Tag Archives: Relationships

Listening Is Not Agreement

disagreement

I want to admit a character defect I have fought for most of my life. I am not proud of it, but I have grown because of it. Maybe you can relate to it as well. Here it is:

In my marriage (especially) I had an expectation that Nan not only had to hear me out, but also had to agree with me.

In other words, she had to think like me or she wasn’t being a good or loyal wife. Pretty narcissistic, huh? Pretty arrogant, too. It led to some uncomfortable conflicts and to some misunderstandings as well.

I think this is one of the blocks to good communication, not only in marriage but in other relationships as well. If my belief is that by listening to someone that means that I tacitly agree, I probably will be reluctant to listen. In our case that was the unspoken message I was sending to Nan: I want you listen to me, but I also insist that you agree. But the problem was that she didn’t always agree. And I made it hard for her to listen.

It’s usually not so destructive when the stakes are small – where to eat, what color to choose, etc. But it gets very tense when the big issues are on the table. Where do we live and which house do we buy? How do we raise our children? How do we interpret the Bible and our faith? For example, Nan was raised Catholic for a time and as a result is more contemplative in her spiritual practices than I am.

I am a dreamer (I prefer the word visionary) Whatever. Here’s the rub. In our conversations Nan didn’t always know the difference when I was just dreaming or if I was actually planning. So she didn’t know how to fully engage with me when I was dreaming because my dreams were often scary to her, involving writing big checks or making long distance moves. And she didn’t want me to assume she was in agreement with them. So she didn’t always want to listen to me. I felt alone.

Since those days a few things have changed. I have repented of my need to have her agree. I still want her to agree with me (who wouldn’t), but I have given up my need for her to do so for me to be to be OK with her.

Second, I now let her know when I am just dreaming out loud so she can relax and even join in the fun. And I keep the checkbook out of reach, safely locked in a drawer.

For those of us who are Christians, it can become tempting to use scripture to try to control or manipulate others, and we must guard against misuse of the Bible. That’s just another way to try to force agreement. Even when it’s not intentional, we can come off as legalistic or unloving. When I quote scripture I try to be extra humble and remember that context is everything. I try to let the scriptures be the authority, not me.

“I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”

The Apostle Paul to the Ephesian elders, Acts 20:27

For The Love of God

separate2

The husband had really messed up and he knew it. He sat there with his eyes downcast as he told his story. His wife had a real right to be hurt, angry and upset. But his story was not just a defensive explanation by someone who got caught in his misdeeds. It was a raw revelation of early pain, mistreatment and trauma that had been locked away for years. As he finished his story his wife put her hand on his arm and with tears in her eyes said “None of those things should have ever happened to you. You didn’t deserve any of it.” He broke down in tears and began apologizing in honest heartfelt words.

The above story is not one person’s story – but a composite of many that we have witnessed. The offenders have been both wives and husbands, men and women. But it does not always go so well. Sometimes the pain of the offense is too great to let go of in the moment. Sometimes the defensive walls are up too high to scale. But when there are soft hearts on both sides, the atmosphere is ripe for a relationship miracle.

Romans 2:4 “Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”

I love the above scripture. Perhaps I can rework it to fit what I am trying to communicate.

“Do you not know that a spouse’s kindness can lead to their partner’s repentance?”

Kindness is grace in action. In situations like the one described it is an undeserved gift. It becomes an opportunity to radically change a marriage. But I need to add, it requires true sincerity and real change. It must not perpetuate a cycle of abuse or other sinful behaviors. You are not “off the hook.” Grace is not an unlimited “get out of jail free” card. Repentance means to “turn away from” – in this case, from the hurtful and harmful behavior.

How does an offended spouse choose to offer kindness in place of anger or rejection? It does not seem like a normal human reaction, and it isn’t. The most common reaction would be to pull back or strike back in pain, disgust or fear. I would say that it is only for the love of God that we can achieve this. If we truly understand our own failings that God has forgiven, we are more likely to be able to offer it to others.

Forgiveness is much easier for small offences, the ones that don’t affect our lives in any major way. When a serious one comes our way, that is when the strength of our faith and the softness of our heart is on the line. Yes, sometimes we have to pull back first and absorb the wound and work with ourselves with God and others. But if we can first forgive and then go and confront those who have hurt us, we are much more likely to offer kindness instead of shame or blame. Can you do that? For the love of God?

Whole Brain On The Couch

therapy

A number of years back Nan was listening to a consulting psychiatrist who was advisor to her counseling center at the time. She told me that one phrase really stuck out to her:

“You can only do therapy with a whole brain on the couch.”

What he meant was that trying to counsel someone under the influence of alcohol or drugs was of minimal value. He also said that counseling someone who needed corrective medications to stabilize and achieve balance was also of limited value. It takes clear thinking to process concepts, make connections, and have accurate empathy or feelings.

I remember having a difficult time with a client many years back. It just didn’t seem like I was getting through to him. I asked him if he felt the same way and what might be getting in the way. He said maybe it’s because I always have a “tall one” before coming into counseling. I asked “why?” His response: “It helps me to feel less anxious.” The truth was it helped him to feel less of anything – at 10 A.M.

I know it is the same with marijuana and other drugs. Some clients have come in loaded on significant doses of pain killers or even over-the-counter medications. I’m not saying that these aren’t sometimes necessary – but they get in the way of good therapy. And I’m not discounting being hung over either. The ability to concentrate is greatly diminished the day after “partying”.

Now translate this concept to having a relationship “discussion”. Do you think you will get much accomplished if you undertake to work on your relationship under the same conditions? We always tell couples not to talk about anything important if they are “HALT” – Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. I think I am going to change the “L” in that  acronym to “Loaded”. Communicating accurate feelings is pretty difficult when you your brain is not functioning properly.

About needing the right medications: little progress may be made with a significantly depressed or anxious client. Their ability to process accurately is impaired. When a client is suffering from any type of diagnosable disorder they may have a very difficult time understanding and managing the intensity of their feelings and relating correctly with others, including the therapist. However, when appropriately treated, counseling has a good chance of moving them forward.

Does this mean that you should not seek counseling if you are depressed, anxious or addicted? Not at all. Making a call to a counselor or pastor is usually the first step in the healing process. Hopefully they can assess what is needed and recommend a next step.