Archive for July 8, 2024

Let Them Know

It seems that listening has become a lost art in our society, even in our marriages and our families. Instead of listening, people seem to focus on asserting their opinion or defending their perspective. In the process, divisiveness deepens, a divisiveness that not only threatens our communities but our marriages and families as well.

Effective communication, on the other hand, is more than simply telling my side of the story or asserting my talking points louder than the other guy. Effective communication happens when people share information and stories, when those on both sides of the conversation feel safe to express themselves AND feel heard and understood by those involved in the conversation. In fact, assuring the other person feels listened to and understood may represent the very foundation on which effective communication is built. This is true in families as well.

How can you make sure the person you’re talking with feels like you have listened, heard, and understood them?

  1. Give the person talking your full attention with the sole purpose of understanding their perspective. Make eye contact. Ask clarifying questions—questions to help you understand their perspective, not questions to “make them think.” In fact, listen as though you are listening to the most important person in your life. In reality, when you’re talking to a family member, they are that important, aren’t they?
  2. Recognize that the person you’re listening to has a valid perspective. There are often multiple ways to view a situation. You may not agree with the other person’s perspective, but there are likely other people who do. And, even if you disagree, you may learn something important from their perspective. Be open. Listen deeply.
  3. Emphasize any areas of agreement you discover. There are likely ideas or values within the other person’s view with which you can agree. Look for those areas of agreement and explicitly acknowledge them.
  4. Restate the other person’s perspective to assure you have truly heard and understood. If they feel you have not quite understood, let them clarify. Set aside your own agenda until you can restate the other person’s viewpoint well enough that they say, “Yes, now you understand.”
  5. Listen to yourself and avoid words that tend to divide. For instance, “but” tends to increase the other person’s defensiveness. “And” does not seem to have the same detrimental impact. Words like “no,” “won’t,” and “don’t” contribute to divisiveness. Focus instead on using positive phrases like “I can see your passion” or “I look at that in a slightly different way.” These phrases take personal responsibility for the beliefs we hold without devaluing the other person.

These practices can be more challenging than they appear, especially in the midst of conflict. However, when you practice them, the other person will feel listened to and understood. They will know you value them and their opinion. More importantly, you will find that you resolve any disagreement more quickly and easily. Won’t that make family disagreements more bearable?

The Work of Children…and Adults

Fred Rogers is credited with saying, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” I agree. Alison Gopnik also agrees. She reviews research in her book The Gardner and the Carpenter which suggests:

  • Play helps children learn to interact with others. It allows them to practice negotiating and compromising as well as other social skills.
  • Exploratory play provides the opportunities for children to learn how things work. It helps them learn about their environment as well.
  • Pretend play encourages children to think about possibilities and options. It helps them consider potential responses to various situations. It provides an opportunity to learn how another person might think or feel in various situations. This can increase our children’s empathy and compassion.
  • As children play randomly with various toys and friends, unexpected situations arise. In response, our children learn how to better deal with the unexpected.

Review that short list of the benefits of play. We, as adults, will also benefit from learning and practicing those skills. And that’s not all. There are more things play provides that will benefit children and adults. For instance, play helps reduce depression and increase social connectedness. Play enhances a sense of personal agency. It promotes our ability to problem-solve. It improves our overall sense of well-being. What adult doesn’t want these attributes in their own life? And what parent does not want these attributes to grow within the lives of their children’s lives?

Mr. Rogers had it right. “Play really is serious learning,” but not just for children. It is “serious learning” for adults too. It’s “serious learning” for the whole family. With that in mind, I want to make a recommendation for you and your family. Take play seriously. Grab your children and play every day. Play a game. Play an imaginative, make-believe game or a board game. Engage in sports play. Play music. Playfully explore a new place. Meet another family and enjoy a playful time together. Choose whatever avenue of play you like best…just play…every day…play! Have fun… and reap the benefits of “the serious learning” of play for your whole family.

Jealousy in Love

I work with several young women who struggle to find healthy romantic relationships. One of the challenges I’ve observed (and these young women have pointed out to me time and again) is that the young men they date often get jealous of their success. The young men become insecure and attempt to control them when the woman is appropriately friendly with others or experiences a level of success or gets a raise or…or really anything that promotes their status. I want to deny this, but I have seen it happen too many times. Jealousy raises its green little head and shatters the relationship. Because of their partner’s insecurity, the young women are faced with the false choice of rising to their full potential or “dumbing it down” so “their guy doesn’t get jealous.” 

On the other hand, according to one of the great passages on love, “love is not jealous.”  Love celebrates the successes of others, girlfriend or spouse included. Love rejoices with the truth of their spouse’s God-given talent and ability. Instead of jealousy over a spouse’s strength and growth:

  • Love celebrates their success with them. Love rejoices with those who rejoice and weeps with those who weep. Enjoy the celebration of your spouse’s strengths and successes.
  • Love recognizes that jealousy is a feeling not an action. Jealousy flows from our own insecurities and inaccurate comparisons. We need not compare our lives to any other person. Each of us has our own strengths and roles. Accept and celebrate the diversity of the people in your life. Rather than allowing jealousy to arise, celebrate the strength of diversity.
  • Love also recognizes jealousy as a sign to address our own insecurities. Life can often arouse feelings of insecurity and insignificance in us. Jealousy signals a need to resolve past issues that have contributed to feelings of insecurity. Take time to work through the past and make any internal changes needed.

Jealousy has interfered with the formation of loving relationships and the stability of loving marriages. Don’t let it destroy your marriage or love. Do the personal work of resolving your past and building your sense of a secure identity so you can rejoice with the successes of your spouse.