This last while, I have been noticing family relationships. And it’s been sad to notice that some family relationships bring bitterness and sadness, although they still love each other. Obviously, this isn’t everybody, but it has been these situations that have been sticking out to me.
Growing up as a teen, I had an addiction. I was addicted to feeling angry. I loved it. It’s really weird to explain. But I thrived off of being angry. Once I was mad, I would do things to maintain that anger instead of looking for how to relieve that anger. I would listen to music that identified with my angry emotions, I wouldn’t talk to people and would avoid them, I would consistently think about those things that made me mad in the first place, just to get re-angry. Isn’t that crazy? But I would, and, as soccer was my life, I found that I played soccer best when I was mad, so before games and at practice, I was very easily and readily provoked to frustration.
And I look back and it makes me so sad. I never really directed my anger at my friends, but I did take it out on my family. I was snarky and rude at home–all the time. I stayed up in my room a lot. And I never really developed much of a close relationship with my parents or my siblings. But we got along fine most days when I wasn’t mad. But when I moved away to college, I didn’t really miss my family that much. I liked going home to see them and looked forward to it, but I was also fine when I was away. The saddest thing was when my little sister, then 12-years old, told me later how much she wanted me to be her friend, but that I just didn’t seem to care or ever really call home to talk to her.
Honestly, it took me going on a mission for my church to see the importance of my family. It took me seeing other families who were broken, marriages that had failed, children who were exposed to horrific scenes and living conditions, other children who found more comfort in my skirts than in their mother’s, drugs and alcohol and pornography that were stealing peoples minds and hearts away from their spouses and children to realize how much I loved and appreciated my parents and my home environment and my siblings. I came home with a new love in my heart for my family that I wish I had gained in a more simple , pleasant, and earlier way.
I put in a good effort to love my family better after that. After being home from my mission for several months, I remember being at school when the thought came, Your relationships with your family are just as eternal as that future relationship with your spouse and those family relationships need the same attention.
I had always looked forward to the day I would finally meet my future husband. I would pray for him often. In my dating relationships, I was kind, understanding, forgiving, and willing to sacrifice in order to make the relationship work. But there was one thing that stood out among the rest that I needed to focus on in order to gain close, eternal relationships with my family members: open and frequent communication.
My best friend was a communications major at school. I really owe her my life. I never before thought that communication was something anyone needed to learn. We just communicate, right? It was through learning principles of healthy communication that has really been the key. As she taught me, “Communication is the relationship.” The manner in which we communicate or don’t communicate with one another determines what kind of relationships we develop with each other.
Simply, communication is the receiving and sending of messages. We receive and send messages in more ways than just verbally. It isn’t just what we say to one another. It’s how we say it. It’s how we interact with each other: It’s how we listen to each other; it’s how we talk to each other; it’s how we look at each other; it’s how we spend time with one another; it’s how we don’t listen or talk or look at each other; it’s our every moment we are around or connected with each other. Communication is in everything we do and are.
As I began to really focus on my communication with my family, I realized that I was the one that needed to change. I couldn’t change how anyone else communicated with me. I could talk to them about how they communicated, but I couldn’t make them do something different. I had to be the one to change.
For example, I wanted a more intimate and close relationship with my parents, but a lot of things I was doing was standing in the way of that.
After Andrew and I were engaged, my mom came to me one day and said, “We had better schedule you a doctors appointment so we can get you on birth control.”
“Well, actually, I don’t want to use birth control,” I said as casually as I could.
The tension immediately mounted. I could see the concern and confusion all over my mother’s face. “Oh,” she said, not really knowing at all how to respond.
“It’s something I’ve had decided for a long time, and I’ve studied it, and Andrew and I both, independently of one another, don’t want to use birth control,” was my response.
A couple days later, my parents came to me wanting to talk. I immediately closed up. As they laid out their concerns to me, I remember feeling frustrated, so so frustrated. I can’t even remember what they said to me because I wasn’t listening. I never had when they sat me down to talk, and this was no different. I was defensive. I wanted them to listen to me. I wanted to explain. I was frustrated that my parents weren’t asking me why I wanted to do this. I was frustrated that they were questioning me. In these moments, I crawl back to my teenage self, full of anger, not wanting to talk, just to be angry.
I eventually talked about my side of thinking during that meeting, but I always end up crying and barely being able to express myself, so I’m sure it was muffled and short and didn’t even come close to establishing understanding of my side. Since this experience, I’ve had other “talks” with my parents, but I’m working on a lot of communication things that I have since learned from retrospect. And communication is getting better.
- I shouldn’t get defensive just because my parents want to talk to me about something. Wanting to talk is healthy. Wanting to express concerns and thoughts is how we maintain open communication. I would much rather know what my parents are thinking than to have them speculate and stress. Speculation and stress are communicated in other ways if not expressed verbally and can still affect the relationship.
- When I get defensive, I shut down. I don’t listen. In that meeting, all I wanted was to be understood, and yet, I wasn’t giving my parents the same courtesy. I wasn’t trying to understand where they were coming from. I wasn’t being respectful to what they wanted and needed to say. In order to facilitate good listening, I needed to be a good listener.
- Dealing with conflict is a skill. It doesn’t have to be or get ugly. It can actually be very smooth and open and healthy. The better I become at approaching and dealing with conflict, the better it will go.
- I have never really been open about personal things with my parents. To me, birth control was a topic I had studied for years and had made my mind up about for years. My parents didn’t know that. I’ve never even mentioned the topic around them. They had absolutely no clue. We had very different perspectives on the maturity and wisdom that I had used to make my decision. I shouldn’t be angry when my parents don’t know the background that I know when I have never been open about it before. I shouldn’t feel offended just because they question where I am coming from. I am as at fault for the situation and lack of understanding as anyone. I thought my parents just knew that I thought things through like this, but I had never been open about anything I was thinking through. For all they knew, I was naive and rash. I had done nothing to show the wiser. Being more open on a normal basis would help.
- Getting emotional can really get in the way of communication. Feeling emotions are fine, but letting those emotions control my ability to listen with respect or speak with respect or to be understanding isn’t conducive to good communication.
- My parent’s thoughts and concerns are just as important as my own thoughts and concerns. One side isn’t more valued than the other. Respect and understanding need to be extended in both directions. It isn’t fair for me to just demand it for myself.
I could keep going, really. As I have come to better understand what good and healthy communication is and looks like and what it takes to maintain and facilitate, I am gaining ground with all my relationships, but most importantly, with my family. I’m learning to understand others better. I’m learning how listen. I’m learning what things are important to talk about and to be open about, depending on the type of relationship. I’m learning that awkwardness doesn’t really exist if I am a good communicator. I’m learning that even something like tone of voice can drastically change the environment of the conversation. I’m learning that principles such as kindness, forgiveness, and understanding are at the heart of both good communication and good relationships, and that a lack of any of these can be destructive.
I’ll probably be posting a lot in the next while about communication. Like I said, it’s been on my mind a lot this last bit. I’m not an expert, but I do love what I have learned so far.