In the last post about communication the biggest application that I wanted to make is that even when you are the one who is hurt or needy or upset, you need to take responsibility to treat others the way you would like to be treated. Other people who are around you do not necessarily know what to do with you, and you need to take responsibility to help them. Even if what you are saying is, “Thanks, but I’d rather not talk about that right now. What have you been up to?”
Let’s imagine a scenario in which a woman in the church just had a miscarriage, is struggling with fertility, or maybe isn’t married at all but would like to be. She could very easily be angry and hurt if no one says anything. She could be angry and hurt if people say something. She could be angry that no one said, “I know how you feel”, and she could be angry if someone said, “I know how you feel.”
This kind of thing is very awkward for the people who would like to show support and love. It can be like the Russian roulette of community living. You try to say the right thing, but instead you will hear three years later through someone else what you did wrong. Part of the problem here is that we tend to think of our interactions as a situation where one person bears the responsibility and the other person receives whatever they have to offer. And often what they have to offer is not the right thing. But Christian living means always loving your neighbor. It means loving them when you are down, and loving them when they are down. We all need to take responsibility for our own half of the communication. If you are struggling with depression, don’t expect that everyone else knows this and is just choosing to ignore it. If you are struggling with wanting a baby, don’t think that every comment about a pregnancy is aimed at you. If you are wanting to be married don’t take it personally when other people are married.
Now here is the real reason that I wanted to bring this up. When you are needy (or mad, or hurt, or sad, or whatever), and someone close to you wants to help, you have an obligation to help them help you. Do unto others, and love your neighbor as yourself. We often use the fact that we are having a hard time to be completely appalling to the person who is trying to help us. You need to communicate with your husband what you need. You need to say, “I don’t think I need a solution right now, I just need a hug and to laugh about it.” What you do not need to do is perfect your cold-shouldered scowl and hug -shrug.
Now here is the trouble. It is easy to be in your bad mood and feeling completely confident that there is a perfect, obvious, and right thing that that person should have said, yet they completely failed. They are ignoring the clear path to making you feel better and are instead trying to help you with the laundry. They are ignoring the obvious, and messing everything up. But if you prioritize them, and you take the risk of trying to communicate your needs, you will often find out something unfortunate. You cannot tell your husband what you need him to say to you because, Lo, there is nothing that he could say to you that would not annoy you right now. It is often the case that everyone else’s bad communication is actually our own bad attitude. If you try to express what you need, and you find out that you cannot say it yourself, you may have found out whose fault it is.
One of the great side benefits to this is that when you focus on loving the other person, you are laying down your defenses. It is a way of being open to their support and kindness. Often times, when you lay down your defenses you will find that the imperfect and clumsy things that they are saying are actually perfect.
13 thoughts on “May 14: Communication Part 2”
This is so, so good! I remember my husband asking me one time, after I had told him about my no good, very bad day, what, exactly, I wanted him to say. This made me laugh and realize that, at some level, he knew that his words had the potential of either throwing water or kindling on the fire. How unkind to put pressure on him that I would never ever want on myself. This post gives me even more reason to be careful in my expectations of others. Thanks!
As already said: so, so good. It has been such a process for me to learn this in marriage. I was either the strong one, helping everyone else… or inconsolable and so mad at everyone for not understanding me! Ick. Letting down the guard and being real; learning to communicate what I need (or would like) has helped me know how to be loved, and truly love others (even when they’re the ones trying to love me).
So excellent. After our first of 2 miscarriages years ago, I remember people saying things to me like, “There will be other babies” or “It’s a good thing it happened early on”, etc.. Though I realized at the time those thoughts were probably not the best to say to a grieving woman, I also (thankfully!) had the presence of mind to realize that they were only trying to help, that they were coming from a good place, and that, above all, they loved me. They didn’t know what to say, anymore than I knew how to navigate those uncharted waters. I just knew that getting mad at them or holding a grudge wouldn’t help me “get over” our loss. I’m sure I’ve said insensitive things to hurting people too, and am thankful that they (hopefully!) didn’t hold it against me! These are such good words for all of us to remember!
There is so much good stuff to meditate on in this post. It’s so true that there is nothing like taking offense easily and being hard-to-please to pour cold water on relationships.
Rachel, this theme (of reading the best into another’s motive), is one of my favourite parts of one of my favourite books, “Stepping Heavenward”, by Elizabeth Prentiss. Have you read it? In it, the young Katherine is appalled at the unsympathetic/“preachy” treatment her and her mother receive, upon the death of their father/husband, and Katherine’s mother is the model of Christian charity… helping Katherine to see that these friends are doing the very best they can to help. However badly!
When you read something this good you can’t believe no one else has said it before. But there we are – I think you’re the first, lizziejank.
A complementary tweet from yesterday: “Paradox of the sulk: ‘if I have to spell this one out, you’re not someone I want to be understood by.'” (Alain de Botton).
Wow. Thank you very much for both of these posts. It is so easy to play up the victim role. I might even be at pro level now, only to be reminded that I should be out of a job!
I have always loved your blog and it has been a great encouragement to me. It brought me even greater joy when my 16 and 13 y/o little sisters began reading it as well. Now we all send each other post that hit home for us and it helps keep us all accountable. I love that although it is often written towards mothers, it applies to so many age ranges. Last week my 13 year old was having an issue at school with other girl and she happened to read something on here about loving your enemies. What a perfect reminder for her to act in a Godly way and to handle her junior high “fight” in a way that would honor God. So, all this to say, I just want to thank you all for encouragement and reminders and let you know what a blessing it has been to me and my sisters!
This is so so good. I am so guilty of doing this. Thankyou for posting!
Thank you Nancy. this is a much needed reminder for all of us. I remember when I was going through cancer treatment God impressed on my heart that part of what He was calling me to was to be thankful for any act of kindness or service no matter how fumbling it was because we were all being sanctified together. My husband and I have purposed to believe that each of us has good WILL even when we lack SKILL!
After going through something really hard this week, this was perfect. Thank you!
“If you try to express what you need, and you find out that you cannot say it yourself, you may have found out whose fault it is.” Wow! So good!
“It is often the case that everyone else’s bad communication is actually our own bad attitude.”
Ouch! I felt the sting of that diagnosis this morning. Thanks for your thoughts – much food for thought and prayer.