Relational issues are a part of life. Learning how to work through them is something worth mastering. In a course I am taking part in that moves individuals and groups towards transformation, we took part in an exercise using a rubber band. We each had one and was asked to put one end around one thumb and the other around the other thumb. Then pull.
Other than being fun (when was the last time as an adult you were told to play with a rubber band?) it served as a memorable illustration. When you pull the band tension is created. We envisioned one side of the band being “current reality” and the other side being the “preferred future.” The space in-between, the tension, was labeled “potential energy.”
In relationships we often feel tension. Hopefully, if the relationship is important to us, the preferred future is peace and harmony. But even in the best of relationships the current reality will sometimes be described as broken, misunderstood, upset…you fill in the word.
When the current reality does not match the preferred future and we find a gap in-between we often withdraw. We do that because of anxiety and fear over having some kind of confrontation to mend the relationship.
One of our coaches made a comment that went something like this: “Our desire for the preferred future we envision has to outweigh the fear we have around having a conversation about the issue.” That’s worth letting sink in.
When we have relational issues and we decide to withdraw instead of facing it head on we are in essence telling the other person that they really don’t matter that much in our lives. And, whether we realize it or not, we are telling ourselves we will settle for less in life.
How can you overcome staying in current reality when it’s not what you prefer? Here are some ideas:
- Triangle. You read that right. You’ve probably been told it’s a bad thing to talk to someone else about the issue if you haven’t already talked to the person you’re having trouble with. Going straight to the person is usually the best thing to do if you’ve learned how to handle relational conflict. But if not, another person you can trust can help you process and then move towards that person. A healthy triangle will do just that. They won’t merely listen to you talk about the other person. They will help you see yourself in the process and then hold you accountable for going to that person. And that’s the next idea…
- Find accountability. If you’re having trouble making the call or sending a text or e-mail to arrange a meeting to share your feelings then have someone hold you accountable for it. There’s nothing like knowing a friend or a coach is going to ask, “Have you set up a meeting yet?” to get you moving.
- Listen deeply. When you do meet with the other person make sure you don’t rush in with both barrels blazing. Listen first. Listen long. Seek first to understand before being understood.
- Stick to this outline in your conversation: tell them what it is you deeply enjoy about them as a person, tell them the good you see in them, and then—only then—begin to share what you perceive is the problem. You may be surprised that what you thought was a problem wasn’t. And you may find the other person very willing to work with you to repair the relationship.
- Finally, make a quick connection with that person again within 24 hours. Don’t rehash. Just tell them you are happy they took the time to meet with you and reassure them that their relationship is valuable to you.
Many times this will take care of the issue. Occasionally it won’t. Some things are out of your control. When they are, remember what the apostle Paul said: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
Face your fears today. Seek reconciliation. Have courage. Your preferred future may only be a phone call away.
Question: Is there a relationship you can work towards cleaning up today?