Category Archives: Communication

Be Sensitive First, Then Honest

A recent failure on my part reminded me to monitor my initial reactions to an unpleasant experience. Thankfully, my insensitivity didn’t bother my husband Tom as much as I feared it had, but I’m always striving to improve.

My husband wasn’t feeling well, so he opted out of a family gathering. I had a relaxing day with my two daughters, a son-in-law, my four grandchildren, and my step dad. Our fun interactions were mixed with emotionally touching moments. I drove home in a quiet car mentally singing, “Life without God’s love is like a doughnut…there’s a hole in the middle of your heart.”* I prayed that everyone could be filled with God’s love.

When I got home and walked into the house, Tom was on the couch and he had music blaring loudly. It was a startling contrast to my mood. I said, “Hi” and we smiled at each other, and then at a volume to match the music, I yelled, “Do you think it’s loud enough?” He turned it off and I asked how he was feeling and said I wanted to hear about his day as soon as I unloaded the car. (That part was okay.) Then I sat next to him and, feeling badly about my comment on the volume of the music, said he could turn it back on, just not so loud. He left it off and we discussed how the day had gone for each of us. (He had a relaxing day.) So far, we were doing fine. After I showed him the pictures, I got absorbed into editing them. He then headed off to bed and I feared he was feeling ignored. It turned out he was mostly just tired.

The next morning, I confessed my insensitivity and apologized and asked how it had made him feel. Then I explained how the contrast in mood had startled me and that loud music actually hurts my ears.

So, if I were to do that scene over, it would look something like this: I’d enter and say, “Hi! How are you feeling?” (Listen to his answer.) Then I’d say, “I want to unload the car, then I’d like to hear about your day.” After unloading the car, I would sit by his side, and if he hadn’t already turned the music down, say, “Would you mind turning the music off while we talk?” Then we’d share about our days and I’d do the photo editing when I was alone. The next day, at an appropriate time, I’d share my feelings about the music.

I’m blessed to be married to a man who cares about my feelings, so we’re both working on being more sensitive and honest with each other.

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*The partial quote is from a Rob Evans “Donut Man” song. The whole line says, “Life without God’s love is like a doughnut, like a doughnut, like a doughnut. Life without God’s love is like a doughnut, ‘cuz there’s a hole in the middle of your heart.”

 

The Subtleties of Usurping Initiative

I need to be aware of the subtle ways I unintentionally usurp another person’s initiative.

Regardless of whether or not I intend to be helpful, when I do for another person what they could do for themselves, I’m not being helpful. In fact, I’m actually hindering their growth. I will share a few examples.

My husband and son were serving in a church program for children. We received an email stating the date that the two of them would present the lesson. I almost answered it to let them know Tom would be out of town. Thankfully, before I did, I noticed the string of emails below it and saw that Tom had already worked out an alternative date. Even if Tom had not answered, the correct thing to do would be to simply ask Tom if he saw the email and then leave it in his hands. That correspondence had nothing to do with me, so it was not my place to answer it. To do so would be usurping his initiative.

Another area where I have been guilty of this is by playing middle man (a very dangerous position to be in, especially if not invited to do so). When raising children, a mother is often called upon to be a peacemaker. It takes time and conscious practice to step out of this role when dealing with adults (our adult children or other adults). I am learning that adults must decide for themselves if, when, and with whom they wish to share their feelings. It is not my place to share one person’s feelings with another without their permission, even if my desire is to help them work things out. To do so would be usurping their initiative. (I would also be guilty of breaking a confidence by sharing something without permission.)

Often, I’ve heard wives state that they wish their husband would be the leader of the family. I think part of the problem is that we wives must first learn how to stop leading. It takes patience to wait for someone to take the initiative, but I’m learning to pray and wait, rather than just jump in and take charge. I’m also learning how Tom perceives some of my casual comments, and I’m trying not to make them. For example, once, when we were at the beach, Tom was given a booklet he didn’t want. As we walked along, I said, “There are trash cans if you want to get rid of that.” He made a sound that indicated he didn’t want to do that, so I kept quiet. If he wanted to carry it, that was fine with me. A few trash cans later, he dropped it in the trash can and jokingly said he was depositing it in the circular file. I said nothing, but I started pondering why he often ignores my suggestion and then later does what I had suggested. I decided that, while it may be subconscious on his part, it flows out of his God given drive to be the initiator and the fact that he doesn’t like to be told what to do unnecessarily. Tom agreed with my assessment. In regard to this incident, he was capable of deciding for himself if he wanted to get rid of a booklet or not.

Sometimes letting others take the initiative involves the courage to allow a loved one to possibly fail or make a mistake. I have to fight my tendency to want to rescue someone from the consequences of their failure to act. So, I might want to remind them of an upcoming deadline, for example. I’m learning to keep quiet and pray, if I have not been asked to be the person’s secretary. When they’re successful, I can praise them. When they aren’t, I can trust they’ll learn valuable lessons from their mistakes, just as I do.

I’m thankful the Lord, my husband, and our children are so patient with me. I am continually learning and trying to improve.

Wait For Unity

I have been guilty of two opposite mistakes in my marriage.

  • I didn’t share my feelings honestly with my husband and just let him have his way even when I disagreed, or
  • I tried to persuade him to my point of view.

 

Both are wrong. As a couple, what we should do is honestly share our feelings with each other and then pray and wait until we are truly united in our decision. If one person is just giving in to the other to make peace, the relationship will suffer.

 

The Bible says, “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory sure.”(Proverbs 11:14, NIV. The emphasis is mine.) At the very least, a husband and wife should be listening to each other with open minds and hearts. There may also be times when it’s good to run our ideas by trusted friends who know us well, or perhaps talk to an objective professional counselor.

 

As a married couple, our goal should be to make decisions that best meet both of our needs. That usually requires a willingness to compromise. If we’ll seek the Lord together and allow Him time to work in our hearts and circumstances, He will guide us into His perfect plan for us. We may each have to surrender some of our personal desires, but God’s desires are always best for us.

 

So, when our opinions differ, we should:

 

  • Lovingly and respectfully share our ideas with each other.
  • Listen to each other with an open mind and heart.
  • Seek the Lord together for solutions.
  • Wait until we are truly of one mind and heart. (That means waiting until the Lord can change our desires and replace them with His desires for us, or it may mean waiting on the Lord to change our circumstances.)

We serve a God of unity and harmony. That should be our goal, also.

Encouragement Vs. Persuasion

Through a dietary experience, I learned an important lesson on the difference between encouragement and persuasion.

One of our daughters had referred us to a nutritionist that had helped her dramatically when no medical doctor could find the cause of her severe pain. I decided to take Shon to that nutritionist. We listened, and I encouraged Shon to give it a try and said I’d do it along with him. The first step was a Candida cleanse diet which is very strict. I was proud of how well Shon was doing, but I noticed a marked contrast between his experience and mine. I was experiencing supernatural self-control and joy, while Shon, though doing well, needed continual encouragement, since he was feeling overwhelmed and burdened, and thus complained often. His complaints were wearing me down.

After a few weeks, during one of my quiet times with the Lord, the answer came to me. I realized that I had been guilty of imposing the diet on Shon. It had not been his prayerful decision. So, I called him, shared my revelation, and said he could pray and decide whether or not to continue, and to what degree, if he did. Both of us felt like a huge burden had been lifted off our shoulders!

Out of that experience, I was reminded that there’s a big difference between persuading and encouraging. Persuasion is when we try to get someone to agree with us. Encouragement is when we come alongside someone and encourage them in their decisions. (Exception: If their decisions go against our conscience, we can just pray for them.)

Jesus said, “…my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Mt. 11:30) If He has called us to something, He will empower us. If we’re trying to do something in our own strength, even if we’re successful, it will most likely feel like a burden if it is not something we naturally enjoy.

Therefore, in the future, when I introduce an idea to someone, I will simply suggest that they pray about it and make their own decision. If they ask for my help or opinion, I will give it. But the decision will be theirs!

Sharing Dreams

In our early years of marriage, Tom and I had many dreams that we were excited to discuss, and some of them turned into big adventures, such as our decision to move from Long Beach, CA to a small town of about 250 people in up-state N.Y. just to experience something very different. We lived there for 6 years, then returned to California.

 

Now fast forward to 2016. Our children were grown, we had two grandchildren (with more on the way), and Tom was retired. We had settled into a comfortable routine with periodic travel adventures. But something had started to happen that was not good. We were not as excited about discussing our dreams with each other mainly because, when we did, we’d often experience a lack of interest in our partner. The Lord is helping us to re-learn how to listen respectfully and with open minds to each other’s ideas.

 

The only way to discover which dreams are from God is to look into them together and see where we end up. This requires respectful, receptive listening on the part of the partner who may not be initially excited by their spouse’s idea. And the one with the dream needs to be patient with the hesitant partner. Instead of shutting down, we need to prayerfully discuss the ideas and do the necessary research or perhaps simply take a step of faith that we have agreed on and see where that takes us.

 

The Bible tells us to treat others the way we’d like to be treated. Since I like Tom to listen respectfully to my ideas, I need to do the same for him. This opens the door to good communication.

Be Careful of Your Words!

A friend of mine once told me that I had typed the word “sex” instead of “six” in one of my blog posts. I had a good laugh over his comment about keeping my posts G rated, but it got me thinking.

 

Both my husband and I had proof read the blog post, but we failed to catch that mistake. I’ve heard that the brain often sees what it anticipates, rather than what’s actually there. I remember taking an on-line test proving that I could figure out what was being said despite many missing or incorrect letters.

 

Habits often put our brains into auto-pilot and we may not perceive how our words or actions come across to others. Just as one little letter changed the meaning of my paragraph, so one little word or action can affect the course of a conversation. Sometimes mere inflection can change the meaning. For example: “Will you please help me with this?” (a humble request). “Will you please help me with this!” (an annoyed, frustrated demand).

 

Published writers have editors for good reasons. Do we have trustworthy editors who will let us know when we don’t come across lovingly? Do we humbly listen to them and make corrections?

 

I’m so thankful for honest friends who lovingly bring my mistakes to my attention! I pray that I’ll always listen with a humble heart and make the necessary adjustments.

 

 

 

Quick to Listen and Slow to Speak

The Bible tells us to be “…quick to listen and slow to speak…” (James 1:19).

 

In an excellent sermon I once heard, the pastor said we can know what’s in our heart by what comes out of our mouth. Jesus also said that, of course, but it really struck a chord with me at that moment. Ever since then, I have been listening to what comes out of my mouth and I have not always been pleased with what that revealed about my heart! I still see too much selfishness and pride.

 

Let me share a couple of examples. At a gathering, which included a celebration of one of our daughter’s birthdays, someone suggested that each person in the room share what they admired about our daughter. As her mother, I was certainly blessed to hear what all those people said! The next day, I learned who the person was who had suggested that. As I was telling him what a blessing it was, he shared that he had seen that done at another party recently. Here comes the bad part: I interrupted him to mention that we had done that for our son’s 21st birthday years ago. Thankfully, he seemed not to notice my comment and proceeded to share that, in a world of frequent put-downs, it’s nice to have times of affirmation. I heartily agreed.

I had immediately felt convicted of rudely interrupting him, but later, I realized that pride had spoken. There was no need for me to bring up what we had done. Humility keeps its focus on the other person and seeks to build them up. So, in one short sentence, I had revealed my selfishness and pride!

Another example took place one morning during breakfast. My husband started to share something, and instead of just politely listening, I mentioned that I had already read an email about that. The conversation turned to other things, and then a little later, he started to mention another bit of information, which suddenly reminded me that I had an email waiting about that. So, alas, I blurted out that I had sent someone an email about that and had noticed that he had replied, but I hadn’t yet read it. When I saw the look on my husband’s face, I asked him to forgive me for interrupting him.

Needless to say, my husband wasn’t in any hurry to share anything else. If I want him to share openly about deeper things, I first need to learn how to listen attentively and respectfully to the smaller things. So, what was obviously lurking in my heart? Pride and selfishness, again! -Sigh- Humility would have no need to point out to him that I already knew about what he was sharing. It would just bask in the joy of hearing what he had to say! Humility is always other focused. Pride is self-focused, wanting the attention for itself.

At other times, I’m tempted to interrupt when I don’t like what the other person is saying. My pride and selfishness are thinking about my needs, not the needs of the speaker. A very helpful Scripture is Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (The emphasis is mine.) If I am going to say anything beneficial, I first need to have a clear understanding of the other person’s position! I need to humbly acknowledge that they also have feelings and opinions that are just as important as mine.

I also need to beware of saying negative things about one person to another. There is no good reason for doing that. If I have a grievance against someone, I should first go directly to them and see if we can resolve it. If we can’t, then we may need to get help. If I notice an area a person needs prayer on, I should just discuss it with the Lord, seek His guidance on what He would have me do, and then wait for clear guidance. He may only want me to pray for them. Do my words reveal a compassionate heart, or a critical, judgmental one?

So, how can I improve in this area? Pray and give God time to cleanse my heart before I speak! Ask Him to give me a heart of compassion that genuinely cares about the needs of the other person as much as I care about my own. Sometimes I wish I could just hold my hand over my mouth while I’m listening, until I feel my heart is right! But, since that would be rather distracting to the other person, it’s best just to ask the Lord to keep His hand on my mouth until my heart is in alignment with His!

Don’t Compare!

I once received a good reminder through my son: don’t compare one person to another.

 

Shon was frustrated as he was working on the skill of being able to get from his bed into his wheelchair, and from his wheelchair to his bed independently. In an attempt to encourage him, I made the mistake of saying that if author and speaker Nick Vujicic can accomplish all that he has without arms and legs, Shon can accomplish this. He promptly told me not to compare him to Nick, then I immediately admitted that he was right and apologized.

 

I’m so thankful God doesn’t compare me to anyone else! (Satan does, and I do it to myself, often seeing how far short I fall compared to other people I admire.) God just meets me at my level, shows compassion for my fears and frustrations, and gently encourages me to trust Him and just do my best. Then He strengthens and guides me one baby step at a time.

 

Another type of comparison that is not helpful is when I tell someone about my suffering and they say, “I understand,” and then launch into a description of how they have suffered more. (I have also been guilty of doing this to others.) One of the things I love about Jesus is that, when I complain, He just listens and let’s me vent. Then, when I’m done venting, He’s there to encourage and guide me. There are seasons for everything, including venting (or what I call pity parties). It isn’t harmful to have one now and then, as long as we don’t remain stuck in them. It’s like having a good cry, and then washing your face and moving on, with God’s help. God just keeps assuring me, “I’m here for you.” I want to be more like Jesus in how I relate to people.

 

 

Reflective Listening Beats Advice

By nature, I’m a problem solver. This can be good, but it can also be a hindrance, at times. I’m learning that its best to guide a person toward discovering their own solutions to their problems instead of offering my solutions.

 

In the past, when someone complained to me about their situation, I would shift into problem-solving mode. My motive was good. I cared about their misery and wanted to help them. Eventually, I realized that they were depending on me for guidance instead of the Lord. So, I had to change my approach. Even when they ask for my opinion, now, I’m cautious about giving it. Instead, I try to ask questions about how they’re feeling and thinking.

 

Reflective listening just re-states what they’re saying. If someone is complaining about a roommate, for example, I might say, “So, what I hear you saying is that when they…you feel… its affect on you is…” Then I might ask questions like: “What have you tried to do about it? Did it work? Why not? What do you think the solution is? Why is that difficult for you?”

 

The problem with giving advice is:

  1. I could be wrong.
  2. They may not be ready to hear the solution.
  3. If they follow my advice and things don’t turn out the way they wanted, they might blame me, and our relationship could suffer as a result.

 

God knows best how to work with a person on their fears, insecurities, false beliefs, etc. There’s no quick fix when it comes to working through those things. Peace of mind comes when we find the solution that our conscience is comfortable with. I can’t be, and don’t want to be, someone else’s conscience. My role is to pray for them, listen to them, and gently guide them toward their own conclusions.

 

 

Wait Until They Ask!

The Lord has been teaching me not to give unsolicited advice or help, but I recently gained a deeper insight into this from something I read in The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns, M.D. He gave three questions for us to ask ourselves when we want to help someone. One of those is: Is the person really asking for my help?

 

I have a tendency to shift into problem-solving mode when someone complains about something. I have been very guilty of this with our adult disabled son. But I’m learning that many times all he’s looking for is an empathetic ear. I learned from my reading that if the person is not really asking for help, my attempts may feel intrusive and controlling to them, not helpful.

 

Another area where I’ve been guilty of offering unasked-for help is with my husband. One day, Tom was working on a stream pump in our yard. I asked how it was going, then I asked if he’d like me to call the repairman. Tom said, “Let me try to fix it first.” I said “OK.” As I came indoors, the thought came to me that my offer probably made Tom feel like he was inadequate in my eyes. That was not how I was feeling–I respect him regardless of whether or not he can repair something–but I could see how it might have come across that way to him. (When I asked him later, he confirmed that my insight had been correct.) After awhile, Tom asked me to look for the repairman’s card. Then I was being helpful when I found it!

 

It is OK to ask if there is anything I can do to help, but then I must wait for them to tell me what they want. If I truly want to be helpful, I must wait until I understand how I can be!