Tuesday, July 10, 2007

DEALING WITH DIFFERENCES PART I

Two friends totally different in personalities, preferences, and patterns of behavior [see previous post] yet enjoying several days together on a long motorcycle trip. How is that possible? This is the first of several posts examining that possibility and consequently examining some guiding principles for healthy relationships. I do not claim training in the realm of psychology, though I've studied to some degree, and I certainly am not advocating behaviorism as a proper way to build relationships. I'm not promoting or debunking anyone's worldview. I'm simply sharing some things generally learned the hard way and tested against a lifetime of family and ministry relationships with some research along the way both biblically and otherwise.

This is not a research paper so I'm not interested in detailing footnotes of where information was gleaned. I just want to talk about some important things I've learned about getting along with people and learning to change so that can happen. I will say at the outset that His power and wisdom are the necessary foundation not to mention sharing in His very life and Word. That's a given.

That said...two friends totally different enjoying several days together on a long motorcycle trip and being good friends when it is over...how is that possible?

It takes... a recognition. To recognize there is no good verses bad in personalities and preferences is essential. This would certainly imply no right or wrong either since good is right and bad is wrong by definition...any sane definition. When two people each choose to see the other as just different with no moral judgement as to good or bad you pave the way for amiable times together. I'm not speaking here of biblical statements about certain behaviors that are stated to be good or bad. But I'm speaking of relationship skills that learn to establish guiding principles for actions or behaviors not addressed in scripture that are present in any relationship. How much time you take to gas a bike. Whether you laugh loudly, softly, or not at all. Where you put your things when done with them could be examples. To recognize each as free to be how and who they are without determining one is right and the other is wrong is foundational.

It takes...restriction. Boundaries are necessary for good relationships. Every front door of a home establishes a boundary that must not be crossed without invitation for there to exist a wholesomeness between people. You come into my home upon my invitation only. Such boundaries can become weapons to control people and can lead to isolationism if one desires, but when desiring a a legitimate relationship be it friend, spouse, church member, or whatever, boundaries are needed.

To illustrate, on my motorcycle trip my brother-in-law and I established, as we always do, a boundary...that in conversations we would NOT shame, condemn or try to fix each other in any fashion. Statements like..."I can't believe you said/did that," [shame] "I don't believe you should think that way," [condemn] "It would be better if you would think/say it this way" [Fixing] are all out of bounds. You will notice they all involve the second person pronoun "you" directed at the other ones actions, words, or thoughts in some manner. This is generally heard for what is is by all except the one saying it.

An aside. In my Pastors and Wives seminars we add the principle...you cannot speak FOR the other person in conversation. You wouldn't believe how hard it is for preachers to talk in company of their wives without saying "my wife and I think...", "my wife and I feel...". Letting her speak for herself is almost unheard of in ministerial circles.If you think either of these examples is easy try it for one day between you and your spouse. No shaming, no condemning, no fixing make up this first boundary. {You can add no speaking for the other person and it's healthier.]

Two things happen, among a lot of other things, when this boundary is in place in a relationship by mutual agreement. One is that each is incredibly free to express opinions without fear of winding up low man or woman on the intelligence pole. For that matter it creates an equality that education, experience or training, or lack thereof, cannot/does not take away. Being in the ministry doesn't give automatic credibility nor does being a man as opposed to being a woman give credibility were we to be speaking of healthy marriage relationships. Even when talking theology this guiding principle truly guides to healthy relationships.

The other thing that happens is when one says something that might be silly or baseless or even false, given time to reflect, with no one pointing out a supposed error in it, one can learn to challenge their own ideas/thoughts and change can take place. It's called "personal growth" for a reason.

The above does not negate one in the relationship asking for assessment or input. That isn't fixing. That's stepping into another's home by invitation. You can even request to share a thought that might help, but if the offer is declined...don't. Even here it is just an opinion of the one who is asked for suggestions. This is because the purpose is information not fixing the problem.

It becomes...respect. When there is genuine respect the relationship can flourish. It will not be with out failures and apologies and work, but both are agreed to the boundary being present and it guides the relationship along.

I'm in a marriage that can only be described by what I've just written. Not fully accomplished yet, but by all means, well on the journey. [If I tried to say it's accomplished she would just tell you the truth about it.] I'm in relationship with four grown children and their spouses with whom this style of relating is coming to fruition. I have a few friendships where this is experienced with commitment. I've been in a few [very few] churches where this is being learned. But be learned it must for real relationships to grow between people who are really different from one another. More to come on this topic.


Paul

12 comments:

Bob Cleveland said...

I'm making note of those three boundaries. I need them.

It also reminds me of a poem I heard early in our marriage:

If you want a successful marriage
That fills up your loving cup
Whenever you're wrong, admit it
And whenever you're right, SHUT UP.

My dad also said that where one WILL not, two CANNOT.. argue.

Paul Burleson said...

Bob,

It has been quite an experience in Pastor's seminars where we have "bull sessions" when wives are present to see the guys have to practice those ground rules for communication. It is funny to see how many of them speak for their wives without even realizing it. The "pastoral mentality" I call it takes over and the guys fix, [or would except for the boundaries] correct, and generally have little clue of their wives having thoughts of their own and an ability to communicate them. It's a rude awakening for some.

Alycelee said...

Paul,
Shame, condemn and fix.
Oh me, that shatters me to the core.
I spent my entire life 'fixing.'
And here I thought it was a gift of the Spirit :)
Truthfully, some time ago, I heard Bob Mumford on a tape say: We aren't Gods little deputies.
I am praying for grace to turn in my badge.
Thanks
Alyce

Bob Cleveland said...

I heard two other quotes that may be relevant.

One is: "God wants us to serve Him, but not as Advisors."

The other supposedly came decades ago from Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (but it may have been someone else) as he was flying somewhere. The lady next to him said she felt better with him on the plane. He said:

"Ma'am, I'm not in management. I'm in sales".

Paul Burleson said...

Alyce,

"Helps" IS truly a spiritual gift and is of tremendous benefit to all who are touched by one who excercises it.

To "fix" someone OR their problem can, at best, remove personal responsibility from the one with whom the problem lies or, at worse, play Holy Spirit in their lives which you or I would not wish to do.

As one who desires to "help" people legitimately, I usually can test my help to see if it's genuinely of the Spirit or simply my attempt to fix them by checking to see my reaction if they turn down my help or fail to excercise what I've given as direction. If I'm angry or hurt or disgruntled in some fashion by their failure to accept or appreciate my help, I've got a problem with "fixing." If I'm able to respect their choice, it may be I've given under the leadership of the Spirit and it is really "help". What they do with my "help" is between them and their Lord.

This may not make any sense but it has been of "help" [:)] to me in my struggle with what you've pin-pointed in you comment. Thanks and see you in September.

Jason Epps -- Salt Lake City, Utah, USA said...

Paul,

Long time no talk! Great post today. I can tell from the excellent use of alliteration that you're a Southwestern grad! But then again, with all the talk of healthy relationships, maybe you went to Golden Gate, too? :0)

Hope things are well with you, sir.
Jason Epps

Paul Burleson said...

Bob,

Your quotes are better than most blogs I read. Where do you come up with all these great "bobisms"?

Jason,

You're right. Long time no talk. But it is sure good to hear from you. I check your blog regularly. When you write, which isn't often enough with the good stuff you have to say, I'm blessed by it.

Debbie Kaufman said...

Paul: I have actually learned a valuable lesson from this post. My husband and I are complete opposites as you know and while we both embrace our differences after 23 years of marriage, I am more inclined to expect my husband to be more like me in more ways than he expects me to be like him. This post shows how wrong I am. Thanks.

Paul Burleson said...

Debbie,

I'm sorry it has taken all day to get your comment up. I've been fishing since early this morning and yes we caught 12 bass. My brother-in-law and I...a different one than my motorcycle buddy, this is my fishing buddy... threw back more than that which we deemed too small to keep. {We only keep BIG ones.} :)

Also Debbie, I have to say that your comment points out vividly one of the many things about you that I truly love and admire. You are always willing to check your self when some point is made. Many people read/listen with an umbrella deflecting whatever point is being made to some one else. Not you...you are brutally honest about examining yourself first. I truly believe that is a work of the Spirit in you. The reason I say that is because when you do see something in yourself, there is never self pity or improper shame, which is a form of pride, but a doggedness to see that change takes place for the Glory of God and the good of people, in this case your husband, which is true biblical repentence. You have concluded for me a great day. Your comment is far more significant than the fish, but added to the fun we had your comment is a more than fitting end to a great day. Have a great tomorrow.

Stacy said...

Can you just mass mail this post? It's so refreshing. I am just tired to my core of all of the posturing and one-up-man-ship that I see. Of course I'm sensitive to it now, so maybe I see it more than I should, but it would be nice to get back to the wide-eyed newbie of a few years back.

Thanks for this post.

Paul Burleson said...

Stacy,

Thanks for stopping by. I think I know where you're coming from in your comment. I call it a "jadedness" [old fashioned word to be sure] that seems to be so prevelant among even christians today. Mary and I are committed to "living til we die." Some people aren't and don't seem to know it.

I checked your profile and blog so I would know with whom I'm communicating and really liked what I saw and read. It looks to me like there is a freshness in you and yours that I hope is never lost. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Paul Burleson said...

Stacy,

As I posted my response to your comment it dawned on me that I may not have been clear in what I said about "living til we die."

By that I mean that there has to be a continual growing, changing and adjusting to new things for real life to be present. Anything less is a kind of "death" situatiuon since "life" demands change and learning especially about yourself. It is that to which my wife and I are committed.

I'm assuming you know it's all in the context of the One who is Himself our very life. I just like to use language that I call "koine english." One of my goals in the fourth quarter of my life is to create the ability to talk in something other than a religious verbiage. I have a feeling you even understand my reason for that. Good for you.