Good questions come into play when dealing with our relationships because we have to have an immense amount of patience to make things work. I think it also goes hand in hand with last week’s article about how love gets curious. If you haven’t read last week’s article, I talk a lot about different ways that perfect love shows up and one of them is through good questions. I want to dig into that topic more deeply today and talk about how we build relationships by asking good questions.
It is easy sometimes to get annoyed with people that we are supposed to love the most. Sometimes those closest to us have the highest capacity to drive us crazy the fastest. Some buttons have been pushed so many times that they just have to get close to the button and it just presses right down. Have you ever tickled a little kid? First, you tickle them several times and they giggle. Then you go in and wiggle your fingers near them and they giggle because they are anticipating being tickled. I think that happens sometimes with the people that we love the most. There are aspects of our relationship that when they punch our buttons or continuously do something that annoys us on a regular basis, we can start looking for a place that they are about to annoy us and panic.
Those are the relationships that I am talking about today, the difficult ones. The ones that we want to do well in and we feel like we keep failing, or the ones we want to go deeper with but we just can’t seem to get past whatever is getting stuck. I want to encourage you in those places today because the Bible talks about loving God and loving others. In the New Testament, Jesus actually talks about loving our enemies. He talks about loving our neighbor AND our enemies. I think it’s funny that sometimes we’d like to assume that since it didn’t cover the word family that it doesn’t apply. We are supposed to love our neighbors and our friends, but since it doesn’t say family we are exempt. It feels like sometimes we are justified in our unloving responses, doesn’t it?
Well, the truth is that relationships are like long lines of music. I went to school for music education back in my college days. I like this analogy that I heard from a book called “The Art of Possibility” that talks about how relationships can be like long lines of music. This is not just a 3-second snippet of sound or even 30 seconds of sound, this isn’t the lead-in music to a sitcom. Relationships are like sonatas or how some musicians have long melodies that grow and develop. Their music ebbs and flows, which is what our relationships are like. We often want to change our relationships in a second. But think, if you did that in a long line of music changing something in a second would be too abrupt. When there is a lot of tension growing in a long line of music you have to gradually come back down from it. In our lives, that can feel like relationships and difficult situations are never making any progress in a positive direction. But that may not be the case.
Let’s use a different analogy, just in case that one isn’t making sense for everyone. Relationships are a lot like instead of building a mobile home, we are building a pyramid. We aren’t just taking manufactured walls, roofs, and things that came out of a factory and plastering it together in a day. It doesn’t all happen immediately and it isn’t cheap. These relationships are valuable or at least they should be! They are more like the pyramids where you can spend a long time carving on one stone that over a period of time gets put into place in the overall structure. Then we go to carving on the next stone and over a period of years this beautiful structure gets built. The encouraging thing is that when we look at relationships that way, the more we build healthy boundaries and good conversations into our relationship the harder it is to knock it down. If you try to bang a hole in a pyramid it’s going to take a while and the same thing with healthy relationships. Healthy relationships can withstand all kinds of pressure. The opposite is true if you have a relationship that has been difficult or has habitually included a lot of conflicts, abusive language, unhealthy ways of having conversations, or backstabbing. Those are the blocks that have been put into the relationship and it will take a while for those blocks to be removed and replaced with something else. This is where patience comes into play. Having a lot of patience and being willing to be consistent over a long period of time to see changes. Why do we even bother? Because it is worth it. There is joy in developing that healthy relationship. There is immense pleasure in having relationships that are strong and that you have invested your time in.
There are several relationships in my life that come to mind:
I think of my relationship with Jonathan, my oldest son. He and I have butted heads for a long time and something needed to change. I went to get coaching myself because if you have read my story before I was not coping well with everything I was doing. I had lots of little kids and he was the oldest. I was stressed and overcommitted to a lot of things in my life. I would lose my temper a lot. The defining moment was when I came home and had no emotional margin left for my family because I had given it to a lot of other people.
I walked into the house, he was doing something naughty, and I picked him up and chucked him across the room in a rage. It was not pretty or okay and I am so thankful that he didn’t get hurt, but that was how our relationship was going at the time. We were building some really messed-up bricks into our pyramid relationship. That line of music was not going well. My husband and I talked and he said, “Mary, we can either lose these outside commitments or we can lose our family, and I know which one I am choosing.” So at that moment I really had to wrestle with finding out what it looked like to choose my family. Not too long after that, I was introduced to coaching. That is where I really got familiar with how to interact with my family and changing our relationships to be something that is set on a trajectory to build a rock-solid, awesome pyramid instead of some sort of cobbled together hut. I am happy to say that our relationship is so much better than it was then. We are able to talk about difficult things. He is 12 years older now and it is so much better.
I think about the relationship I have with my mom, which is another example of a relationship not going well. We kept trying to create a good solid relationship, but the lack of understanding on how to do it and the fact that we really butted heads over the years made it so hard. I know for certain I ran away 3 times, I packed my suitcase and tried to run away. We had a really rocky relationship through my teenage years and it was not pleasant but the relationship was worth it. We now have a good relationship and have put in the time. We can say things to each other that may come across as hurtful, but our relationship weathers that storm. It is a pyramid now because of the patience that we have taken to develop it.
These are just two examples and I can give you several others, but I will just give you one more.
There was a friend that I had and (I won’t use their real name, so let’s call her Sally) Sally and I were similar in many ways. As a result, over the years I had a hard time getting along with Sally. In some ways, we were really similar, and in some ways, I just did not understand her. As a result, we bumped heads and couldn’t see eye to eye. If you know anything about relationships you know that sometimes the people that irritate you the most are the ones that do things exactly as you do. That was certainly true in this relationship as well. But, we dug in because we were not content. We fought for it. We spent hours talking about our issues, going over the same problems. There were lots of tears. Why? Because we felt like it was worth it. It is worth it to tackle this idea of loving God and loving others and when we see a roadblock to being able to love someone else, it is worth persevering. Really digging in on that stone is so important so it can be well carved and placed in the pyramid foundation making something that will last.
Let’s face it, there isn’t a relationship on the planet that if you get close to them, you can avoid all conflict. We are human! We make mistakes, and I guarantee the closer you get to people the more misunderstandings you will have with them. If you aren’t having any arguments with people, chances are, it’s because you are stuffing your feelings down (and that’s not healthy) or you don’t know anyone well enough. Conflicts and disagreements are just a part of being human.
Today, I want to give you some tools to actually go forward and work on these relationships. We take this to a different level in Supermom School, but I want to give you a tool to try. This is something that will give quick results, it won’t build the pyramid in a day but it is a place to start.
Here’s what we do, we learn to ask good questions. If you aren’t going to get a coach, but want to work on your relationships the number one thing you can do is look for how to ask more questions in your life. Ask questions about how you are showing up, things about the other person, why they feel the way they do, what else can I learn. If you can’t do anything else, learn to ask questions. Practice this in conversations. How often in a conversation are we so focused on telling what we know? It is a challenge and a skill to ask good questions and pull information out of other people. Certain personalities are really good at this. I am still very much going to tell you what I think, but asking good questions is a skill that I am working on. As I learn to ask good questions I notice that my relationships improve. One of the areas that we can learn to ask good questions is the people in our life that is annoying. For lack of a better example let’s use our spouse. It is easy to get into the place of being annoyed I make a lot of declarations. I think things like “he isn’t doing this right”, “I don’t like this”, “He never does this or that”. These are all critical declarations and statements that I am making as fact. There is no question asking in those moments, only declaring from my throne that he has failed!
When we start asking good questions we can ask things like: “What has he done well lately?”, “Why am I so focused on what he is messing up?”, “What is working?”. We get so focused on the problems that we don’t pay attention to the things that are working. Look back in this long line of music and think are you in a better place than you were before? “What things have gone well to change that?”, “What are they getting right?”, “Where are they showing love?” If you find that the annoyance is mutual you can ask things like “What else am I missing?”, “What is it that they need?”, “How am I missing the mark?”
Questions come from a place of humility. This comes up in the focus of patience because it requires slowing down to ask questions. By default, when you ask questions someone has to come up with an answer. The answer might not be apparent and requires patience to not know immediately. Maybe you try something that doesn’t work out and you have to experiment, that also requires patience. Questions are a form of employing the fruit of the spirit of patience into our relationships.
There are questions that are nagging. We are not talking about repeatedly asking about taking the trash out. Let’s look for ways to get curious. I talked a little bit about the relationship I have with my mom and I want to tell you another story about her. I appreciate her being willing to let me talk about our relationships. My mom has always had this recommendation for anyone experiencing conflict and I will be honest, I hate this recommendation she has. Mostly because she is right and there is this knee-jerk reaction that she can’t be right. While I will share with you what she recommends, I will say you need to be careful because it does work but when it works you need to take action immediately. When I am not getting along with someone, she will usually tell me to pray to start. She then encourages me to pray a specific prayer asking God to cause them to have a need that only I can meet. UHH. Here is where the rubber meets the road though. I say “Lord develop this relationship in my life. Draw us closer together. Meld our hearts together so that we are on the same page.” A lot of times that comes from a place of humility and the need to serve each other. One of the best ways to build a relationship with your kids is to work on a project together where you are serving someone else. This knits your hearts together and the person you are serving. If they aren’t very happy with you it is hard to insert yourself into their life. I am telling you though, that prayer works. It is a way to start that pyramid that nothing can knock over.
Communication is a dance. When you start trying to work on stuff like this, it is a dance. I encouraged some ladies recently to practice a technique with their husbands. When my husband and I are missing each other, questions come into play and it is such a helpful technique. Basically, the idea is repeating back what the person just said to make sure you heard it correctly. So, for instance, if we had difficulty having a conversation and I asked Brandon to go pick up a gallon of milk from the store, normally he could say “okay” and he goes. When we are on track and connected, there are no problems. Sometimes though, in our relationship, we have trouble communicating and miss each other. The beauty of asking good questions comes into play. This looks like asking “Hey Brandon, can you go get milk from the store?” and he says “Okay, I think I heard that you need me to get milk from the store. Is that correct?”. I will respond with “Yes, that is correct.” He might ask a follow-up question like if we need anything else from the store because that is his chance to insert into the conversation and then I would answer in the appropriate way. This clarifies that we are on the same page and helps to stabilize the conversation. This sounds silly if you are doing this for the first time and may feel silly and this is where the analogy of dance comes in. There is a dance of communication that comes into play that we get familiar with and even if it is a dance that we don’t like dancing (argument, fight) we take those steps. If you start inserting the communication technique of repeating back what you heard the other person say it changes the dance. You need to know that you are changing the dance. The beautiful thing is that in a relationship it only takes one person to change the dance. However, even if both people want to change the dance there will be tripping involved. You might even fall and don’t be surprised if it ends up messy at first. Hang in there because there is so much value in learning communication. Being able to get through the tripping and the messiness will result in creating a new dance. This will form a stronger relationship and it all starts from asking questions.
What one way can you try applying patience this week by asking good questions? Maybe it is a place that you can ask some good questions to your kids or how you can look for what is going well in the relationship. Maybe you want to try this communication technique. Get curious. What one way are you going to be gradually improving this long line of music? I hope this is an encouragement to you and that you find a way to take this and apply it to loving God, loving others, and enjoying it.
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