At a recent practice group the metaphor of a tennis court came up during an exploration of someone’s feelings and needs about a particular relationship. We drew a picture of a tennis court on our white board and used it to get clarity about which side of the court is ours to play in a relationship.
It brought me back to when I was first learning NVC. The workshop facilitator asked me about my needs in a situation. I said something like, “I just want to understand why he’s angry and says such nasty things to me.” And the facilitator tried again, “and when that happens, what needs do you have?” Me: “I just want to understand what’s going on for him.”
I was so accustomed to figuring out his needs so I could try to meet them that it took me a while to get to the point where I could acknowledge how hurt and confused I felt when he was angry and that I wanted kindness, caring and fairness. That acknowledgement of my feelings and needs is what I would call being on my side of the net. I had a long practice of trying to play the other person’s side of the net (figuring them out and taking care of them), and it took a lot of practice to attain clarity about what was on my side of the net.
So in my relationship, instead of saying, “Why are you so angry?” (his side of the court), I want to say, “I feel hurt and discouraged when you talk to me like that. I notice that I am disconnecting from you more and more, and I am scared about losing my love for you.” (my side of the court) “Do you feel concerned hearing me say that?”
Being on my side of the net doesn’t mean that I don’t have curiosity or empathy for the person on the other side. It means that it’s my responsibility to figure out and speak my feelings and needs so that I can play the relationship game from my side and acknowledge the other person’s without trying to play their side for them.
I think it takes someone on each side of the net to play a healthy game of relationship.