Relationship challenges never end. Difficult conversations are a part of life most of us want to avoid. We know if we tell the truth we might get “foot in mouth disease,” and lose a loved one. But, if we stuff all our feelings, we get bloated from resentment. So, what to do?
Frustrations can build (those murky little round balls of stuff that stick in our throats –you know — emotional hairballs.)
But saying what’s on your mind is tricky. Words (and how we deliver them) are important. When we tell the truth, we could be cantankerous and cause chaos. But it’s not always the things we say that destroy relationships, it’s also things unsaid that sever them. Silences can deaden our connections. Clamming up can be bad for your health. Research shows that “the tendency to avoid bringing up difficult topics can lead to exacerbated symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.” Who wants that?
When we don’t know how to talk to each other, we get nit-picky or pull inside like escargot. Maybe it’s because we’re afraid of abandonment or rejection. Our whole world is rocking and rolling from attacks or putting up walls, but if we could talk to each other, we might mend fences instead of build them.
I know because I lost the most important conversation of my life, with my mother – mostly because I was afraid to talk to her about my fears and needs at the end of her life.
As she got older, she was angrier and ornery, so I withdrew. I didn’t know what to say to her outbursts and criticisms. It didn’t occur to me to tell her that. I told myself “you can’t change people,” or “I don’t want to rock the boat.” I shut down.
In the end I might have said what I wished for: “Mom, I want to feel closer to you. I need to feel safe around you. Can we talk about our fears and wishes, so that I won’t have to pull away?” That might have opened up our connection. I froze instead.
I left our visits in a hurry and after one of those trips, she died.
Words unsaid stay in our throats and our bodies. We can get stomach or back problems, congestion or locked jaw syndrome from unspoken, unmet needs. But, whatever we struggle with – the problem with the world is unresolved conflict. Fragmented connections weaken our world’s safety nets and our vitality, too.
Deep down, most of us want the same thing: belonging to a safe world. But how to accomplish it? Have the courage to say your positive intention and listen well to each persons “I” statement, about their view of what’s happening. Something like, “I want our relationship to feel safe and to hear each other.”
George Monbiot insists that our longing for cooperation is a central fact. He writes: “But something has gone horribly wrong. We have this idea in our heads that we are competitive and self-sufficient. This belief system has had such persuasive power that it leads to a loss of faith in ourselves as a force for change – the ability to find common ground in confronting our predicaments, and to unite to overcome them.”
So, in challenging relationships ask for what you want and listen deeply, even when you feel like jumping out of your skin. Stop blaming and reveal yourself without giving advice or getting high falooting or uppity.
Sometimes it helps everyone to add a dollop of wit to a heavy situation. Like the guy in the bank line, when a clerk asked, “Can I help you?” He said “No. I just waited in line for 30 minutes to say Hi.” A good vibe, a smile or a funny comment can lubricate the situation.
And remember: “When someone really hears you without passing judgment on you, without taking responsibility for you, without trying to mold you, it feels damn good…” (Carl Rogers.)
All I am saying is, give peace a chance.