how we manipulate others for our own ends.

But with support to understand how we have been conditioned, we can lighten up on ourselves and enjoy freeing ourselves and others from the grip of these behaviours and beliefs.

Then we are free to begin to create fulfilling, authentic relationships and stop making excuses for not living our own lives.

I am passionate about supporting people in this life-serving process. If you are excited about exploring all this and questioning and challenging yourself in a safe way, then I hope you’ll join me for the upcoming ‘Edge and Ecstasy of Intimate Relationships’ weekend, held at the beautiful Tushita Ashram Mystery School in Peria, Northland. We’ll be drawing on NVC principles and the timeless wisdom of knowing that you’re already ok.

For more information and bookings, go to:


Life beyond right and wrong


One of my favourite poems by Rumi begins: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

It is pretty commonly accepted these days that guilt, shame and depression have a detrimental effect on health and wellbeing. But how aware are we of the root cause of these modern day scourges of humanity? How many people can see that it is how we have been trained to think about ourselves and each other: as separate, deficient, unworthy, that stimulates our unhappiness?

Language both informs and reveals the thinking of a culture. The language that we in the West have been thoroughly indoctrinated with is that of right/wrong, good/bad, should/shouldn’t, victim/perpetrator – the moralistic language of judgement and blame, diagnosis and analysis, domination and demand, fault-finding and lack. It is all of this ‘programming’ that perpetuates low self-worth, dehumanises, separates, and renders us capable of inflicting harm on ourselves, each other and the planet we depend on for our lives.

Communication for Life is firmly grounded in the understanding that Wise Ones throughout time have been trying to help us realise: that each of us is existing as Life – whole, worthy, already OK. It teaches the principles and skills of Nonviolent Communication/NVC (named after Gandhi’s term ‘nonviolent’ to describe our natural compassionate state):

  • We are all compassionate by nature; violent strategies, physical or verbal, are learned behaviours taught and supported by the prevailing culture.
  • All humans share the same basic universal needs
  • All actions are a strategy to meet one or more of our needs, and if we are aware of what those needs are, we have more choices of how to meet them.

I have come to have absolute faith in the assertion of Marshall Rosenberg, creator of NVC, that when how we are perceiving life is based on needs rather than right/wrong thinking, we are far more likely to be compassionate towards ourselves and others, and that this inspires ‘life-serving’ behaviour naturally. For example, when I’m doing my daily stretches because I think I ‘should’, my motivation is generally very shortlived, compared to when I connect with how deeply I would love to have ease and lack of pain in my body. Or, when my child repeatedly doesn’t do the dishes, there is much more likelihood of us coming to an agreement that works for both of us when the conversation is had outside of right and wrong and judgements like ‘lazy’, and instead I understand their need for ease and choice, and can express my need for support and consideration.

In Communication for Life workshops, it is common for people to react with fear and cynicism to the suggestion that humans would behave compassionately if we removed right and wrong from our thinking. This is understandable, given the cruelty and violence we see around and inside us. But, it is important not to mistake that which has become ‘normal’ for that which is ‘natural’.

Here’s an easy litmus test of the truth that compassion is our natural state: think about the last time you were kind or generous to yourself or another. How did you feel in your body? Now compare that to how you feel when you withhold, judge, blame or ‘be mean’. Which one feels more natural, open, relaxed – altogether pleasurable in the body?

There’s no doubt about it: imposing a moralistic code of ‘right and wrong’ on a society certainly does influence people’s behaviour. But what kind of ‘right’ do we want to be guided by? Do we want children to follow many adults’ example, and come to the conclusion that ‘right’ is just what you do when someone is watching, or do we want to give all humans the opportunity to cultivate a true sense of integrity, compassion and dignity?

If you are interested in feeling the joyful empowerment that comes of no longer being a puppet to the external sticks and carrots of society, and instead living by a profound, internally motivated integrity, the field beyond right and wrong is fertile ground for exploring that possibility.


Jocelyn Kennedy

Compromise: “Sharing the resentment 50:50”

Typically, when a couple first comes to me for mediation, they’re each firmly rooted in their ‘corner of the …


Using Observations to reduce overwhelm If you know a little about NVC (Nonviolent Communication), then you have probably …

INTIMACY TIP: #Treat your partner like a stranger

You’re kidding me! How’s THAT going to make us feel closer??!! Well you know, those ‘old sayings’ …