Improving Our Relationships

More often than I would like, after a family gathering or a visit with friends I think I could have interacted with them better. I said or did something that didn’t really reflect who I really am inside or just simply showed them less than the best of me. And worse, unwittingly at the time made people feel less than they are. I’m sure I am not alone in this, so here are three strategies that can help us do a little better with our relationships.

Swift to Hear and Slow to Speak 

The adage that we have two ears and one mouth kind of sums up the first principle that could improve our relationships. I have not always been a good listener but I am doing a lot better than I did when I was younger. It is hard to deny that people feel more appreciated when we genuinely and intently listen to them. When people think someone is a good listener it’s because they are listening more than they are talking and not distracted when they do listen.  Our family and friends need validation and support as much as we do. Listening validates and supports them. Talking too much is usually an attempt to validate what we are doing or what we are about. 

Pausing to listen also demonstrates we are thoughtful about the conversation we are having. It is easy to say something meaningless or irrelevant when we speak too quickly. When we hit the pause button we hear what is really being said before we speak. We pause to judge whether it is best to respond with a question or if we have anything worth adding from our experiences. We may want to affirm someone or confirm something after we get the whole story. 

One thing we should never get into the habit of doing is taking what others are sharing and steering the conversation away from them toward us, using it as a launching pad to promote ourselves; worse yet, upscaling our experiences or ideas over theirs. This is a form of manipulation and indicates we are self-absorbed. Be slow to speak and quick to listen. 

Manage and Control Our Anger 

We must be slow to anger. If we expect to cultivate positive relationships with family and friends we must manage and control ourselves. Knee-jerk outbursts, and uncontrolled anger is never okay. We must learn to control ourselves.

It is easy to get angry when someone or some life experience has not met our expectations. We must learn to accept what people are willing to give us. This is the key to controlling our emotions when our expectation are unrealized.  We might also get angry because we are passionate and/or sensitive about our values or beliefs. Unfortunately religious convictions and political views often bring out the worst in us. This is lamentable because we could get some fresh ideas and thoughtful viewpoints if we are less argumentative and more respectful and civil.

There’s also a kind of transfer the blame anger we can have if we are not careful and circumspect. We might say or think something like I’m not angry, I just get frustrated because of what you did, or I’m stressed because you always do that and that’s why I’m so cantankerous. or I acted that way because you made me angry. We can’t get better if we justify our anger or excuse it because we are a victim of someone else’s actions. We may have a valid reason but it is not an excuse. Facing up to our anger issues is the way forward. 

There is a verse in Scripture, be angry but sin not (Ephesians 4:26). This is the heart of it. We might get angry at times but we must figure out how to manage it. If we have out-of-control angry impulses if we are honest with ourselves, we know it. If not, hopefully someone who loves and cares for us will tell us.  If we need help with this we must find it. We can’t live in denial or shelve our angry outbursts. Taking our anger out others is an emotional impairment. 

Do What Others Want and Not What We Want

When we try do what others want and not what we want we are not selling our souls. We can never compromise our values, our health, and our spiritual progress for anyone no matter how important they are to us but all of the rest of life should be open to compromise.

It is unnecessary and unhelpful to drive a wedge between family and friends for incidental and collateral issues. This weakens our relationships with the people we care about, to be at odds with them over little or nothing. Capitulation over the little things, even bigger things, for the greater good smooths out conflicts and resistance. The encouragement from Scripture is to prefer one another above ourselves (Romans 12:10). This is very good advice. 

Abraham, the Father of the Faithful had many great qualities. One of them was his disposition to prefer others above himself without sacrificing his faith in God and his core values. He often did what others wanted and not what he wanted.  This is one of many examples: Abraham and his nephew Lot had a business problem. And of course they were family. The herdsman of Abraham and Lot were not getting along. My guess is they were arguing over the richest grazing fields to feed their flocks. It wasn’t getting any better no matter what uncle Abraham and nephew Lot tried to do. It was too big of an issue to ignore. So Abraham came up with a solution.

Abraham suggested a friendly business separation. Although Abraham was by far the authority figure and was much richer in property and livestock he gave his nephew first dibs to the best and most fertile land between them. Lot accepted the terms right away without a counter proposal.  Lot chose the best and most fertile soil closest to a bustling urban center; a more convenient location to sell his goods and services.

Abraham was selfless. Lot was selfish. This must have been personally difficult for Abraham. He raised Lot after his brothers death. Lot would have had much less if it would not have been for the blessings of God on Abraham’s life coupled with his faith and hard work. Yet Abraham acquiesced for the greater good; the result was a less stressful family relationship with Lot and a more peaceful relationship between the herdsman. Abraham found a way to do what others wanted and not what he wanted without compromising his faith and core values. This is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength. And very helpful when relationships get sticky. 

Joseph C. Hutchison 

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