April 14, 2019
“There is no passion in playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”–Nelson Mandela
In our most intimate relationships we often dance over, under, and around the things that matter to us. We wonder why our relationships are so hard and at times unsatisfying. I think they’re hard because much of the time we’re presenting someone less than who we are.
The things that matter relate to who we are, our fears and insecurities, likes and dislikes, our strengths, our relationships with sex, finances, and power disparities, and our deep fear of totally screwing things up.
We all especially fear screwing up our relationships with our partners, children, and those who mean the most to us, because we don’t know what we’re doing so much of the time.
I look back at several broken relationships that in hindsight were broken because we couldn’t have the hard conversations. I knew what I wanted and what I didn’t want. I didn’t know how to say it in a way that would gain their support. At the same time I was afraid to look selfish or controlling. So many fears. So I stopped trying. I suspect they did the same.
Disagreements don’t mean someone or something is wrong. They don’t mean we have to give in, give up, yell, put up with poor behavior, bully, distance, sulk, shame ourselves or others. Disagreements are an opportunity to know each other better and to take responsibility for meeting our own needs, and supporting them in meeting theirs.
But we probably won’t have the hard conversations until we face the scary reality that life speeds by like an out of control train, and before we know it we will look back and realize that we settled for a life that was less than we wanted.
It’s hard to talk about the things that matter because we fear looking or feeling foolish. We fear being rejected, laughed at, humiliated. We fear being misunderstood. And we fear losing what we have.
It’s hard because we might not fully know what it means to be responsible for meeting our own needs. We may have been raised to believe it’s our job to meet everyone else’s needs. Or raised to believe only our needs matter. Neither extreme works.
The only way forward is through the discomfort.
“To be in hell is to drift; to be in heaven is to steer.” — George Bernard Shaw
If we take the risk, we might find ourselves experiencing the most satisfying relationships we’ve ever had. If we don’t, life may continue to present us with the question, “Is this all there is?”
Potential benefits of having the hard conversations:
We have a 50/50 chance of getting what we really want instead of settling for less.
We model healthy communication so that our children can offer it to their children.
We stop feeling like victims and become our own best advocates.
We take responsibility for our well-being rather than waiting for someone else to bestow it on us.
We come to learn who we are and aren’t compatible with, wasting less time on unsatisfying relationships.
We develop emotional intimacy in place of distance, resentment, or fear.
We develop a support system that trusts us and values our honesty and courage.
We feel free instead of trapped in a world that we’ve created through our silence or avoidance.
How to have the hard conversations:
Just have them! Make mistakes. Learn from them. Read books (see suggestions below), watch Ted talks, listen to podcasts on effective communication, or see a therapist or coach to give yourself a sounding board and a place to practice having the hard conversations.
The good news is that language and communication skills are learned, which means they are skills that can be unlearned and retrained.
As Oren Jay Sofer says in Say What you Mean: “We can find our voice, learn to say what we mean, and discover how to listen deeply”.
Keep top of mind:
It’s not about being in control of what we can’t control. It’s not about always getting our way. It is about feeling free, and confident enough to tell the truth.
“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.” — Steve Maraboli
They — your partner, boss, children, friends — are not to blame for your discomfort or your need to have a hard conversation.
They are just as sensitive and fearful of hard conversations as you are. Always lead with kindness.
It is okay to have goals, wants, dreams, ideas, and fantasies that differ from theirs. It is okay for them to have the same. Their goals do not have to make sense to you, and vice versa.
You are responsible for identifying your wants. You are responsible for realizing your goals. You are responsible for your life satisfaction.
They cannot save you from yourself. Only you can do that.
You are worth it. Your life is worth it. You can do it.
Three books that I’ve found helpful:
Take the reins!