the story behind SALT – TCM to NVC


image | mike & court

* it is with mike’s permission that i share this post

in the summer of 2012 i met someone and my life was forever changed. we later became a self-titled couple known as “TCM – Team Court Mike.” we have had many ups and downs, including some of the highest highs of my life and some of the lowest lows. we dated for about 5 years before finally calling it quits a few years ago, despite many attempts to make it work. we’ve remained friendly and are in contact to this day.

so how does this story of TCM relate to SALT? because besides my parents, mike is the one person – the true catalyst – that led me on a path of personal and professional growth. i believe with certainty that i would not be where i am today had our paths not crossed, and believe 100% that NVC would not be my desired language of life if it weren’t for him.

mike grew up in a very nontraditional way compared to mine. he often spoke about of his younger years, which seemed to be shaped particularly by his father’s participation in self-growth work. as a small boy he attended COMEGA (COnnecticut Mens Gathering, Inc.), an organization that his father helped organize, and that they both attend to this day. he was familiar with NVC as his father, sister, and many adults in what can be referred to as their “family of choice” practice nonviolent (aka compassionate) communication. mike spoke in a way that i had never really encountered – direct, honest, authentic, real – intriguing and very attractive for sure! 

i remember sometimes feeling intimidated or threatened by this “community” he spoke of, because it sounded so foreign to my “mainstream” lifestyle (a term his sister once referred to me as, that i only now understand and embrace). even as a master’s level licensed social worker, i had never been exposed to some of the vulnerabilities and insights that he had.

many times throughout our relationship i would struggle to explain my feelings or what i needed. he would sometimes say something to me like, “it sounds like you need ——.” or, “maybe you could request that i ——.” and, “are you feeling —— because you need ——.” i would ask, “how do you know me better than i know myself?” or, i might say, “yes! that’s exactly what i have been trying to tell you!” i was often baffled and could not understand how he “got” me when i felt like i couldn’t even “get” myself. i remember thinking to myself, “who talks like this?!” he shared that it was NVC. i only finally understood it when i read the book at the end of our relationship. keep in mind that to him, this way of communicating was “normal.” to me, my world was just cracking open!

the need to be seen, which stemmed from my childhood and carried into adulthood, was and still is, a constant trigger for me. if i didn’t have that need met, i would become quite emotionally immature and look to another to fill my need. throughout our relationship i was downright harsh towards mike (and myself) at times.

enter “violent” communication… though we had a relationship filled with intimacy on so many levels, i had this younger self (i hate to admit it, but she sometimes still comes out – i’m a work in progress!) that could easily show her dark colors if triggered. in general i tend to be pretty blunt, but this was far worse than being blunt. over time, the communication between us got very toxic.

he did not always practice NVC, however he was definitely capable when he had the time, space, and patience to “be” with me. putting this into action is so much easier said than done, particularly when in conflict. i was so deep in pain from the lack of self-love and a troubled relationship. i shamed, resorted to digs, yelled and lashed out – sometimes consciously, and mostly unconsciously. it was what i knew. he would sometimes say, “courtney, you cannot speak to me like that.” huh?

over time we grew apart in our own ways. he distanced himself and coped with life stressors in his own way, ways that only further triggered me. he had other distractions, priorities essentially. i felt so unseen, and lost. the more we grew apart the less i liked and trusted him, and the less i liked and trusted myself. our relationship was a breeding ground for disfunction by the end.

after cohabitation and a commitment to some time in couples therapy, we realized we had to go our separate ways. we both admittedly contributed to the collapse of the relationship. this parting, however, it turned out to be just the beginning for each of us, on our own journeys towards higher self-awareness. i am forever thankful for the “blessons” he has brought into my life.

today, mike and i have a deep-rooted respect and admiration for one another, and we have found ways to speak to one another in ways that never existed before … am i perfect, hell no! is he perfect, no! but i am more aware of how i relate and communicate, with him and others, and can do so in a more considerate way. it takes effort, like all good things in life.

i still feel uncomfortable, insecure and awkward sometimes because i am still early on in my learnings of this language, however now, i try to notice these feelings and explore them with curiosity rather than judgement or shame. today, we can even share a laugh about our “behaviors” at times over the course of the relationship. we sometimes talk about riches – he had many riches in self-awareness and communication, whereas i had plenty of the tangible riches that he did not growing up. if he, who came from a nontraditional family, who as a child decorated plants instead of trees on christmas because they were so monitarily poor, can learn these principles to effective communication and heightened self-awareness and become a successful AND emotionally intelligent adult, than so can i, and so can you. 

in the fall of 2017, i was working on a campaign for work that had to do with the book by dr. ira byock, the four things that matter most. it presents a communication framework to help us to not only live, but to also die, well. he says that the four most important statements to communicate to people are: please forgive me. i forgive you. thank you. i love you. the campaign that i created was about encouraging our staff to learn these 11 simple, yet so hard words to say; integrate them into their own lives; and then share about the four things with those we care for or interface with. since i felt i needed to practice what i was preaching, i wrote out important things i wanted to say to mike, and then i called him one afternoon during a work trip and read him the notes i had made. i was able to more clearly state my reasons for forgiveness, thanks, and love because of NVC. it was the most gratifying phone call i’ve ever had, a release of truth and a receipt of love. i am still working on mustering up the courage to do this for others … it’s truly hard work.

from here i continued on my NVC exploration independently, mainly guided by my therapist, lindsay korth, LCSW, during my weekly sessions in hamden, ct. i was seeing more and more how helpful  NVC can be both personally and professionally. one night, may 28, 2018 to be exact, i couldn’t sleep so i decided to create something. what i created that night was this blog, SALT acronym and all! since then, a lot has happened!

in early summer of 2018, i was introduced to elyse simon by a dear colleague, rev. marybeth marshall (see the synchrony of the name marshall, as NVC’s founder is marshall rosenberg!). marybeth met elyse at a yoga studio shortly after elyse relocated to rhode island from massachusetts. marybeth knew we would be kindred spirits, and she was right! we met at barnes and noble in warwick and shared about our careers, passions, and interests. i mentioned NVC, and out of her bag, elyse pulled out the needs and feelings lists! she is the only person i have shared this with who knew what i was talking about! it was here our connection blossomed and the gates of possibility opened.

a season later, with practice sessions behind us, we opened a boutique well-BEing studio, SALT : Self-Awareness, Let’s Talk, LLC on main street in east greenwich, rhode island. we were proud to be the only known place to embrace and practice the principles of NVC (just one of our many offerings) in the state.

the combination of my family dynamics; my relationship with mike; mike’s experience with “conscious” parenting and upbringing, his relationship with his father, and navigating his own journey of fatherhood; my introduction to therapy also on main street in east greenwich back in 2013 with jackie venditto, LICSW; having a therapist who believes in and practices NVC; meeting elyse; opening and then closing the studio; and having a general curiosity about ways to communicate in a different way – one that helps to drive deeper connections – is what brings me here. i am thankful for the journey and all those who have been here along the way – challenging and cheering me on.

some of my personal goals include learning to better understand myself and others, and to lead a more authentic, nonjudgmental and empathetic life. i plan to share my learnings and resources with others, while learning as i go from this great community, and i hope that future generations can receive these tools earlier to help foster environments where heightened consciousness and peace thrive. 

may SALT curate many more curiosities for all who join us as we dive deep to live well. welcome to this unmapped journey! may you find some comfort here …

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