My wife, Taylor, is the most intelligent and intuitive person I’ve ever known. She can read people almost effortlessly without them realizing she’s doing it. Residing deep inside her is a wellspring of observational ability that enables her to know a person’s soul instinctively. More importantly, she fights for good relationships with the tenacity of a soldier. She’s like a relationship ninja. It’s pretty cool. I honestly envy those qualities. And while I do most of the talking in public formats, she is the better communicator in our relationship. We learn from each other, but I think I have more to learn than her. I’ve certainly gleaned new insights talking through this series with her for the last several weeks. And I’m incredibly grateful we’re on life’s journey together.
Get Caught Up
If you’re just now joining the conversation, you can listen to Part 1 of our Relationslips podcast here. If you scroll down, you’ll see a link you can’t miss for Part 2 of this series. Also, here’s a link to the first blog entry in this series. It’s worth looking at that article and reviewing the list of book recommendations. We’ve enjoyed responding to your questions and comments. Feel free to send more our way, and we will respond sometime soon.
Passive Aggressors & Energetic Attackers
One common source of relationship friction that causes “slips” is the ongoing war between passive aggressors and energetic attackers. And, of course, Taylor and I are opposites in this area. My natural, carnal, fallen, faulty response to frustrations, anger, feelings of offense, and disappointment is passive aggression. Allow me to define passive-aggressive behavior for those who might be uncertain. Indirect expressions of hostility, including negative attitudes, characterize it. Here are some specific passive-aggressive behaviors I’ve unfortunately struggled to overcome: 1) Resentment and unspoken opposition to demands from others. 2) Procrastination and intentional mistakes in response to others’ requests. 3) Cynical, sullen, or quiet hostility to others near me. 4) Masking my frustrations in complaints, sarcasm, humor, or hints and doing just about anything to avoid confrontation, argument, or outright hostility.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are people I’ve dubbed energetic attackers. Taylor falls into this category. So rather than running away from confrontation, she runs towards it. Sometimes she enjoys confrontation (although not always), but regardless, she isn’t afraid of it. She approaches relationship problems aggressively. She likes all the feelings out in the open. She likes to have all the cards on the table and all the soldiers on the battlefield. And although she never intends to attack people, she wants to attack the problem, which does cause some personalities to feel attacked at that moment. While passive-aggressive personalities can arguably be too patient, energetic attackers have little patience. They’re quick to speak their mind and openly push back when frustrated.
It’s easy to see how these drastically different personalities can “trip” each other up. But, as unlikely as it seems, passive aggressors and energetic attackers have traits that can bring balance. For example, Taylor has helped me recognize the value of confronting things in a timely fashion, and I’ve helped her learn the importance of finding the right time for confrontation. Timing is everything when it comes to healthy confrontations in all of our relationships. I naturally lean too passive, and she leans too aggressive. This personality dynamic creates tension in countless families, workplaces, churches, friendships, schools, and leadership teams.
Timing is everything when it comes to healthy confrontations in all of our relationships.Tweet
Finding Balance & Seeking Reconciliation (Relationslip Tip #4)
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there, remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:21-24, NIV).
The Bible isn’t silent on this issue. Jesus speaks directly to it during the famed sermon on the mount. He began by mentioning an injustice everyone can agree is terribly wrong, murder. Then He swiveled to the topic of anger without even saying whether or not it was justified. Ultimately, Jesus adroitly led the audience to consider how offenses destroy relationships.
Interestingly, when Jesus gave the protocol for dealing with anger, bitterness, insults, and general relational frustrations, He purposefully left a detail out that most of us would want to know. He never mentioned whether He was talking to the offended or the offender. Look at Matthew 5:23 again, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there, remember that your brother has something against you.” If I had been in the crowd, my hand would have shot up so I could ask Jesus, “Wait, does this apply if they have something against me because I did something wrong or because they did something wrong to me?” But Jesus didn’t bother to clarify because it didn’t matter. His instructions in the next verse apply regardless of whether I did wrong, they did wrong, or we both did wrong. Any way you slice it, what Jesus said next applies.
I’m taking a tiny bit of liberty with the text and putting it in today’s context. So, you’re at the altar in church when you remember that (for whatever reason) there’s some bad blood between you and so and so. Instead of pretending everything’s fine, or putting it off another second, find that person while your mind is focused on the Lord and make things right as best you can. You might think, but I’m doing something spiritual right now. I can deal with that later. Not so. Jesus told us that our highest priority should be seeking reconciliation if an offense is “slipping” up a relationship. When we go to that person, our main goal is to mend “whatever” it is that caused the rift.
Jesus told us that our highest priority should be seeking reconciliation if an offense is “slipping” up a relationship. When we go to that person, our main goal is to mend “whatever” it is that caused the rift.Tweet
Practical Advice Regarding Reconciliation
You might be a passive aggressor, an energetic attacker, or anything in between. Regardless, seeking reconciliation prioritizes people above being right, winning, getting everything you want, or having the final say. A reconciliatory attitude is stripped of pride, arrogance, and selfishness. If peace is possible, reconciliation achieves it. I’ve found that most people welcome reconciliation once they realize how much I value my relationship with them.
Seeking reconciliation prioritizes people above being right, winning, getting everything you want, or having the final say. A reconciliatory attitude is stripped of pride, arrogance, and selfishness.Tweet
With that said, here’s some practical advice for leaving your gift on the altar and having the hard reconciliation talk: 1) Calm down before going to that person. This can be especially hard for energetic attackers, but waiting until your emotions are under control is essential. 2) Think the problem through from your side and try your best to see their point of view too. You don’t have to agree with their views, but just putting yourself in their shoes for a little bit can change your perspective. 3) Pray about the situation. Pray for that person, and specifically ask God to help restore that relationship. Seek the Lord for wisdom, self-control, and guidance. 4) Plan a conversation that will bring about peace. A soft answer turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1), so prepare your mind to speak with a tone that promotes healing, not anger.
Literalators & Exaggerators
I’m a big-picture guy. Taylor is a detail detective. I’ve learned that when Taylor asks about my day, she doesn’t want an overview; she wants every microscopic detail. I like to ballpark times and numbers. Taylor wants to know the exact milliseconds, pennies, and nanograms. Because I’m a big-picture, ballpark guy, I also tend to exaggerate. Typically, because I genuinely don’t remember the specifics. This can be problematic because if she’s taking everything literally and I’m ballparking, it creates disillusionment and miscommunications.
My father is also an exaggerator, and my mother is a literalator. Dad might say something happened recently that happened a decade ago. He isn’t trying to be dishonest or misleading. He just isn’t super focused on the time aspect of the story. It seems irrelevant to him. My mother can turn a three-minute story into a three-hour treatise on her trip to the grocery store because she feels the need to share every detail, precisely how it happened in real-time. So, you can imagine how literalators and exaggerators might have to work through communication issues and learn to meet in the middle.
Instructing Your Mouth (Relationslip Tip #5)
The heart of the wise instructeth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips (Proverbs 16:23, ASV).
People with wisdom in their hearts teach their mouths what to say, when, and to whom. I don’t enjoy giving specifics, and I wouldn’t say I like being given too many details. But I love my wife; she likes particulars, so I let wisdom instruct my mouth. She knows I don’t always want to hear the extended version of a story, so she allows wisdom to instruct her mouth. This is called relationship maturity. It’s learning how to communicate with others in a way that is meaningful to them. So, when literalators and exaggerators are together, they have to make concessions for each other in their communications.
Learn how to communicate with others in a way that is meaningful to them.Tweet
The Constant Thread
A constant thread of truth runs through these relationslip tips: Intentionality. Good relationships take time, energy, effort, care, selflessness, and intentionality. Great marriages don’t happen by accident. Lifetimes of friendship don’t just happen. Tremendous parents don’t just stumble on it. Happy workplaces don’t magically appear from nothing. Church unity doesn’t fall from Heaven on a few super-blessed congregations. No. Every meaningful relationship is fraught with protentional slipping hazards that must be carefully navigated. It can be exhausting; sometimes, we feel like giving up on certain people. But the benefits far outweigh the burdens.
Good relationships take time, energy, effort, care, selflessness, and intentionality.Tweet