Relationships can be a real challenge in life, can’t they? Some relationships feel natural, almost effortless, while others are exhausting and take so much work; some are superficial or shallow, just floating on the surface, while others are full of depth and fulfillment for both parties. Why are some relationships so pleasant, while others are just plain difficult?
I do not have all the answers, but I do know that relationships are two way streets. It takes the involvement of both parties to be effective. Having to deal with someone who doesn’t really want a relationship isn’t easy. We can accept them for who they are. We can look for and respect them for qualities they have to offer. There will always be differences between people, but those differences can attract and strengthen our relationships.
I know from personal experience that some of those relationships are really gifts in disguise. Several times when I prayed for charity, I had family members and friends, as described above, reenter my life in unpleasant ways that allowed me different opportunities to develop charity.
Once I recognized this, I began to be thankful for the qualities they were helping me to develop: charity (for which I had prayed,) patience, long suffering, forgiveness, and the list goes on. Then humility came in when I thought, “What if I am helping them develop those same qualities?” Ouch!
I remember a time in my life that began as awkward and grew very ugly. A neighbor of mine was being released as Primary President and I had been called to replace her. I was told to go and talk with her, get the materials, and prepare to conduct Primary the following Sunday.
Unbeknownst to me, she had no idea that she was going to be released. She was shocked. Needless to say, things didn’t go well. Feelings were hurt. Our relationship was never the same. It wasn’t my fault, but that didn’t matter. Things had changed and there was nothing I could do to fix it.
However, I respected her decision of distancing herself from me and allowed her the room she needed. I was kind when I had to talk with her. I believed, as the saying says, “time heals all wounds,” and that things would get better over time and with distance. It must be true because years later she treated me as though nothing negative had happened between us. I've been so grateful for this experience, because it has helped me through other experiences that were very similar.
We all have basic needs: food, safety, air, etc. We also have basic drives. Perhaps an awareness of these drives can play a key role in our relationships. At the heart of each relationship is the fact that everyone wants to belong, everyone needs to learn, everyone desires to contribute, and our ability to communicate honestly and respectfully with each other is essential in each of these areas.
Belonging, being united with something, is an important part of our existence. Even from the beginning of life we belong; we belong to a family. Hopefully, our families give us a natural, secure place of belonging. Isn’t this more evidence of the divine nature and purpose of the family unit?
The drive to belong is so powerful that if we don’t feel like we belong in one place, we seek to belong in another. Why do so many young people seek out gang activity? Wouldn’t it be sad if it’s because they are looking for a place to belong? To fit in? To be a part of something or someone? Truly, we all long to belong.
We all have a family! Besides our individual families, we belong to one great human family where we each influence the lives of each other. Do we have a positive or a negative affect? How can we help someone belong? We can look for ways to help each other feel accepted, valued, needed, and loved.
Too many times acceptance is based on conditions; personal value is based on performance. What a gift it is to be able to love unconditionally! To be able to let that person know they are of value just because they exist; that they don’t need to prove anything; they belong regardless of what they accomplish, or attempt. Learning to love and accept people just the way they are is lesson number one.
Although learning may not seem vital to our well being, it brings a breath of fresh air that is vital. Learning brings a newness of life. It revitalizes; it’s reenergizing. It adds mystery and excitement to life. Learning keeps us young in mind and heart, even as time increases our age.
Learning comes in different ways. We can seek learning by study (of good books), we can learn by faith (through the Spirit and through life’s many experiences.) As we observe, as we consciously look, we will gain new insights that enliven and empower us.
Learning builds confidence; it establishes foundations of optimism. Life without learning is a stagnate life; learning invites progress. It offers purpose, direction, and personal involvement. Learning prepares us to be active participants in life.
In the thesaurus, another word for contribute is strengthen and invest. I had never thought of my contributions as investments, but they are. These investments breathe life into the relationship; without which, the relationship begins to die. Being able to share our talents, gifts, our knowledge, and experience with each other allows us to invest, to give part of ourselves away, in the relationship. Belonging, learning, and contributing build confidence and strengthen relationships.
Communication goes beyond words. Words mean something; yet what we think they mean and what they could mean might be complete opposites. For example: “Cleave” has two meanings that are in opposition to each other. In one way, “cleave” means to detach, divide, separate, or tear, as in a meat cleaver used to cleave meat. Yet, “cleave” also means adhere, cling, follow, keep, support, or sustain, as to cleave unto your wife. Cleave in both cases is spelled and pronounced the same; yet, the meaning or definition of the two are literal opposites.
This brings up another challenge in communication - the “redefining” of words. This was one lesson that drastically affected my marriage, but I didn’t see it for some time. It could have caused major problems, had I not been willing to be taught through the Spirit. I chose to marry Kieth for many reasons. But one of the things I valued most was his ability to be easy-going; his patience. I admired and loved him, and needed his qualities in my life.
After about ten years into our marriage, I started to see things differently; life wasn’t as positive. To me, my husband had become lazy and slothful. I wasn’t sure how much more I could stand. Then I heard a story that talked about changing the definitions or our perspective of how we see things. The example given was how safe water could be seen as boring, and something that appears to be exciting, like white rapids, could really be dangerous.
After sharing this concept with the children, when they would complain about being “bored” I would say, “Oh, good; you’re safe! What would you like to do, now that you’re ‘safe’?” We talked about how things that looked exciting could, in fact, be dangerous for us.
It was through this principle that the Spirit taught me. What if Kieth hadn’t changed? What if I had changed the definitions of his strengths and redefined them as weaknesses? Instead of patience, I defined him as lazy. Instead of easy-going, I defined him as slothful. Wow! I had turned his strengths into weaknesses, simply by how I had defined his action. I learned
through this experience that how we define things truly affects the judgements we make, and in fact, our relationship we have. Knowing this, we can look for the truth in how we define ourselves and others.
It’s true that our weakness can become our strengths, but just as we’ve shown above, our strengths can become our weaknesses. Here’s an example about me. I am a very clean, organized person. That is a strength of mine. However, if something I cleaned got messed up, the world had better look out! It was very easy for me to lose my temper. This is when I learned that my strengths of organization and cleanliness could bring out my weaknesses of intolerance and impatience.
Finally, two essential parts of communication are honesty and respect. When we are honest with ourselves and with others, light and truth become manifest, our perspective becomes clear, and life is brought into balance. Respect allows us to stand as equals on even ground; no pedestals; no comparisons; no competition. Words spoken change from harsh and extreme to refined and prudent.
Another beautiful experience I had brought these two qualities of honesty and respect together. Often, as young adults go through their teenage years, their pride inevitably brings out our pride. It was in such a moment that I had to learn the importance of letting go of my pride. Could I afford to “be” right if the cost was losing a son?
In this situation, Steve was insisting on his agency. He felt strongly that if the Lord wasn’t going to interfere with his choices, neither should his parents. He felt that he was old enough to play “M” (mature) games on the computer and should have the right to be able to choose to do so on his computer. I felt that as parents, we have the right to decide what would be allowed or not allowed in the environment of our home. We did not approve of “M” games (I never did and Kieth had changed his position) so we decided that they were not allowed in our home. However, we told Steve that even though we didn’t approve of “M” games at all, he had his agency and could play them with his friends in their home if their parents approved. This wasn’t enough for him, for this was his home, too.
Deeply concerned about the direction Steve was wanting to go and the division this was causing in our relationship, I knelt down in prayer and humbly said, “Heavenly Father, I don’t want to be right, I want to do what’s right.” I pleaded with Him to show me what to do so that I could proceed, the right way.
Immediately, as I spoke those words, the thought entered my mind, look in “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet. I began from the beginning with the Message from the First Presidency. It was beautiful. I read until it said, “...You will be worthy to go to the temple to receive holy ordinances.” There was the answer. Sure The Lord allowed us our agency to do what we want. But if we want to go into His house, we needed to comply with His rules and standards.
We had the right to choose what we would do with our lives, but what happened in the “house” depended upon the owner of the house. I shared this with Steve and... no surprise, it worked! He didn’t like it, but he couldn’t argue with it, either.
I didn’t see it before, but in doing what’s right, we are right! I just needed to let go of my pride in wanting to be right. After all, is being right worth the relationship or is the relationship worth doing right?
Life is full of relationships. Helping others belong, learn, and contribute will only strengthen those relationships. Honest, respectful communication tends and nourishes relationships, making them healthy and strong.
We can be kind in what we say. We can be direct in what we mean. We can be civil. We can be sincere. We can make a difference by getting to the heart of each relationship and strengthening it!