“I Can’t Believe You Said That!”  How To Respond When Words Hurt

Sharp words can cut deep. Sometimes when others say hurtful things to us, we can feel so hurt or be so caught off guard in the moment that we don’t know how to respond. Why are words so powerful and how do we respond effectively in these difficult moments?

The Theology of The Body reminds us of the power of words by pointing us back to Genesis and how God created the world. Specifically, God spoke the world into being. Words have creative power, and God shares that power with us in the hopes that we will use it to build each other up and be co-creators with him as we work to cooperate with his grace and encourage each other to be the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled people we were created to be. But we can also use those words to destroy each other and we often do.

As Christians, we are called to use words carefully; to have a well-trained tongue. That involves both making sure we are using words to build others up and setting appropriate boundaries when someone we are in relationship with is using words destructively. Good boundaries begin trying to explain what are and what aren’t healthy ways to engage you. But if that fails, setting good boundaries means trimming back the relationship to the point where you can still feel safe if the other person is going to continue to act as they have been. Sometimes figuring out what that looks like can be difficult, and we need to seek to figure out what that looks like in practice. But as long as our goal is to work for our good, the other person’s good, and the good of our relationships, it is never wrong to set a boundary to encourage healthier and holier interactions.

Although setting boundaries is healthy, it can certainly be difficult. Here are a few practical steps to setting effective boundaries:

1.  Be Confident And Be Clear–No one ever deserves to be spoken to disrespectfully or hurtfully. Even if the other person accuses you of doing something that they found hurtful or offensive, no matter what you may or may not have said or done, you don’t deserve to be spoken to cruelly or disrespectfully. Be clear about this and be confident in your right to insist that, while you are willing to listen to anything the other person wants to say, you cannot listen to anything that is said in a cruel or hurtful manner. Being clear about this doesn’t only benefit you, it benefits the other person and your ability to address whatever the problem might be. If there is a problem that needs to be discussed, it deserves to be discussed respectfully and effectively. Be confident and clear about the need to insist that “respect is the price of admission” to any conversation a person may want to have with you.

2.  Use Do-Over’s--If you feel attacked in a conversation, resist the temptation to just lash out or shut the conversation down completely. Instead, assume that, given the chance, the other person will be able to say what they are trying to say respectfully.  Give them that chance by asking for a do-over. Say something like, “I’m feeling really attacked right now. I want to hear what you’re trying to say, but I need you to be less aggressive about it. Tell me again what you’re trying to say.” Often, when we hold up a mirror like this, the other person will appreciate the opportunity to see how they are coming across and adjust their behavior. Do-overs allow you to reset the conversation and move forward in a more respectful and productive way.

3. Don’t Feed the Troll–If someone is saying cruel or disrespectful things to you, don’t defend yourself. Don’t try to talk them out of it. Don’t argue back. Any attempt to argue someone out of their unkind view of you will inevitably backfire as the conversation will begin going in circles with new accusations being hurled and as the previous defenses are overcome. The best thing to do in this situation? Don’t feed the troll. As before, stop the conversation and give the person as chance to do a do-over. If that fails, simply say, “I’m really sorry you feel that way. I hope you can get past it. If there’s something you’d like to talk through when you’re feeling a little less angry I’m happy to hear whatever you have to say, but I can’t talk about this with you this way.” Then be done. If you have to say anything, simply repeat that formula, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I hope you can get past it. I’d love to talk to you when you’re in a different place, but I can’t do it like this.” Trolls don’t like to eat broken records. If that’s all you serve them, they’ll look for other places to feed.

Explore more resources for setting healthy boundaries at CatholicCounselors.com

 

Quick Links and Resources:

God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts!

Having Meaningful (Sometimes Difficult) Conversations With Your Adult Sons & Daughters

How to Heal Your Marriage & Nurture Lasting Love

Pastoral Tele-Counseling Services

Spiritual Life Coaching

Dealing with Disrespect

When we are disrespected by others, it’s easy to take that disrespect personally and to feel powerless in knowing how to cultivate a respectful relationship dynamic. 

The Theology of The Body reminds us that, because we are created in the image and likeness of God, we have a right to expect to be loved and respected. In his book, Love and Responsibility, St John Paul put forth what he called “the personalistic norm.” The personalistic norm means that every human being has a right be treated like a person, not a thing. Each person has a God-given right to be loved and respected–no matter what. The reason we feel shocked when we are treated poorly is that God built into each person a sense of this divinely given right to be treated as his sons and daughters. We don’t claim that dignity on our own. God gave it to us as his gift.

Likewise, when we’re treated in a manner that offends our dignity as persons, we have a similarly God-given right to address that offense–as long as we remember that the person who offended us has the right to be treated like a person too. To do this effectively, we need to understand the difference between setting boundaries and being defensive.When we’re defensive, we forget that the offender is a person. We get our back up and we lash out, “How dare you do that to me you jerk!” It’s an understandable–but still inappropriate– reaction. Setting a graceful boundary in the face of disrespect means not tolerating the disrespect while also not taking it personally. Instead of lashing out, we can say something like, “I can tell your frustrated, but please don’t treat me like your enemy. How can we deal with this together?”

Let’s take a look at some practical steps for dealing with disrespect:

1. Pause and Pray–When you are offended or hurt by someone, resist the temptation to react.  Take a moment to pause and pray. Ask yourself, “What are you upset about, specifically?” In other words, rather than reacting to what the other person says or does, ask yourself what it means to you that they treated you that way. For instance, instead of saying, “How dare you talk to me that way!” Say, “When you talk to me that way, it feels really disrespectful. Could you say that again?” Pausing and praying allows you to identify and address the actual offense, instead of adding more fuel to the fire.

2. Stop “Shoulding” on Yourself–Too many people buy into the lie that they “shouldn’t have” to tell other people that they are feeling were hurt because they “should just know.” People are not mind-readers. If someone has hurt you, tell them, clearly and directly what the problem is, and what you need them to do to correct it. For instance, if someone ignores a request you’ve made in the hopes you’ll just forget about it, you might say, “I was really hurt that you chose to ignore me and not do the thing I asked. I need you to tell me, specifically, when and how you’re going to follow through.” Don’t accept vague, non-answers. It’s ok to press for a specific how and when. Holding someone accountable for fulfilling their promises is not being a “pest” or a “nag,” it is simply respecting Jesus’ admonition that yes should mean yes and no should mean no. Don’t say you “shouldn’t” have to hold others accountable. Pray for the grace and courage you need to teach others to treat you with the dignity worthy of a son or daughter of God.

3. Follow Words with Actions–Sometimes people aren’t willing to respond to your concerns no matter how clear you are about your needs. If your attempts to speak up have failed, more words will not help. You’ll need to have a back-up plan to address the problem unilaterally. In this case, setting boundaries means finding ways to scale back the relationship because the person is demonstrating that they can’t be trusted with the level of intimacy that you have attempted to allow them to have. This means asking yourself, “In what contexts or interactions is this person able to treat me appropriately?” and then limiting your relationship to those types of interactions. If and when the other person complains about the actions you’ve taken, say, “I’d love to get back to normal, but first, we really need to work through X first.” As long as your intention is to work for the good of the relationship, you have every right to scale the relationship back to the point that it is healthy and build out from there.

If you would like more direct support for dealing with disrespect, reach out to us at CatholicCounselors.com/Services. 

 

Quick Links:

How To Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love

 

Got Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts!


Recognizing The 4 Stages of Communication Breakdown (Video)

 

 

Fighting Fair–Overcoming Unhealthy Communication Habits

“One minute we’re talking and next thing we know we’ve completely lost our cool.”

“S/He just doesn’t listen to me. I don’t know what to do.”

“Our conversations always turn into arguments and we just can’t seem to ever get anywhere!”

Do these sentiments seem familiar to you? 

In the beginning, God created each of us to see the world a little differently so that, working together and using our gifts for each other’s good, we would all attend to different details in a manner that would allow us to create a more holistic solution to any challenge. But in a fallen world filled with unique and unrepeatable people who see things differently and don’t always work for each other’s good, there is bound to be some degree of conflict. 

Pope St. John Paul the Great reminds us that the only solution to this challenge is love–the willingness to understand what the other person needs to flourish and the willingness to make personal sacrifices to help them achieve achieve those things. By learning to be loving, especially in conflict, we can discover how to encourage each other through the tension, toward godly solutions, and experience even closer relationships–not just in spite of our differences, but because of those differences.

________________________________________________________________________

Are you feeling overwhelmed by difficult conversations or challenging individuals?

Find helpful tips for dealing with the difficult people in your life in:

God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Crazy!

________________________________________________________________________

Unhealthy arguments often occur when we are not approaching the other person with love because empathy is one of the first things to go. 

We have a tendency to let conversations escalate into arguments when we A) forget to take care of the other person in conflict, and B) make assumptions or accusations rather than communicating our emotional experience. 

This is why using “I feel” statements in conversation is so important. We often jump to conclusions such as “you’re not listening to me!” Or “I think you just don’t care” which automatically puts both parties on the defense and immediately derails the original conversation, because now we’re focusing on defending ourselves rather than solving the original problem. 

If we use statements such as “I feel as though you’re not listening to me.” The other person then has the opportunity to say, “I’m sorry that wasn’t my intention at all, what I’m hearing you say is…” and then we can stay on track with our conversation and more effectively take care of one another throughout the conversation. 

Essentially, Empathy allows for conversations, assumptions create arguments. 

The next important approach for us to take in order to have healthy communication includes seeking understanding. Individuals often enter into disagreements by actively fighting for their agenda. One person presents an idea and the other shoots it down almost immediately because they have a different idea of what they want. But taking this approach can be very demoralizing not to mention polarizing. Instead, seek understanding. When the other person presents a position you don’t agree with, stop yourself from critiquing it–or worse, ruling on it–right away. Rather, step back and say, “Tell me why that option appeals to you so much” or “Tell me more about what you like about that idea.” By understanding what the other likes about the idea they are proposing, you’ll get a better idea of their overall goals and be able to brainstorm new ideas more effectively.

And finally, don’t confuse the first draft with the final product. Too often, when individuals begin a discussion, they think their own ideas represent two competing final drafts and it is their job to convince the other person that their idea is “the right one.”  Remember, the Christian person isn’t supposed to be fighting about getting their way, but working together with others to discover God’s will. The first ideas you each bring to the conversation represent two pieces of a larger puzzle God is trying to help you build though communication and prayer. Don’t mistake your piece of the puzzle for the whole puzzle. You can’t see the big picture, only God can. Expect your original idea to change– for the better–in any conversation where you and your conversation partner don’t see eye-to-eye.

For more ways to build healthy communication habits, check out our resources at CatholicCounselors.com!

So This Is Love – How To Have a More Joyful Marriage

Life can get busy and we tend to let the distractions and work of every day life take precedence over our relationships. Although this is a common and often natural tendency, it can really lead to a decrease in the joy and love that we experience in our marriage on a daily basis. 

Working on your marriage is one of the most important ministries a lay person can be involved with.  God wants to use your marriage as a sign of the love he has for his bride, the Church.  

Your marriage doesn’t have to be perfect and problem-free for God to be able to use your marriage this way, but you do have to have to be committed to working together to help each other become the husband and wife God is calling you to be. Doing this work allows God both to satisfy the deepest longings of your own heart for a love that lasts, but it allows God to show the whole world that when two people love him first, amazing things can happen.  

Working on making your marriage more loving, more joyful, and more intimate, isn’t selfish. It’s the role married couples play in God’s plan for saving the world, which is exactly why marriage is a vocation.

Here are three key ways to cultivate a more loving, joyful, and intimate relationship!

1. Meaningful Couple Prayer–God is the source of a joyful marriage and God will teach you to have a more joyful marriage through meaningful couple prayer. Resist the temptation to simply say words at God. Actually bring your marriage to him. You might say something like, “Lord, we give you our marriage today. Help us look for opportunities to cherish each other, to be the spouses you want us to be to each other and to make our marriage a priority.” However you prefer to pray, be intentional about bringing your marriage to God and asking him to teach you how to love each other with the love that comes from his heart.

2. Daily Check-Ins–Take 5 minutes a day to sit down with your spouse, reflect on how close you feel to each other, and suggest one thing that might make you feel just a little bit closer. For instance, you might say, “It’s been a busy day with the kids and I’m just feeling a little disconnected. I’d love it if we could get a walk in this evening?” Or, “I feel great about us, but I miss getting some one-on-one time, let’s plan a date for sometime soon.” Just five minutes a day to reflect on how you both feel about your relationship and what you would both like to do to come a little closer can make the difference between a couple that maintains a strong connection through life’s ups and downs and a couple that slowly drifts apart without even realizing it. Make the time to check in with your spouse for even a few minutes and keep those lines of connection strong.

3. Make Your List and Check it Twice–Want to cherish each other more? Make a love list. Both you and your spouse should write down at least 25 things that make you feel cherished, cared for, and loved.  Simple things like, “I love when you hold my hand.”  “I love when you text me to say ‘I love you.’” “I love when you notice the dishwasher is full and empty it.”  Identify as many simple, loving acts, thoughtful gestures, or caretaking behaviors as you can and write them down. Then exchange the lists. Everyday, make it a point to do at least two simpler things on the list and one thing that takes a little more effort. Try to do something a little different everyday and don’t be slavish about the lists but use them as a springboard that inspires a little creativity.  Your love list will remind you not only that taking care of each other is the most important thing you can do all day, it will remind you that even a little thoughtfulness goes a long way to having a more joyful marriage.

For more ways to live a more joyful and loving marriage, check out For Better… Forever! at CatholicCounselors.com.

Dealing With Differences

We all have different backgrounds, different experiences, and different opinions. While this can be a positive thing, it can also often lead to conflict in our conversations and in our relationships. 

The Theology of The Body reminds us that our primary mission is to create communities of love out of the relationships we have with all the people in our lives. One of the lessons we all need to learn in order to accomplish this goal is how to manage conflict, tension, and differences of opinion gracefully. Humility is the virtue that makes us open to the experience of others, even others we disagree with vehemently. Each of us has a story that deserves to be heard. Each of us is wounded in a way that deserves to be respected. The positions we hold, the choices we make, and the attitudes we have are rooted in those stories and wounds. We can’t hope to build a relationship with another person–much less change their minds–if we aren’t willing to take the time that’s necessary to understand how they got to where they are. Listening and empathizing are the two most important tools in addressing conflict gracefully.

______________________________________________________________

Are you dealing with differences with your adult children?
Check out:
Having Meaningful (Sometimes Difficult) Conversations with Your Adult Sons & Daughters 

for healthy and effective ways to deal with your differences gracefully!

______________________________________________________________

As challenging as it can be, we need to make sure that we’re not just “doing what comes naturally” when it comes to managing conflict. Instead, we need to invite God to be the mediator of our disagreements, being intentional about asking what virtues we need to practice in conflict to have more productive discussions, and working hard to listen to each other rather than react to each other.  We need to remember that, as Catholics, we are not called to just be loving when things are going well, but to be loving–and accept the mutual growth God is calling us to–in the face of disagreements.

Here are three key ways to deal with differences gracefully:

Let God Be Your Mediator–It often doesn’t occur to us, but it’s tremendously helpful to ask God to mediate our conflicts. Anytime you feel your temperature rising, remind yourself to “STOP!” Then invite God in with a prayer that goes something like, “Lord, help us to really listen to each other and find ways to take care of each other through our disagreement and find solutions that glorify you.”  Then, take a breath, and solve the problem.  Remember, you are a Christian. That means we invite Christ into all we do. Don’t handle conflicts on your own. Ask God for the grace to find peaceful, loving, mutually-satisfying solutions to all the disagreements with the people in your life.

Practice Conflict Virtues–When you are dealing with conflict, remind yourself to ask, “What virtues do I need to handle this well?” Patience? Understanding? Consideration? Self-Control? Assertiveness? Take a brief moment to identify the virtues or qualities that would help you handle the present disagreement well. If that sounds a little pie-in-the-sky, it isn’t. In fact a recent study found that people who naturally practice what researchers called “virtue based problem solving” do a better job of keeping their cool in conflict, finding effective, objective solutions to conflict, and recovering more quickly from conflict. Faith and science agree. Not only is is possible to be more intentional about bringing Christian virtue into disagreements, it’s the key to peace.

Treat Resistance as a Message–We have a tendency to treat resistance as stubbornness that has to be overcome by talking even louder. Avoid this. Learn to see resistance as communication. When they other person are resistant or reluctant to your ideas or commands, what they are really saying is, “But if I do what you’re asking, how will I get to do this thing that is also important to me?” If you are getting resistance about your needs or concerns from someone else, don’t get defensive. Instead, stop and say, “Obviously, I need you to take what I’ve said seriously, but what are you trying to tell me that you need?” Then make a plan for meeting that need. You’ll be amazed how often this causes resistance or even disobedience to evaporate without the power struggle. Treat resistance as a message. Identify the need. Create a solution, and move on.

For more support in dealing with differences, explore our resources at CatholicCounselors.com!

Resolving Resentment—Understanding The Hidden Message

Resentment is one of those feelings that can sneak up on us, then overwhelm us. It can make us feel powerless, angry, and sometimes trigger fear. With this mix of emotions, what does resentment really mean?

We often feel guilty about resentment and, of course, resentment isn’t something we want to hold on to.  But the theology of the body teaches that God designed our bodies to work for our good and the good of those around us.  If we learn to listen to the ways God is speaking to us through our bodies–including our feelings–we can hear him guiding us on how best to take care of ourselves and others. All of our emotions–including feelings like resentment–are part of our body’s response to our environment. When united to God’s grace, our emotions can give us important information.  But what could God possibly be saying to us through resentment?  Well, Theology of The Body tells us that healthy relationships are mutually self-donative.  That is, a healthy relationship can only exist when both people are doing everything they can to take care of each other.  Resentment is the feeling we get when we feel like we are doing too much–whether that means we are doing more than our share of a particular task or working harder on a relationship than the other person is. 

Resentment is a warning light on the relationship dashboard that asks us to check if our relationship is really still mutually self-donative or, if somehow, we are allowing ourselves to be treated more like an object than a person. Understood properly, resentment shouldn’t lead us to pout or withdraw, it should lead us to do healthy things like express our needs, or ask for help, or clarify the other person’s intentions, or, when we can’t get the buy-in we’d like from others, we can exercise our right to change our approach even if that means letting go of certain expectations or responsibilities that aren’t healthy to hold on to.  If we deal with our resentment gracefully, it will help us make sure that each person in the relationship is giving as much as they can to protect the health of the relationship and doing as much as they can to look out for the wellbeing of each person in the relationship.

Name the Need–The first thing to do if you are feeling resentful is to identify and name the need that isn’t being met.  Do you need help? Do you need a little TLC?  Could you use help getting a break?  Is there a problem between you and another person that needs to be resolved? Resentment tends to occur when a need sits on the shelf too long and it starts to spoil. Instead of beating up on yourself for feeling resentful, bring your resentment to God. Say, “Lord, help me to name the need that is feeding my resentment and help me to address it in a way that glorifies you and makes my relationships healthier.” Once you know what the need is, you can make a plan to meet it instead of letting it continue to spoil on the shelf, feeding that growing sense of resentment.

Speak the Need–Sometimes, even when we have identified a need, we have a hard time feeling like it’s OK to meet it.  We tell ourselves, “We shouldn’t have to ask for help.”  Or, “I shouldn’t have to say anything about this.”  Remember, the theology of the body tells us that the voice of God speaks to us through our bodies.  If you are feeling resentful, God is asking you to find a healthy, godly way to meet an unmet need and make your relationships healthier and stronger. Trying to talk yourself out of meeting that need is like trying to ignore the voice of the Holy Spirit! Once you’ve identified the need that is feeding your resentment, it’s time to make a plan to meet it. Go to the people around you and say, “I really need your help with X.”  Don’t worry if they aren’t receptive at first. Be confident in the need that God is asking you to address. Remember, healthy, godly relationships are mutually self-donative. Sometimes that means that we have to be willing to stretch ourselves a little bit to work for each other’s good. That’s not always fun, but it’s always good. Give the people in your life the opportunity to stretch themselves a little for you. Don’t let doubts about others rob them of the opportunity to learn to love you as much as you love them.

Get Help to Meet the Need–Sometimes, even when we have tried our best, getting our needs met can be…complicated. If you find that you can’t stop feeling resentful no matter what you do, or if you are struggling to actually identify your needs in the first place, or articulate them in ways that the people in your life can actually hear and respond to, it’s time to get some new skills. Don’t give into the temptation of thinking that there is nothing you can do just because you can’t figure our what to do on your own. Remember, if God is calling your attention to a need, God has a plan for meeting it. Talk to a faithful professional counselor who can help you learn how to cooperate with God’s plan for meeting the unmet needs that are feeding your resentment.  

If you would like additional resources and support overcoming resentment, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Couple Connection–How to Cultivate a Stronger and More Intimate Marriage

Life gets busy and we tend to place our focus and efforts on the things we feel make us more “productive.” Doing this, however, often causes us to not prioritize our marriage in the ways that we need to and ultimately become disconnected from our spouse.

We tend to think that having a good, loving, marriage is a good thing on a purely human level but we also have a tendency to think that working on our marriage is somehow selfish. We believe that working on our marriage doesn’t build the kingdom of God like feeding the poor, or building a school or hospital, or even singing in the church choir does. We recognize that marriage–generally speaking–is a good thing, but we don’t really believe that God cares what our marriages look like. But he does!  

___________________________________________________________________

Are you looking to cultivate a stronger and more intimate marriage?
Check out:

For Better… Forever!

A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage

___________________________________________________________________

The Theology of The Body reminds us that building the kingdom of God is really about healing the damage that sin does to our relationships with each other. The Sacrament of Marriage is about healing the intimate bond that holds all of civilization together. If we don’t have strong marriages, we can’t have strong families, and if we don’t have strong families we can’t have a healthy society or a godly church. Focusing on doing all kinds of ministry while ignoring your marriage is like trying to build a third story on your house while your foundation is sliding over a cliff. God cares deeply about how intimate, passionate, loving, respectful, and prayerful your marriage is because everything else in his plan depends on it. If loving couples aren’t cooperating with God’s grace everyday to make their marriages stronger it allows Satan to get into the cracks and blow everything apart–not just that one couples marriage, but their family and all of society. The Church teaches that working on your marriage is a ministry that allows us to bear witness to the love that Christ, the Bridegroom, has for his bride, the Church. By working to create stronger, more loving, intimate, and prayerful marriages, we are working to save the world and build the kingdom of God.

Here are three ways to strengthen your marriage:

  1. Make the small moments count—When life gets busy, it can be difficult to make grand gestures or get a significant amount of time to focus solely on your spouse. The good news is, while those bigger moments are important, the little moments count just as much when it comes to building couple connection. What are the little things that your partner appreciates? This could include things like eye contact while talking, a little smile while passing through the room, being surprised by their favorite snack or flowers, a random hug while working in the kitchen. These little moments are the opportunities for us to say, “Hey, I love you,” even in those times where we might have a lot going on. Just like when we’re building a house, we need all those little pebbles in the foundation to make a sturdy house. That is what these little moments are, those moments of connection that create a sturdy foundation and connection for your marriage.
  1. Prioritize couple time first—When we’re planning our week, we tend to add all of the extra curricular activities, work events, or social obligations to the schedule first. And then somewhere in there we hope to maybe have time for some family or couple time. But this is where we set ourselves up for some challenges. To strengthen your marriage connection, prioritize making time for our marriage first. This means, plan time with your spouse on the schedule before any thing else—even if it’s talking a walk in the morning, one evening set aside for dinner together, or time to wind down in the evening together after the kids go to bed—then schedule other events around your couple time. This is one of the most effective ways to put your spouse and your marriage first, which even helps everything else in your week go more smoothly as well!
  1. Practice intentional communication—Often one of the biggest difficulties in couple connection is the disconnection that spouses experience throughout the day. Typically because of work schedules or family responsibilities, spouses don’t see each other for the majority of the day. Then they hope to get a couple minutes (never mind hours) in the evening to reconnect. To strengthen your couple connection, work on practicing intentional communication throughout the day. This can look like sending even little texts to each other such as “I’m praying for your meeting!” “How was your lunch?” Or, “Just letting you know I love you!” No matter how simple or detailed you make your communication with one another throughout the day, maintaining your connection even in little ways can ease the transition into evenings and your time together because you have maintained at least a baseline level of connection instead of trying to go from 0 to 100 with nothing in between.

For more resources on strengthening your marriage connection, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Three Keys for Cultivating Connection

Are you struggling to connect with the people in your life? Sometimes things like differences, disagreements, misunderstandings, or distractions stand in the way of creating connections with the people that we love.

Theology of The Body reminds us that we were created for relationship and that the most important things we can spend our time and energy on is cultivating as much closeness as we can in all the relationships we participate in. People tend to think that “building the kingdom of God” involves doing “big things” for Jesus. Doing projects. Volunteering at the parish. Getting involved.  Those things can be important, but the primary way we’re called to build God’s kingdom is by working to heal the damage that sin has done or wants to do to our relationships. The kingdom of God is discovered in the way we connect heart to heart and soul to soul.

We are destined to spend eternity in intimate union with God and the communion of saints. Doing the work we need to do in this life to make our relationships whole and holy helps to prepare us for that heavenly communion. It’s true that there are some relationships that can’t or won’t be healed or fully realized this side of heaven, but the more we focus our energy on at least attempting to cultivate as much closeness, intimacy, openness, and love  as we can with the people in our lives the more we are preparing ourselves to participate in the ultimate union of heaven.   

Here are three ways to cultivate connection in your relationships:

____________________________________________________________________

Are you struggling with difficult relationships in your life?

Check out:
God Help Me! These People are Driving Me Nuts!

____________________________________________________________________

1. Develop a Relationship Mindset–We are all too busy and most of us tend to focus, primarily, on “getting things done.”  It is certainly important to do good work and accomplish the important tasks that are set before us, but we have to resist the worldly temptation to put things before people–including projects and chores. One of the most important tasks of living an authentically Christian life is cultivating a relationship mindset.  That means, as you go about your day, asking yourself two questions. First, “What small things could I do in this moment to close whatever gap exists between me and the people in my life?” And second, “How can I approach the tasks I need to complete today in a way that lets me be as close as possible to the people I care about?”  These two questions allow us to make continuous micro-efforts to keep people close and fight the temptation to value accomplishments and projects over intimacy and people.  Cultivating connection doesn’t mean that you necessarily have any more time than anyone else does.  It just means that you keep the relationships you have and the people you love in the forefront of your mind instead of in the back corners.

2.  Make Small Steps–We have a tendency to think, “I can’t wait to get this big chunk of time to connect with the important people in my life.  Things will be great then.”  We live for date night, or vacation, or the weekend trip when we’ll get to “really connect.” But we ignore our relationships until then. Cultivating connection isn’t done in big gulps. It’s made of a million little steps. Cultivating connection involves sending those little “I’m thinking of you” texts through the day. Calling just to check in. Making time in the middle of a busy day to do that thing that makes a loved one’s life a little easier or more pleasant or makes them feel cherished.  If you want to be closer to someone you care about, challenge yourself everyday to do something that keeps you close or draws you a little bit closer. Making small relationship steps everyday is a much more effective way to cultivate closeness than hoping to cover the same relationship ground through occasional giant leaps.

3. Remember “A Stitch in Time…”–There is an old proverb that says, “a stitch in time saves nine.”  That means “solve little problems before they become big problems.”  This is a great rule for cultivating closeness in relationships.  Nothing creates more barriers to intimacy than resentment, suspicion, and estrangement caused by the piling up of unresolved problems or misunderstandings. Remember what St Gregory the Great said, “Thoughts seethe all the more when corralled by the violent guard of an indiscreet silence.” When it comes to relationships, make sure to clarify misunderstandings before they become problems and resolve problems before they become crises. The more you commit to regular relationship maintenance, the closer and more rewarding your connections will be.

For more resources on cultivating connection, check out our books, videos, and services at CatholicCounselors.com!

Lending a Listening Ear–How Being Heard Can Impact Our Mental and Physical Health

It’s understandable how being heard can have an impact on our mental health, but can having someone there to listen to us impact our physical health as well?

According to a study out of NYU Grossman School of Medicine, researchers have found that having a good listener in our lives is associated with improved brain health and greater cognitive resilience.

In this study, researchers examined the modifying effect of individual forms of social support on the relationship between cerebral volume and cognitive performance. The cognitive function of individuals with greater availability of one specific form of social support was higher relative to their total cerebral volume. This key form of social support was listener availability and it was highly associated with greater cognitive resilience.

So what do we do when we’re struggling to be heard?

Theology of The Body tells us that love is the only appropriate response to another person.  Listening is an important part of loving.  To love someone means working for their good, but we can’t know what they need help with, what their goals are, or what they are struggling with if we aren’t willing to listen–and that goes for kids as well as adults.  Listening is hard, but it is even harder to feel loved by someone who is unwilling to really listen to us.

Here are three ways to ensure you can be heard:

1.  Be Direct–If you want to be heard, it’s best to be clear and direct.  Sometimes, in a mistaken attempt to be polite, we simply hint at what we want or even just describe a problem and hope others will come up with ways to solve.  But if other people don’t pick up the hint, or propose solutions that don’t really meet our need, we can become resentful and feel like we weren’t being heard. If you have a problem or need, it’s best to begin the conversation by saying exactly what you want from the people around you.  For instance, instead of announcing, “This place is a mess!” and becoming upset when you end up cleaning everything yourself, say, “Guys, listen up.  We need to make a plan for how we’re going to get the place cleaned up before dinner.”  The clearer you are about what you want, the more likely it is you will actually be heard.

2.  Always End a Conversation with A Plan–Often we don’t feel heard because we discuss a problem with someone but don’t actually end the conversation with any action items or a plan for following up. This is usually the problem when people say, “We’ve talked about this a million times, but nothing ever changes.”  That usually means that you talked about the problem but there were no clear decisions about what to do about it, who was going to do those things, and when you were going to check in with each other for how things were going and what else might need to be done.  If you end a conversation without a follow-up plan that determines who is going to do what by when, then chances are high that you will be talking about this same problem again–and again, and again–in the very near future.  If you want to be heard, make sure to end your conversations with clear action items, who is going to be responsible for following up, and when you are going to follow-up.

3.  Back Up Words with Action–If you’ve done all the things we’ve mentioned so far, and you still aren’t being heard, there’s a good chance the other person isn’t hearing you because they don’t want to listen.  It may be that things are working for them the way they are and they don’t want to change even if that means that you are being inconvenienced.  Of course, that’s not OK.  In those cases, it’s best not to use more words.  It’s time to take action.  Tell the person that you aren’t happy leaving things as they are and that you have decided to make some changes on your own, invite them to join you in solving the problem, but if they still refuse (or don’t follow through) go ahead and take that as permission to act alone to make some changes even if they affect the other person.  Taking action may just be the thing to do to get the other person’s attention.  Either way, you’ll feel better, because you’ve taken active steps to solve the problem.

If you need additional support or resources for being heard and strengthening your relationships with others, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Calming Conflict—Effective Ways to Avoid Escalation

Are you struggling in your communications with others—or at least one particular person? Tired of these conversations escalating and never actually going anywhere? In order to calm conflict and cultivate effective communication, there are a few things we need to keep in mind.

Theology of The Body reminds us that we are called to live in communion. Ironically, because we live in a fallen world, building that communion requires us to learn to deal gracefully with conflict. Our natural human tendency is to either try to avoid conflict as much as possible–even when we shouldn’t–or to get caught up in it and fan the flames, but neither of these choices are options for the Christian. In fact, both are sinful. Avoiding problems we could do something about is the sin of sloth. Escalating conflict needless is the sin of wrath. Fortunately, when it comes to dealing with conflict, Christians have a third option: to be peacemakers. 

 To be a peacemaker is to work to restore the right order that God desires in a situation.  When conflicts arise, being a peacemaker doesn’t mean just keeping a lid on things any more than it means unnecessarily escalating the tension. It means starting disagreements by seeking God’s wisdom and grace, entering conflicts with the intention of working for the good of everyone involved (including ourselves), and doing what we can to both encourage everyone involved in the conflict through the tension and toward godly solutions. The peacemaker doesn’t run from conflict or fan the flames of conflict. Rather, the peacemaker is someone who knows many different ways to actively engage and extinguish the fire so that new life can spring up from the ashes.

Here are three ways to be a peacemaker in the midst of conflict:

1.  Make Breaks Count–When you “take a break” in an argument, don’t just step away and distract yourself by not thinking about the disagreement. That just sets you up to pick up the fight where you left off the next time you start addressing the issue.  Taking a break is an opportunity to think differently about the disagreement; to take some time to see the other person in a more sympathetic light so you can come back to the topic with a more caring heart.  When you take a break from a disagreement, spend some time in prayer reflecting on questions like, “What needs does the other person have that they are afraid I’m not willing to meet?”  “Why might the other person think I’m not interested in them or their concerns?” and “How can I show them that they are important to me–even though we’re disagreeing?”  Taking some time to ask questions like this helps you make breaks from conflict count and allows you to go back to the person, confident that you can approach each other again in a more compassionate and productive way

2. Look For the Positive Intention–If you’re struggling to feel sympathy for a person you’re disagreeing with, make sure to look for the need or the positive intention behind their words or actions.  Doing this doesn’t excuse any bad behavior. Rather, it gives you a way to address it respectfully. For instance, you might say something like, “When you do this or say that, can you help me understand what you’re trying to do?” Then, when the other person explains their intention, you can brainstorm together about ways to meet that intention more respectfully and efficiently in the future. Looking for the positive intention behind offensive words and actions gives you a way to be sympathetic without being a doormat. It lets you work for change, respectfully.

3.  Give It To God–When you’re disagreeing with someone, don’t forget to pray for them. Not, “God, please make them see that I’m right and they’re wrong!” But rather, “God, help me know how to express my concerns in a way they will hear and to really hear what they are saying so that we can both get our needs met and draw closer because of this disagreement we’re having.”   Giving your disagreement to God doesn’t mean giving up your needs or, for that matter, trusting that God will sort it out while you ignore the elephant in the room. It means asking God to guide you in the steps of having more compassionate conflict, where the tension between you and the person you care about can lead to even greater closeness. Don’t try to pray away your needs or your feelings. Instead, ask God to help you find ways to meet those needs and express those feelings in a manner that reflects God’s grace, honors your concerns, and respects the dignity of the other person as well. Let God show you how to master conflict instead of just avoiding it.

For more resources on conflict management, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!