We had an amazing staff retreat last weekend and for the first time, some of the women who work with me met one another in person. It was wonderful to have everyone hug and love on one another, hear one another’s stories, and talk about how we can make our impact with women in destructive relationships stronger together.
The last night, sitting near the hot tub, I received an unexpected surprise. A bite of some sort that I’m still battling a week later. Initially, I thought it was a scorpion, but the wound is too big and tender.
Still feeling the pain of it when I touch it or lay in bed. But I’m grateful it wasn’t worse or hasn’t traveled up my leg. Prayers appreciated.
Today’s question: What are your suggestions for when you are in a relationship with someone and they do something that upsets you and when you try to address it with them they say this. “Don’t you know when you get upset with me it pushes me away?”
Or when I say something bothers me, they turn it back on me and say, “what you are doing is bothering me.” Essentially, I never get my feelings heard or needs addressed by the other person. I struggle with how to respond because I can't figure out whose needs are more important. My feelings or the fact that my feelings are upsetting the other person. Thank you for your help. Hopefully, this question is not too confusing.
Answer: Your dilemma is a common experience in relationships and when it becomes a pattern it does leave you feeling confused, angry, and devalued.
I’m going to give you a few things to reflect on, try differently, and then you’ll better be equipped to evaluate the health of your relationship and what you want to do going forward.
1. Reflect: Jesus reminds us that before we seek to take the speck out of someone else’s eye, we first need to reflect on our own self. (Matthew 7:3-5). How we say things matter. The Bible reminds us that life and death is in the power of our tongue. (Proverbs 18:21).
When we need to bring up a sensitive issue that probably will be perceived as a criticism, it’s wise to give it some thought to how we say it and when. Saying hard things in the heat of emotion or while arguing may feel better to you, but usually does not result in a positive outcome even in normal relationship troubles. The only part of a conversation you are in control of is your side of the street, so when you need to bring up something that may elicit someone’s defenses and shame, it’s best to give it some thought and prayer.
2. Try saying it differently. Read through these two ways of sharing what’s bothering you and notice the difference:
“You’re being a bully when you keep talking over me.” Or
“I feel like I can’t get a word in when you talk over me, will you please stop.”
“You’re treating me disrespectfully right now.” Or
“I feel dismissed when you won’t listen to my side of the story. I’d like you to listen.”
One statement starts with the word You or You’re and the other starts with I. When you speak up for yourself, you’ll usually have a better chance of being heard if you start with your own feelings (I) rather than what they did wrong (you). No guarantees, but see if you can try I statements vs you statements when you share what’s bothering you and see if they are better able to listen and hear you.
3. When nothing changes. You CAN say things perfectly clear, kind, and gentle and the other person may still be unable to listen, reflect, or show any remorse for what he/she has done to hurt you. I believe that’s why Paul reminds us, “As much as it depends on you, be at peace with people.” (Romans 12:18), and Jesus tells us that “if they refuse to listen” (Matthew 18:15-20) after you have shown them what they did that offended you, understand that the relationship changes.
You can’t make another person care about how their actions impact you, but you can care how their actions harm you. That does not mean you don’t care about them, but it does mean that you may no longer give them access to you in ways that will continue to harm you.
You asked whose needs are more important here. Your need to share, or their need to think they are wonderful all the time so that they never feel upset by what you say? Any meaningful relationship requires the ability to be honest. There are no perfect people and therefore no perfect relationship. We will upset each other, offend each other, disappoint each other, and misunderstand each other at times. That’s why we need to be able to talk it through so that we can forgive each other, understand our differences, and make accommodations and changes in order to get along with one another where possible.
Therefore, I’d encourage you to move into curiosity by asking this last question, “It seems to really bother you when I try to be honest with you about something that bothers me. What hurts you so much when I am hurt or bothered or disappointed by something and want to talk about it?” Then stop and listen. It may take a moment for them to reflect on what you’ve said. Or they may mock you, shut you down, ignore you, or somehow make it seem like you’ve done something hurtful to them again. If the latter happens, now you know. This person is incapable of self-reflection or honest feedback and therefore unable to grow or change. What that means for your continued contact and level of relationship with this person is up to you. The truth is, you cannot maintain a healthy, safe relationship with someone who is unwilling to hear, listen, change, or grow.
Friend, what have you done when someone won’t/can’t hear your concerns?
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