Cute little siblings (boy and girl) being at odds with each other, sitting on armchairI, Shana, let the tears flow last month as I deepened my understanding about the causes of struggle and conflict in past love relationships. My search for deeper understanding about how to really support people in having thriving relationships brings me back to the basics. It’s like the wisdom that happens when doing a beginner yoga class after 15 years of practicing yoga. Those classes always shed light on postural adjustments that deepen my practice.

This month I am grateful for Marshall Rosenberg, creator of the profound practice of NonViolent Communication. I have practiced the basic principles of NVC for many years, but reading the book illuminated one of the most destructive habits I’ve had in relationship.

What is the habit?

Drumroll please!!!!!!

(Not to give it more attention than it deserves, but wow it has put on a quite a show!)The habit is defending myself, instead of staying open to hear someone’s needs.I didn’t always do this, of course. But when I did, it created a knot of tension and disconnection that chipped away at the foundation of relationship.

We tend to defend ourselves when we’re afraid there is something wrong with us, when we don’t think we live up to certain standards, or when we aren’t getting the rest, support or connection we need (trying to be superwoman and do it all on our own).

In those cases we may be tired, pressured, or longing for support. And it’s easy to miss that a person’s expression points to his/her own needs and feelings, rather than something wrong or bad about us.

The clearest example from my most recent relationship are the times when Tim shared that it didn’t feel like I was caring for him.

A Nonviolent Communication lens would have been to notice his feelings and needs. I could have said something like: “It seems like when I said X, you felt angry that you weren’t getting the care you wanted.” My view may have been off, but if so we would have eventually come to a shared reality about his feelings and needs.

Instead, I felt so much shame about being seen as someone who didn’t care for others, I would blow up. “Are you serious? You don’t see all the ways I am caring for you? You’re acting like I’m not on your side and I show you that I am but you don’t even notice!”

Each of us has situations that stir our emotions and push us beyond our capacity to remain calm, compassionate and connected. It may be when someone tells you what to do or asks a lot of you. It may be when you feel disrespected or unseen. It may be something as simple as someone asking you to repeat yourself…

Wherever you start to defend yourself or react, instead of respond with care and compassion, is where your relationships start to break down.

Knowing what situations “push you over the edge” is the best way to stop them before they start.

Take a few minutes right now. Think of at least three situations where you blew up, or felt like you were going to. What happened? What did you think you needed to defend about yourself?

Learning to transform your reactions into consciously chosen responses will make the difference between a crash and burn relationship and one that continues and thrives.

if you need support.

Share your wisdom here on the blog with other women or ask questions.

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2 Responses to What makes or breaks a relationship – personal, tearful insights

  1. elana says:

    Hi Shana,
    Thanks for sharing. I was delighted to hear you speak about the work of Nonviolent Communication as it is something I deeply value and find so incredibly helpful in navigating my life. I especially appreciated the reminder to keep my heart open and remember that no matter what another person is saying they are communicating feelings and needs. I resonate with how deeply I want to be acknowledge for my caring and how challenging it can be to stay open and connected when I’m feeling so distraught at not being received for the care that I intended. This is powerful stuff, and sometimes challenging to live as fully as we would like!! So I hope you’re having compassion for yourself too. If you or any of your readers are interested, I’ve written several blog posts pertaining to NVC which can be found on my website at

  2. Lori says:

    Beautifully said, Shana. I see how I’ve gotten defensive in my parenting with my 13-year-old daughter and how I used to get defensive with my ex-husband in our marriage. You make a great point that we can look at our interactions with a new lens and, therefore, see and hear the needs of the other person with compassion. What a simple shift – using a new lens – that can make THE difference in having thriving relationships full of love and connection. Thank you for sharing this so eloquently and simply!


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