What happens in "normal" conversations between couples - and where CSF comes into play...
Recently, I had the opportunity to experience a whole day of couples' conversations: while skiing on the chairlift, in the gondola or at the table in the restaurant.
To start with: with the conversation that is exemplary for me (it took place like this) I want to show the anatomy and in no way draw gender stereotypes. The people are arbitrarily interchangeable, as are the actual topics of the conversations. The sequence of events was the same for all the conversations I followed that day.
Boarding a four-seater chairlift. There is a couple, around sixty. He sits on the far right, she next to him. Then me and a gentleman in his forties to my left. The chairlift pulls up, rattles and swings out of the valley station. It becomes quiet. The first mast.
She starts to speak.
About how she would like to see an acquaintance, how long it's been since she's seen her, what she's doing, how she's doing....
He lights a cigarette awkwardly and slowly, looking into the distance to his right. Meanwhile, she continues to talk incessantly.
Suddenly she interrupts her monologue, which had been flowing steadily until then. After a few seconds of silence, just as he turns his head straight ahead again, she says in a somewhat louder and more determined voice: "Then we'll go home early on Sunday, don't you think?"
His answer comes immediately, in a loud, energetic and curt "No, certainly not, evening!"
Silence. The wind whistles softly, I hear laughter, jeering and shouts from the nearby runway.
It rattles and clatters over the next mast.
Then she says in what sounds to me like a fragile, shy voice, "So ... you ... you would ... go home in the evening?" - "Of course!" - "...all right..."
Silence. We are not yet halfway up the lift. It remains silent until we are at the top.
It could be that she initially enjoyed the peace and quiet and the surroundings, remembered a colleague and was not clear why and if she would like to get in touch with her. The latter is probably quite true, for me it was a matter of talking things through. She obviously had no knowledge of her own needs and seemed somehow trapped in the social habitus.
He, for his part, seemed to be able to handle it: he calmed himself down with nicotine and turned away. It was none(s) of his business either - she didn't speak to him at all.
She, in turn, had probably learned that she will get his attention if she takes a break. This was promptly followed by a request. A cryptic one, to be sure, and not comprehensible to him either, because what the request referred to (observation, her feelings, her needs that she hoped to fulfil with the request) she neither made clear to herself nor transparent to him.
He may have liked the sunshine and freedom on the slopes. He obviously didn't like the prospect of soon going home to the old grind. He may also have heard something (which she didn't say) that sounded to his ears like "we'll go home and then visit my colleague together". He doesn't seem to have liked it either. And he can therefore "only" answer her simple, closed question with a "no".
Probably rank then played a role: how the two people see each other in their being a couple, what rank they give themselves and the other person and how they then react according to this self-image.
I was already thinking "aha, so that's it" when she took a step towards him. I felt joyful excitement in me as she gave him back what she had heard from him. And immediately a sadness and wistfulness, for there was little chance of connection. For again the feeling and the need were missing, she remained on the strategy he had already expressed - and it was only a rejection invitation formulated in (again) closed questions. A request for connection would probably have got more out of him. But even if it had, she quickly "gave in". Done.
I experienced the same thing again and again that day in a variety of ways: one person starts to say something vaguely, the other somehow reacts to it and instead of a connection, a misunderstanding, a tension, an irritation arises. Our "system one", as Daniel Kahneman calls it, needs a quick relaxation, a logical explanation to calm down. Apparently, it hardly matters how sensible this logic is, the main thing is that the explanation is suitable for right now. In this way, with some back and forth, a situation is brought about that makes one "satisfied enough" for the moment and the tension is over.
Connection is different. So is the sustainability of the solution. Fulfilled partnership even more so. This requires "system two": a conscious, level-headed approach to each other. NVC may contribute to this, but its attitude ultimately makes it possible. This needs to be practised.
And instead of being frustrated after this day, I am happy about and with the numerous people who are learning NVC and thus bring benevolent, connecting, enriching qualities into their lives!