My pastor preached a sermon recently about the day of Pentecost in which the people began to speak in many different languages that they had never spoken before. He lifted from the text that it was one of the ways in which understanding and compassion could happen. People who normally would not be able to have a conversation because of language barriers were able to have one with a clear understanding. He shared that somewhere along the line, we lost the ability to understand even when we speak the same language. It made me ask the question, who taught you not to have tough conversations?
A few years ago my husband and I began marriage counseling to learn how to have tough conversations. Before counseling, in our almost 21 years of marriage, we have had two conversations that would be considered tough. I don’t say that out of pride but of great sadness. We avoided the tough conversations in our marriage because we thought that we were keeping the peace with each other and within ourselves. What was really happening is that we were building up resentment and frustration because we didn’t share what was really on our minds.
We learned in counseling that we have to be willing to have those tough conversations. They would actually save our marriage rather than damage it. Having tough conversations leaves less room for a misunderstanding because we talked about whatever it was that was bothering us. We learned to discuss the good, bad, and indifferent about the things that mattered most to us. A skill that I wish that I could share with people who shy away from taboo topics such as race, religion, money, and so on.
We avoid these topics like it’s the plague and then wonder why we haven’t progressed further. If we attempt to have these conversations, some accuse us of race-baiting or too religious or playing victim to name a few. When the truth is we are just trying to have a healthy conversation about our lived experiences. This reminds me of attempted tough conversations with my husband before marriage counseling. Our accusations were more of the silent kind. I felt unheard and eventually unmotivated to share my truth.
My husband never had an opportunity to learn about my fears, frustrations, or concerns because I was conditioned to believe that this was unwanted. On the other hand, I never had an opportunity to learn about his fears, frustrations, or concerns because he was conditioned to believe that this was unwanted, too. If two people who love each other dearly and willing to put their lives on the line for the other are feeling this way, imagine how a nation of people or a world of people needing to have tough conversations and avoiding them like the plague because we have been conditioned to believe that this is what’s wanted feel.
The truth is, everyone wants to be seen and heard. Ironically, it feels like no one is talking TO each other, and therefore no one is listening. The result — no one is heard. How do we learn what is needed if we avoid talking? How do we know what’s wanted if we avoid tough conversations?
My husband and I learned that part of the reason that we avoided tough conversations is because of our love for each other. Neither of us wanted to hurt the other nor did we want to feel rejected or unheard or worse misunderstood. It was easier to just avoid it until it was unavoidable. Sounds like what we are experiencing in the world, right now? Hmmm?
Yes. I know that conversations about race and religion and finances are tough but they are necessary. Tough conversations require being vulnerable. Who wants to bare there soul to someone who may not listen or worse, uses those words against you? Then we are just back to square one. No one listening and believing that this unhealthy way of having a tough conversation is the reason that we should avoid attempting to have a healthy conversation.
WE have to discuss the hurt, the misunderstanding, the frustrations, the everything from both sides. Yes. BOTH sides. Before marriage counseling, I thought that I was the only one feeling the weight of our marriage challenges because I express myself differently than my husband. Marriage counseling taught me that my husband had a voice, too. He had concerns and frustrations, too. Believe me, it was tough to accept but necessary to move forward. I had to learn how to have tough conversations with my husband and he had to learn how to have them with me. This required a lot of listening to understand rather than listening to respond. It also meant that we had to be a safe space for each other to share without judgment. Many of those tough conversations were made possible by our marriage counselor in the beginning. For that I am grateful.
Do we need counselors across the globe teaching us how to have tough conversations in safe spaces without judgment? Conversations that are seen as off-limits could be seen as welcomed opportunities to grow in our understanding and compassion for each others’ lived experiences. Tough conversations could bring a certain amount of respect for differences rather than minimizing or dismissing them. It won’t be perfect but it would be nice to start.
It’s been a few years since we had marriage counseling and my husband and I are still getting comfortable with this process AND it’s worth it. I see my husband differently. I’m pretty sure that he sees me differently, too. WE have a new found love and respect for each other because we are choosing to have tough conversations. I can’t speak for my husband but I’m pretty sure that the feeling is mutual that we know each other better. We talked a lot before marriage counseling but these conversations are different. They feel more connected. It’s like I’m seeing him for the first time not just as my husband but as a man who is experiencing life much like me. Although he has the same worries and concerns as I do, his perspective is different because of how he experiences them. I can see that now.
Who taught you not to have tough conversations? Are you ready to listen to understand rather than listen to speak? Are you ready for a new conversation that felt off-limits so that we all can grow? Let’s take the journey together and have a little talk. Go ahead and have one of those tough conversations. Peace.