My Communication Testimony: how learning how to communicate saves relationships

IMG_20170708_170348990I lay in the top bunk, trying to calm down my younger sister as she exploded, “I hate you! Every single day you make me so angry at you!” I could hear her crying as I responded to her, “I don’t understand; you never make me angry. Why do I upset you so much?” I could sense her frustration in her reply: “Everything you do makes me angry. Every single day. I hate it!” “Well, tell me what to change. If you tell me what to do differently, I’ll do it. Then I won’t make you angry. I can’t change until you tell me what I am doing wrong.” I lay calmly on my bed listening to her sobbing in frustration with me. “It’s just everything, BethAnn, you make me feel so worthless.” Although I was calm in my bed, I will admit I was hurt to know I was hurting her. “Well, goodness, just tell me how to Image result for confusedchange. I’ll change for you! Just tell me what you want! You have to give me specifics or I’ll never be able to stop making you angry. What do you want me to do? I know it’s not your communication style to be so blunt, but I can’t speak your language if you don’t adjust and speak my language sometimes. You’re going to have to do something outside of your comfort zone so that I can speak your language. What do you want me to do?!”

These conversations happened on a very regular basis over an extended season in time when my relationship with my sister hit a rough spot. Looking back I see how cruel I was in these conversations, speaking my conversational style in a pushy way, forcing the task-oriented, low-context side of things. But she hated me and I didn’t understand why she didn’t know that I loved her. I didn’t know what to do. Working our way through this extended and painful conflict was one of the reasons I am so passionate about communication today.

Communication in close relationships is like communication in any other kind of relationship except that everything in close relationships is so many times more magnified, intense, and important. This is mainly because in close relationships, we have IMG_20170620_115110749much higher expectations for the other person combined with the fact that we have regular, long-term interactions with the other. We expect the other person to truly know us and we expect love to conquer all. But when there is even one communication style difference, that one thing which gets on the other’s nerves really builds up over time. When one thing you do whispers a lack of care for the other, this one thing begins shouting a lack of care over time.

In this case with my sister, it turned out we were speaking different love languages. I speak words of affirmation and physical touch. “Tessa, we’re a great team. I appreciate how we compliment each other and I’m glad to have you as a sister” was my way of proving I loved my sister (I didn’t hug her–I already knew she has a large space bubble and can’t stand hugs!). But to my sister, whose love language is acts of service, these words were very shallow.

I actually asked Tessa to share her side of the story, and here are some of her thoughts: 0514171506What made it worse is that I would show her that I cared by cleaning our room, making her pancakes for breakfast, or collecting F Minus comics out of the newspaper only to be met with remarks like “Why does it matter if our room is clean?” “I actually felt like toast for breakfast,” or “Well, I don’t need all the jokes. And that one isn’t even all that good.” It seemed like all my attempts were getting met negatively, on purpose. Yet each time I would explode, she would try her best to convince me that she really did love me and she couldn’t understand what was wrong. Unfortunately, often actions speak louder than words in my life, and in this situation, it was very difficult for me to believe her words when her actions were conveying a very different message by my interpretation.”

It took me a long time to figure this out. It’s not that I didn’t believe actions mattered, I just didn’t realize how crazy much they really mattered. I really just wanted her to spell it out so that I could solve the problem quick and easy. Geez, Tessa, just tell me what you need! But to those of you who can relate to this, I have something to warn you: talking it out doesn’t always solve everything.

Consider the act of wishing someone happy birthday. If I remember it’s your birthday and greet you with a bright, “Happy birthday!” when I see you, it can mean a lot. But if we go through your birthday together without me remembering and you finally speak up and say, “You know, it’s my birthday today.” My bright “Happy Birthday!” isn’t the same. You can’t necessarily know if I was doing it because I cared or because I felt obligated.

Image result for pancakesIn the same way, I have to learn to communicate in Tessa’s love language on my own sometimes to show that it is genuine. If she had to tell me, ““BethAnn, my love language is acts of service and I’m not going to feel loved until you sincerely do occasional acts of service for me just to remind me that you do care. If you would only clean our room up sometimes and maybe make breakfast for me, or just do something for me…” for one she wouldn’t know how much I’m doing it out of concern for her happiness or how much I’m doing it out of a guilt trip. Secondly, this approach would likely make Tessa feel guilty for asking these things of me. Going out of my way sometimes to show my sister love is healthy. But if you’re the person asking for this, it feels needy, selfish, and wrong.

Tessa helped explain this too. “Another straw that was added to the camel’s back was the guilt that she would indirectly make me feel for communicating the way I did and for feeling the way I felt. There was obviously conflict in our relationship, but since she didn’t see anything wrong, it was apparently my fault. I was the one being annoyed; I was the one who couldn’t spell things out plainly; I was the one not feeling loved. But I felt guilty for telling BethAnn what I would like her to do and what would really make me feel like she cared because it felt very selfish of me and like as soon as I told her it would be fake.”

I had to figure this out the harder way: I had to pay better attention to what made her happy, I had to try different ways of proving my love, I had to go out of my way to speak in her love language. But doesn’t that demonstrate love much better than if she had just told me? So this is why I am so passionate about studying communication. It’s humbling to recognize that my way of communicating is not only not the only way, but it’s also not even a “better” way. Recognizing this fact is what allows me to truly demonstrate my love for my sister and it’s what allows me to have a better perspective of where I fit in IMG_3582this big world. And it saves a very valuable relationship in my life 🙂 

I hope that you will take communication seriously and will humble yourself to recognize that other ways of communicating are valid. Please let me know your thoughts and/or experiences. I’d love to hear how understanding the complexity of communication has made a relationship of yours stronger.

 

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Relationships 101: It begins with knowing God

rocks people man happy worship sunset view clouds sky dark silhouette A twitter post by CommonWhiteGrl stated, “Being 18-25 is like playing a video game where u’ve skipped the tutorial & you’re just sort of running about with no idea how anything works.” Tell me about it. At this age we often feel overwhelmed, trying to figure out our lives: our educations, our careers, our relationships.

Of all of these significant aspects, I would argue that relationships are the most important. The relationships you form today are going to affect who you are tomorrow (more so, I would argue, than the career or educational path you chose). Most college kids are hungry for good, close friends. So to solve our problem, I wrote a post revealing the deepest, previous-to-now unknown, rocket-science, doctorate-degree-level, what-you-never-knew-before secrets about how to form and maintain a good relationship.

Okay, okay, maybe it’s not quite that secretive…and maybe it’s not quite that complicated…yeah…it might actually be common sense. BUT, I know this because I do it all the time: the common sense is so often forgotten. So, in this post I took up the menial task of reintroducing it–for my own sake if for no one else’s.

The Backstory

You know that passionate love and connection you feel between yourself and your best friend and/or significant other? No, seriously, think about your excitement to spend time with this person. This love and closeness is something we desire in relationships and it is delightful when we can make such connections. But, even if you think you have the closest of BFFs or the world’s best girlfriend, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

If you think you’ve felt love, passion, or belonging from any human before, I want to remind you God created that passionate love and if you think it’s strong between two humans, imagine how much stronger God feels that way toward you. As much as it means to wake up to a simple text saying “good morning” from your lover or best friend, it means so much more to God for you to wake up and say “good morning!” to him. He pursues you, desires you, and wants your love more than any human possibly could.

Therefore, if you really want good, fulfilling relationships, you have to start with getting to know God. 

I know God is so big, so unimaginable, so vast, so…everything. It seems impossible to know God and he sometimes feels so very distant. I know it. And I do not want to downplay God–he is way beyond us. I readily admit he is far too vast to understand. But, at the same time, he’s created each individual to be capable–in fact only fulfilled–when he/she has a close relationship with God. So in the face of this aspiration, I want to offer a variety of ways to stay connected with your creator.

Talk

We think we’re so technologically advanced when we can text someone anywhere in the hands clasp pray person people ring still bokeh portrait black and white world and they can receive it in a matter of seconds. How much cooler, though, is it that we can talk directly, without any time or technological boundaries, to the creator of the universe? And what kind of friends don’t talk? Realistically, how many of us, if asked about our relationship with God would have to answer–if answering honestly–“Well, we aren’t really talking anymore”? Let me tell you, in relationships, that statement is never a good sign…

Talk to God as you would talk to your best friend. Tell him how your day was. Tell him what is bothering you. Tell him what you’re excited about. Tell him why you are angry with him. Like a patient lover, he’s standing right by your side, just waiting for your attention. He wants your heart and wants your real self. Talk to him–even if you are only saying stupid things. He knows already, but he wants to hear it from you. Sometimes you and your best friend talk just to hear from each other what you already know. That’s what God wants.

Listen

But good friends don’t just talk, they listen. Jackie Kendall and Debby Jones, in their book Lady in Waiting, do a great job of describing this: “Even when someone is very special to you, you do not get too excited with a steady monologue. Listening is an important part of developing closeness with someone else. If you want to get to know the Lord, you must seek Him not only with a whole, clean, and pure heart, but also with a listening heart.”

mountain valley hill cliff rocks landscape blue sky clouds people man sitting alone mountaineer hiker hiking climbing sunny day daylight travel outdoors summer adventure Very few people would argue this point. But how does one listen to God?? One obvious answer is through reading his word. You’ve heard it before, but I’ll say it again: God’s word is a love letter to you. I bet it’s been a while since you’ve read God’s word as carefully as you would read a love letter… But you can also listen to God through a sermon, through reading inspirational books and blogs 😉 , or even through admiring creation (which he spoke into being). Sitting outside and staring up at the clouds, thinking about who God is definitely counts as listening to him.

Hang Out

The intense desire you have to spend time with a best friend or significant other is the way God feels about you. He looks forward to shared time and loves for you to be aware and accepting of his presence even in menial tasks. Just as even washing dishes is more fun with a friend, being aware and accepting of his presence in any circumstance can count as “quality time.”

And just as you enjoy spending time with your BFF or significant other in groups, you can hang out with God in groups–that’s what churches, discipleship groups, and worship nights are for. These are marvelous ways to celebrate God with other friends. mountain nature sky sunny sunrise summer sunset sunlight sunshine green grass sea water ocean lake man people reading book bible sitting alone bench But, also as you enjoy spending time with that one friend one-on-one, so you ought to spend time one-on-one to really connect intimately with God. Set aside some alone time* to talk with God, to listen to God, and just to sit silently with God. You’d do it with your boyfriend/girlfriend/bestfriend. Do it with God.

*Are you really alone if you’re chillin’ with God?

Become Obsessed!

You know how lovers are obsessed with each other and simply can’t get that special someone off their minds? Well, God’s obsessed with you and would love for even a small portion of that obsession to be reciprocated. Thinking about someone is a way of bringing that relationship into the present (see my post: Relationships in the 3-D). Randomly thinking about God throughout the day is a way to evoke passion in your relationship. Take your prayers before meals more seriously, place Bible verses in obvious places to randomly get your attention, think about a time when God has come through for you.

Many of us feel so overwhelmed about deepening our relationship with God that we tend to simply push it off. Or we forget how desperately God is pursuing us, waiting for so much as a little awareness from the humans he created in his image to share his love with. Or we get so caught up in life that we get distracted. But life is short and unpredictable. And God is waiting. So please, don’t let God’s greatness be an excuse for starting or growing deeper in the best relationship of your life.

In Honor of Sang Yoon: What are You Living for?

19756847_10158820639760391_7935453298698112723_n.pngLast semester at Cornerstone University I was working in a morning psychology study group and brought an omelet for breakfast (because it wasn’t ready until after we were supposed to meet–darn kitchen crew 😉 ) so I could eat and study at the same time. However, upon meeting with the group, Miles, the fellow on my right said he’s allergic to eggs and the smell makes him nauseous. At the same time, Sang, the fellow on my left said he hadn’t had breakfast and the omelet smelled SO good! Awkwardly I offered the plate to the Sang, but he turned me down, despite the fact that his mouth was watering. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, I had little to no interest in finishing my omelet in these conditions so I set it aside and tried to push it away so neither classmate would have to smell it. When we took a quick study break later on, Sang Yoon decided to take up my previous offer and finished my omelet for me–providing a relieving answer for everyone.

Two months after finishing that exam, I get the news that Sang Yoon, my omelet-eating study buddy, drowned in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This news forced me to do an overhaul in my thinking. I mean, I go about my day; I wake up, I go to sleep, I work, I Image result for omelet pictureskeep up on chores, I fit fun in where I can. So far I’ve been able to keep going through my everyday experiences. I do life somewhat thoughtlessly. But Sang Yoon’s death stopped me in my tracks. His death reminded me of how short and unpredictable life is. He reminded me of the bigger picture out there–and how despairingly small is my vision of life. How differently would I live, how differently would I communicate, if I could keep my eyes set on the bigger picture?

As a Christian, I believe God places each of us on earth for a reason. I believe life on earth is only the beginning and that the best is yet to come. I believe God has a purpose for what happens and can bring glory to his name through anything–even a 24-year-old man drowning. So, while I am upset that Sang had to die, I aspire to respect both Sang and God by challenging my way of thinking because of it. I want to recognize how short and unpredictable life is and I want to live my life for others and for the glory of God.

What have I been saying with my life? The mundane: the dish-washing, floor-sweeping, dinner-making, bathroom-cleaning can communicate a love for your housemates, a good stewardship of the things you have. Your attitude at work communicates. Your time on Facebook and Netflix communicates. Who you talk to and where you spend your money communicates. What has the past hour said about who you are and what you live for?

If I could regularly keep this perspective and purpose in mind, would I be so selfish? Would I complain if I had to stay late at work? Could I see it as a chance to serve more? Would I be so judgmental? Would I do the once-over on the girl with the short shorts? Would I be so impatient and so self-centered? Would I whine about leaving later than I wanted to for an event? Would it matter if I were a few minutes late?  Would I argue with my siblings as much? Would do more to show them that I love them?

If I could remember how little control I have and how each day is a gift, how each hour is speaking something, would I not pray more sincerely, live more boldly, act more purposefully, love more unconditionally? Would I not see how each day of my life can make a difference–even in the most minuscule, boring tasks–for better or for worse? Wouldn’t I take more risks in witnessing, wouldn’t I take more joy in little things, wouldn’t I be more thankful for what I have?19693630_1527121214013347_4089569426993532852_o.jpg

How one communicates depends on the perspective one takes. In honor of Sang, in honor of God, I aspire to embrace the perspective that God wants me to have. I want to live my life with purpose and to be used for God. Even if you aren’t religious or don’t have similar opinions about God, I would like to challenge you to consider what you are living by. What will people say about you when you are gone?Why do you do what you do? What motivates you, really? What perspective are you taking? What is your life communicating? What have you said with the past hour of your life? 

Goals don’t get accomplished on their own. It might sound cliche and overrated, but stepping back for a moment to consider what is motivating you to live as you do and what you are communicating with your life is a decision that, if taken seriously, I can guarantee you won’t regret.

And to Sang, I want to thank you for being the good-natured, patient, intelligent person you were. …and for finishing my omelet to relieve that awkward situation 🙂