How to Revolutionize Your Relationships with Friends and Family
Last month we looked at how to revolutionize our relationships with our teenagers by "moving in the opposite spirit" or doing the opposite of what seems natural.
This month, I'd like to generalize this same technique for changing our relationships with friends and other family members as well. I have heard it said that relationships need to be renegotiated every three to five years. Things get stale, we get into ruts, the quality of our connections with friends and loved ones can always use an upgrade.
Sometimes we romanticize what life and relationships should be like. We forget connecting with people takes work and that we must examine the expectations we have for people and events. It helps to go into situations with our expectations rooted and grounded in reality: not the romanticized view that "we should all just get along" nor the pessimistic view that things will be tense or difficult.
Dealing with Offense
One of the key things that hurts relationships is criticism and its unfriendly cousins sarcasm and defensiveness. Being on the receiving end of one of these three lovely attitudes is definitely one of life's challenges.
Moving in the opposite spirit means we don't pick up the gauntlet that may have been thrown down through an insult or criticism. (Remember, through verbal communication, people are always telling us who they are, they're not defining us by their remarks.) So if someone makes a snarky comment and we don't "pick it up," then we’re free to respond instead of react. What's the difference? When we respond, we see the choices or options present in the interaction; whereas when we react we usually feel compelled to do something like get angry and hurl a criticism back, etc. In short, when we’re being reactive we have a very limited range of options.
It's in being able to press the pause button in the tense moment that we may find the freedom to move in the opposite spirit. Instead of attending to our feelings only, we choose to think.
WHAT DOES THIS LOOK LIKE?
Sometimes it may be covert. A friend or family member may be negative or hostile. For the sake of my example, we'll say they're extending us the rope to argue with them. Alanon admonishes its members, "Just because someone extends you the rope (to argue, debate, or play the one-upmanship game, etc.) doesn't mean you have to pick it up."
Just because you may want to argue with me doesn't mean I need to engage. I was explaining this to my daughter recently and she said, "I think I know what you mean. Is it something like: it takes four lips to argue and two of them are yours?" Yes, that is exactly what it means! (I think she heard that on a TV show.) There's also an old proverb that says, "Be careful when you argue with an idiot. People passing by won.t know which one you are."
What Moving in the Opposite Spirit Isn’t…and Is
Moving in the opposite spirit is not being more patient although that would help. It's also not being a doormat--women particularly become fearful and angry if they think that's what’s being asked of them. It's more like the modern martial art of judo. Judo is translated "the gentle way." The strategies and techniques of judo rely on yielding to the oncoming force of your opponent. It is a disciplined sport that can be readily adapted to a very effective type of self defense.
Here's the bottom line: judo is a way of using the enemies power by yielding to it. Moving in the opposite spirit accomplishes the same goal! We sense the force of our verbal critic or angry friend, husband, or colleague coming our way. We sidestep the intensity of their emotions (or possibly attack) by yielding our own right to defend ourselves. That is not to say that we volunteer for abuse. It's more like a mindful (self-aware) approach to disarm the negative emotions of someone who is coming at us with negative intent. Maybe someone is being mean spirited about your cooking or your home or your kids. While I'm all for giving a petulant friend or colleague a little push back if some bad behavior is occurring, that's not the strategy we're talking about today. Today we're talking about disarming our critics by giving way to the aggression that’s coming our way. We sidestep their opposition, instead of resisting it or defending ourselves against it.
The Spiritual Aspect
We wrestle not with flesh and blood but with powers and principalities, Paul warns us in Ephesians 6:12. What does that mean? Sometimes we're going around in circles in our relationships trying to figure out someone or trying to figure out what’s going wrong or where the communication is breaking down. But sometimes the problem may be a spiritual one.
As I stated above, moving in the opposite spirit means dismantling that power of the enemy by yielding to it. Last month, I talked about the paradox of the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object. In the words of the old Johnny Mercer song, “Something's gotta give." When we move in the opposite spirit, we choose not to pick up the gauntlet that's being thrown down, but we do choose a strategy. This isn't passive at all. It's strategic!
Imagine what it would feel like if you wanted to give your husband a piece of your mind and in your fury you approached him with eyes glaring and steam coming out of the top of your head. Instead of saying something defensive, rude, or dismissive, he just sits down to listen to you! (I know some of you are thinking you may be in the wrong house with someone else's husband if that ever happened!). It won't be hard to imagine how differently that argument would go if you had your husband’s full attention. That is the basic essence of moving in the opposite spirit. It's doing the opposite of what people expect you to do. What a challenge!
Proverbs 14:12 says: There is a way that seems right in a man's eyes but it leads to destruction. The still small voice of the spirit warns us that our ways are not His ways, nor our thoughts His thoughts. His ways and thoughts are as different from ours as the heavens are from the earth (paraphrased Isaiah 55: 8-9.) Moving in the opposite spirit separates us from our natural or carnal reactions to life's challenges. Even our most precious relationships bring strife, stress, and trauma. We need to be prepared. As I quoted last month, "If I always do what I've always done I'm always going to get what I've always gotten." (Henry Ford)
When someone lays down the gauntlet to argue with us, we don't have to pick it up. International author and speaker Graham Cooke says, "If you meet an accusation with an accusation, you do the work of the enemy." One of the names of the enemy of our soul is The Accuser of the brethren. When we’re upset and react naturally or carnally, we’re yielding to a negative or soulish emotion and permitting ourselves to be used by the Accuser.
DO YOU WANT MORE INFLUENCE?
Do you feel stuck in a relationship where you'd like to have more influence? Permit that person to influence you and watch what happens. I sincerely want to challenge you to train for some judo-like emotional training. We have to pass the test, Beloved! For more on this type of emotional training, see Graham Cooke's book, Manifesting Your Spirit.
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Susanne Ciancio, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Christian Counselor. She has been serving the Christian community as a professional Christian counselor in Essex county and the surrounding area since 1986. Beyond her private practice in West Orange, NJ she is involved in teaching, consulting, and pastoral supervision in various churches in the area. Click here for Susanne's website.
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