Thinking Out Loud

June 7, 2015

When Interpersonal Relationships Break Down

Six years later, I honestly don’t remember what it was that precipitated this column…

Lately I’ve been keeping track of a number of relationships in my personal life and business life that have been changing. Some of these represent cases where there have been relationship breakdowns, usually precipitated by something external that I did not instigate, but often compounded by my reaction(s). I’m a very principled person, and I’ve never let a great friendship stand in the way of taking a stand for an ethical or moral precept, at least not among people who I expect should know better.

But some of them are relationships which have been in a wonderful state of repair and healing. Enough time clicks by on the magic clock and both parties say, “Who cares?” and pick things up where they left off. In one case, I can no longer remember what the issue was between myself and the woman concerned, though when we do meet up, I hope she gives me some kind of clue. I don’t want to reopen old wounds, but I’m dying to know what the deal was. It must have been a doozie, but with God, forgetfulness — which we regard as a human failing — is actually a divine attribute.

So here’s my five rules for surviving relational breakdowns:

  1. bizarrobelieverjerkNothing should be so severe that it would cause you to move to the sidewalk on the other side of the road if you saw that person coming down the street. Civility is always the higher good.
  2. You should never have relational estrangement with more than five people at a time. To get a sixth person on the list, you have to be willing to call up the person who has been on the list the longest and make peace. You may prefer to use four or three as your magic number. It should never be more than five.
  3. Treat the whole thing as if it’s entirely your own fault, even if it wasn’t to begin with. Sometimes that can be difficult. A pastor I know took great issue with something I sent him in an e-mail a year ago; then just weeks later got up and gave his congregation the same message. I know that I was right, but if I ever happened to run into him, the first thing I would probably say is, “Look, I’m sorry…” In fact, I have nothing to apologize for, but it can be a great opportunity to practice humility and thereby model Christian charity.
  4. Ask yourself if there’s some other factor at play that you haven’t considered. For about 15 years, I knew that a particular individual was angry with me. A mutual friend said, “He’s never going to forgive you.” I always thought it concerned something in our professional relationship, but about a year ago, my mind flashed back to something that happened at a party involving our children. I immediately contacted him to make things right.
  5. An irreparable situation means the relationship can’t be fixed for now. The bible is very clear that as far as it is up to you, you should live at peace with everyone. Elsewhere, we’re told that loving our brothers and sisters means believing the best. I interpret that as believing the best is yet to come.

P.S.: I’m still working some of these out, so don’t expect to see my book on this on the shelves anytime soon!

In heaven above
With the saints that we love
It will be glory

But on earth here below
With the saints that we know
Well… that’s a different story.

 

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August 27, 2009

It’s Not Your Circumstances, It’s How You Respond To Them

During the past year I have been directly responsible for a number of relational train wrecks involving myself and others.    While each of these is a story unto itself, beginning with something that I did not precipitate, I either responded in a way that was less than clear, or I responded out of anger and frustration.

Who ever said, “Don’t shop at the grocery store when you’re hungry,” could have equally said, “Don’t write e-mails when you’re angry.”

Furthermore, if I examine the situations analytically, often the person or organization met by my vent or rant is not the person or organization that has caused me to have a bad day, a bad week or a bad month.

As someone who has come through periods of physical illness, I have also discovered, sad to say, that I am a mellower person when I am also dealing with something that has left me broken or humbled or aware of weakness.   It’s when I’m feeling  “good” that I sometimes through caution to the wind and say things I shouldn’t.

Yesterday, I spoke with a former pastor who described to me the feeling of not having to care what people might think about a particular course of action.   While before some things might have mattered a great deal, now he simply doesn’t have to factor in the opinions of a church board, church staff, or church membership.

I can’t speak fully for him, but I know that lately I have simply “shut down” trying to build on interpersonal relationships.   While in a couple of cases I have been the one to seek reconciliation and restoration of the relationship, in several other cases I have found myself simply no longer caring what people think of me.   In fact, I think that lately some of my best “relationships” have been with people who don’t really know me at all; insofar as I have achieved a depth of mutual communication, empathy and understanding with people I’ve only met a short time before.

I want to “learn my lesson” in this department, but I have come to regard any relationship that I had over 90 days as just about to reach its “best before” date; I’ve come to almost expect that something will go wrong, relationally; and I’ve decided those relationships aren’t worth consideration because they’re probably minutes or hours from disintegration.   And I fully acknowledge that — without specific intention — it has often been entirely my fault.

Twenty-four hours ago, I returned from a long day at work — eight hours without even so much as a restroom break (too much information, I know) — and found a business e-mail waiting for me containing information that was contrary to what I thought we had committed to.   Because of past history with this company, I assumed this was just another in a long line of broken expectations.   So I typed a short, angry, over-the-top e-mail figuring, “Maybe, just maybe, this will get their attention.”

What I didn’t factor in was that the person I sent it to may not have been responsible at all for what happened.  I was simply building on the anger of some contact from previous in the week.   In fact, without going into details, in my mind I was being the ‘good guy’ in the broader exchange, as I was going along with his assumption that I would enter into a certain venture that I had previously indicated I would not.   So having jumped through their hoops, how could they possibly then mess it up on their end?

But I also didn’t factor in — though I was aware of it in our earlier e-mails at the start of the week — that this person has just come through a personal crisis dealing with the sudden loss of a family member.   He didn’t need the stress of my letter.

So now, in more specific terms, I must write an apology.   I’ll leave out the background analysis.   It doesn’t really matter.   What matters is hitting the “send” button before thinking it through more carefully.   What matters is that other people have feelings, too.   I’m sorry.

June 16, 2009

Dealing with Broken Interpersonal Relationships

Filed under: Church, issues, relationships — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:12 pm

Lately I’ve been keeping track of a number of relationships in my personal life and business life that have been changing.   Some of these represent cases where there have been relationship breakdowns, usually precipitated by something external that I did not instigate, but often compounded by my reaction(s).   I’m a very principled person, and I’ve never let a great friendship stand in the way of taking a stand for an ethical or moral precept, at least not among people who I expect should know better.

But some of them are relationships which have been in a wonderful state of repair and healing.   Enough time clicks by on the magic clock and both parties say, “Who cares?” and pick things up where they left off.   In one case, I can no longer remember what the issue was between myself and the woman concerned, though when we do meet up, I hope she gives me some kind of clue.   I don’t want to reopen old wounds, but I’m dying to know what the deal was.   It must have been a doozie, but with God, forgetfulness — which we regard as a human failing — is actually a divine attribute.

So here’s my five rules for surviving relational breakdowns:

  1. bizarrobelieverjerkNothing should be so severe that it would cause you to move to the sidewalk on the other side of the road if you saw that person coming down the street.   Civility is always the higher good.
  2. You should never have relational estrangement with more than five people at a time.    To get a sixth person on the list, you have to be willing to call up the person who has been on the list the longest and make peace.   You may prefer to use four or three as your magic number.   It should never be more than five.
  3. Treat the whole thing as if it’s entirely your own fault, even if it wasn’t to begin with.   Sometimes that can be difficult.   A pastor I know took great issue with something I sent him in an e-mail a year ago; then just weeks later got up and gave his congregation the same message.   I know that I was right, but if I ever happened to run into him, the first thing I would probably say is, “Look, I’m sorry…”    In fact, I have nothing to apologize for, but it can be a great opportunity to practice humility and thereby model Christian charity.
  4. Ask yourself if there’s some other factor at play that you haven’t considered.   For about 15 years, I knew that a particular individual was angry with me.   A mutual friend said, “He’s never going to forgive you.”  I always thought it concerned something in our professional relationship, but about a year ago, my mind flashed back to something that happened at a party involving our children.   I immediately contacted him to make things right.
  5. An irreparable situation means the relationship can’t be fixed for now. The bible is very clear that as far as it is up to you, you should live at peace with everyone.    Elsewhere, we’re told that loving our brothers and sisters means believing the best. I interpret that as believing the best is yet to come.

P.S.: I’m still working some of these out, so don’t expect to see my book on this on the shelves anytime soon!

In heaven above
With the saints that we love
It will be glory

But on earth here below
With the saints that we know
Well… that’s a different story.

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