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Thursday, April 28, 2022

Forgiveness as the gateway to peace and abundant life


The gospel is majestic in wisdom because within the death and resurrection of Christ is laid the absolute bedrock of peace and the abundant life.  That is not necessarily because humankind to the last individual is forgiven for their sin (though this is the gospel), but because Jesus is the exemplar of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the only way we can deal with and process the disappointments, betrayals, failures, and other hurts we all experience.  Processing the hurts of life leads to forgiveness.

If we don’t forgive these things and the people behind them at times we don’t heal, and we’re forever then dogged by the baggage that was always meant to be shoved at the foot of the cross.

I know, I know, there are just some disappointments, betrayals, failures, and other hurts that we just can’t seem to get past.  It seems that way.  It could take years, but it’s worth the faith that one day the rays of mercy might break through the clouds of vengeful bitterness.

Oh, I’ve been there.  I’ve been to that dark odious place of slinking seething and occasional enragement.  It’s not pretty.  The trauma, unmet and not-yet-processed, feels like an unwelcome pariah, yet it secretly begs to be healed.

Sometimes it’s not from sheer resistance.  We may want to forgive and yet don’t feel we can or don’t know how.  This is where blind faith is the best guide.  This and the process of inner peace that the good Catholic and Buddhist monks, and the contemplatives, might show us.

This inner peace is in the mode of slowing down and stopping and noticing the simplest yet most profound of things, like breathe in, breathe out.

This, and the example of Jesus who just knew the wisdom that there is in a love that just lets go.

Sometimes it’s that we don’t think the other person or situation deserves our mercy—they’ve done their dash!  Think about the life we rob ourselves of when we withhold that mercy.

Bitterness is a knife that cuts deep, and the 
blade is always turned back and in upon oneself.

The gospel is not only salvation eternally but salvation temporally.

So many people I know dislike the church and God for what these symbols represented when they were in their formative years.

If church and God ever harm us or make us angry or ambivalent, these symbols were shaped by human hands.  Human hands are notorious for grabbing at power, manipulating, abusing, yet the prerogative of God is the opposite—service.

When we hold judgement against anything we still have the task of forgiveness ahead of us, and we’re locked out of the beautiful palatial abode of shalom, which is about as much bliss that any human being can experience.

Judgement and anger may feel justified, and we may even get some sense of warped satisfaction from them, but judgement and anger will never take us to the command of peace our souls desperately seek from cradle to the grave.

Forgiveness IS the life imperative.  Without it, we flash off in anger and judgement when a better, fuller understanding and peace abide elsewhere.

If there’s trauma or pain that we cover up in addiction, our ‘peace’ is external and not a patch on the peace we could walk toward—a peace that doesn’t cost a cent.  The ‘peace’ in addiction is truly otherwise a living hell.

But we must be willing to forgive if we’re to reach that most hallowed of destinations: peace.

I know how hard it can be.

“What, let the person who betrayed me off the hook?  Then what?”

“What, accept that the dream I worked years for is shattered.  Then what?”

“What, come to terms with how I failed when I can’t forgive myself?  Then what?”

Coming to the “then, what” moment is a crisis we should all reach.  We then step to the cusp of one the greatest discoveries we shall ever make.

Could it be that the opportunity ahead for each and every one of us is that question that says, “Where is the hurt in my heart that begs to be healed?”  It’s there for every single one of us. We’re not alone in this.  Proof of this is how we all judge, and we all bear some anger for those parts of life that didn’t turn out.

Forgiveness is THE gateway to peace and the abundant life where joy abides uninhibited and where hope cannot fail and can only prevail.

Prayer: Lord, reveal to me the vestiges of anger that lay dormant in my heart, help me to be honest about these ugly truths that hold me apart from peace, hope, and joy.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Lest We Forget


There are traumas endured by those at war that they’re neither likely to forget nor are they likely to heal from—not without a lot of intentional work.  But we’re happier that our veterans came back alive than die in the conflicts they fought in.

Both my grandfathers fought in wars.  My maternal grandfather (“Grandad”) fought in World War I in the British Army as a Private in the Leistershire Regiment and Labour Corps.  My paternal grandfather (“Pop”) fought in World War II in the Australian Imperial Forces in the 2/11 Australian Field Regiment as a Gunner.  My wife’s maternal grandfather fought in World War II as a Rear-Gunner in the Lancaster Bombers, flying I think over 30 missions.

Like in all families especially over the years, there are certain details that remain sketchy.  I can’t be sure, but I think trauma affected both my grandfathers—but both liked to be larrikins.

But I’m focusing for the present time on my Pop and his service and sacrifice in World War II.  We may not think “sacrifice” is a good word to use for someone who didn’t lose their life on the battlefield.  But really any veteran who wrote that blank cheque made payable to their country they served for “up to and including his or her life,” who served in an inherently hazardous occupation, made a sacrifice, even if they didn’t make the “ultimate” sacrifice.  And trauma brought back from wartime is just another form of ultimate sacrifice.

My Pop enlisted on June 6, 1940, and was discharged on October 19, 1945, spending one thousand nine hundred and sixty-two (1,962) days in Continuous Full Time War Service, of which 868 days of active service were in Australia, and 786 of active service were served outside of Australia.  Photographs he sent back home have him serving in Syria and “Palestine,” but he fought in Asia as well.

As I looked through the photographs of all my Pop’s military documentation, I was reminded of the structure and clarity I’d expect to see of a military force as it organises its troops.

In enlisting for service, each veteran entrusts their life beyond their own control, because the nature of the service is combat.  Any level of combat is a life-risking endeavour.

We’re all at much closer risk of being in that place of serving in combat now than we seemed to be a few years ago with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  Anyone 18 to 60 years of age in my country.  We should all be ready for the ultimate sacrifice, whether that’s us or someone close to us.  I know as a Christian that being Christian never sets you too far away from martyrdom, i.e., in a force demanding the recanting of faith for instance.  It’s the same with a war that our countries might commit troops to at any time.  But even reading those words “we should all be ready for the ultimate sacrifice” brings incredible gravitas.  There’s nothing more sobering.

None of us should take for granted the great freedoms men and woman of bygone eras fought to protect.  Those same freedoms are just as much at threat now than at any time in our history or memory.  It makes us extremely na├»ve to think we’ll be able to swan along in life at peace from now ad infinitum.

Our ANZAC Day commemorates the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps, circa 1914.  But that ANZAC legend lives on in those fathers and brothers and mothers and aunts and sons and friends and daughters who have served and continue to serve.

My Pop married my Nanna during those war years, and my father was born just before my Pop’s discharge from the AIF.  My Dad wasn’t conscripted for the Vietnam war, and thus far there have been no such conflicts in my time, but that could change.  If required, I would want to serve as a chaplain.

We can never assume history won’t repeat itself at some point in time in the future.  Perhaps it’s from that solemn viewpoint that we truly respect the gravitas of ANZAC Day.

Acknowledgement to my cousin, Scott, who helped with the research on this article.

Friday, April 22, 2022

What does it take to reconcile relationships in conflict?


Watch every good drama, every good story, they all feature problems, crises, conflicts.  The ones that inspire us are those where protagonists negotiate their way through to compromise.  Not all our relationships feature the same outcomes.  All of us have broken relationships in our past.  Some of these we cared about very much.  Others, not so much.

All relationships feature conflict.  If we get close enough to people, inevitably we’ll disagree from time to time.

Relationships need to bear conflict.  And those that can, prosper.  Trust builds as a result.

But in those relationships where one or both won’t reflect on what their own contribution is, there is only one outcome.  Where there’s no bearing of the truth in one side or both—where one side or both isn’t/aren’t humble enough to do their own reflection—the relationship is doomed to the scrapheap of toxic dynamics that all went from bad to worse and then ultimately to death.

Unfortunately, where one won’t take responsibility it’s almost inevitable that the other won’t either.  But it takes just one to push the door ajar to the hope of reconciliation.

If a person does this, taking their own responsibility, making their own apology, they do what they can—they invite the other to come toward them.  If the other person rebuffs that generous invitation to reflect, hope plummets.  It’s such a pity, because when a person comes with an apology (provided it’s genuine and heartfelt) surely it softens the heart of the one receiving it—if they value or want the relationship.

Relationships only grow stronger when they endure conflict which otherwise would threaten it to break.  No intimate relationship goes without conflict.  Those who think they have no conflict probably feature a significant amount of denial and of shoving issues under the carpet.  The opposite to this of course is the relationship that is continually volatile.

The very best of relationships feature humility in both to not only reflect on their own contributions to conflict, but they’re staunch in staying in those places, even to the point of insisting they themselves right their own wrongs.

A person who accepts their role in a conflict but knows where they aren’t responsible is a mature person.

In this way, these best of relationships feature the crossing of the bridge of love for the other.  And when both are constantly crossing the bridge to the other there’s a great deal of growth in the relationship and in the individuals party to it.

A lot of what we carry into our relationships is the stuff within each of us internally.

If we bring a lot of baggage and trauma into a relationship, we must expect that it will leak out into the relational space.  That’s nothing to feel condemned about, so long as we’re prepared to own it and not put it on the other person.

Again, it’s about humility, but humility is not easy when a person with a lot of baggage is operating with a lot of fear.  Fear is what underpins pride.  We will refuse to look at our own stuff when we realise that it could crush our soul.  But it’s humility that undergirds the courage to know, “Reflecting on what I did or could have done better won’t crush me, it will help me be more empowered, not less.”

Relationships will have conflict, yet it’s how we reconcile that makes them stronger.

Probably the commonest reason for a fracture in a relationship is both parties would not speak the truth in love, that is, they didn’t keep short account.  But parties need to be able to listen to what’s being said without responding in anger.

The best relationships feature the safety to speak truth when it needs to be spoken.  It’s no good storing up hurts in a gunnysack to bring up later when it’s too late to address them.  

One thing people in new relationships should do, especially in that falsely golden honeymoon period, is be courageous enough to speak the truth, and have faith in the other person to bear the conflict.

We really don’t know WHO we’re in relationship with until we enter the crucible of conflict.

If conflict can’t be negotiated early, it won’t be negotiated later.  In this way, it’s better to know who we’re really dealing with so when the shine wears off there is less collateral damage.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

The humility in being honest about blind spots


One of the hardest things to do when we’re on the quest for growth is to look for, or be open about, our blind spots.  We don’t want to concede that our blind spots might be so obvious that we’re literally the last ones to see them—for many this can feel like the darkest betrayal.

But the truth is there ought to be no fear for those situations, besides everyone has basically no idea of what we’re privately battling with unless we tell them.

There can be situations where it is said by others that we have blind spots, but when these are never elaborated on how are we to improve?  Or do they reveal what they will kindly for our own good?  Or do they simply wish to manipulate and gaslight us?  And let us hope for situations where it might be a mentor that shares it with us for our own good.

When it comes to facing my blind spots, I’ve experienced three revelatory miracles over the past nearly 10 years:

The first arrived on a dark and lonely evening in July 2012.  I’d been referred to a secular sociological book, Iron John: A Book about Men by Robert Bly (1990), and having read it, I heard God’s Spirit usher something uncomfortable into my soul!  The trepidation I experienced when I came to admit I was scared of getting close to other men.  God had been pursuing me gently about this for years.  Suddenly I was cleansed with purpose within thirty minutes, for now I had the answer.  I was one of these men who ‘didn’t need men in my life,’ and what I learned convinced me I could never be a good pastor until I overcame my disinterest in what I thought was the superficiality of men.

I’ve since learned there are so many men ready to go deep in a spiritual way and be raw with their emotions.

And the irony of this epiphany for this Christian counselling pastor is that it was a secular university post-graduate course, a secular lecturer, a secular psychoanalyst, and a secular book that God used to get me back onto God’s agenda.

I’m so glad of the fears I had that were exposed through my counselling training; through a stoic female faculty member who took no rubbish and had no qualms in telling me straight what I needed to do to be any good.  Her suggestion was that I embark on a course of psychoanalysis therapy sessions.  Eight sessions later and I was prescribed a medicine; the epiphany lay within its pages—I was a fearful man and the key to me overcoming my fear lay in investing myself in other men’s lives and being vulnerable with them even as I encouraged them to be vulnerable with me.  Other men don’t just need me, but as it were, I needed (and need!) other men.

The transforming outcome of this epiphany is I’ve continued to involve myself deeply in many men’s lives, and practice never saying no when opportunities come.

The second epiphany in relation to blind spots was I had was ‘the entitlement cure’ epiphany. (Credit to Dr John Townsend’s book, The Entitlement Cure.) 

I’m not narcissistic by nature, but I had had a grief-and-abuse-laden season that left me at my absolute weakest spiritually, susceptible to responses of pride, because I was in environments that for me became caustic.  Within a week of our world falling apart again in late February 2016, I had the epiphany—March 2, at about 7.30pm, in a sleepy south-west town on the beachfront.

I was reading a book about ‘pocket entitlement’ (those areas in all our lives we feel entitled about) and it hit me like a ton of bricks.

What were the things I could finish the sentence “I deserve…” with?  God put his finger on three of them.  I deserved respect.  I deserved understanding.  I deserved recognition.  

Oh, what a humbling moment!  I sought my wife’s feedback.  All she said was, “I think there’s something in that for you.”  Ouch!  But my dread was cleansed with purpose within thirty minutes, for at least I had the answer.

Through a heavy process of reflection that lasted the rest of that year, I learned to despise the phrase “I deserve,” preferring instead to acknowledge that whilst I had needs (like all of us do), I could never demand my needs be met exactly how I demanded them to be met.

The outcome of this epiphany was there were many important conversations with the appropriate people as I owned what threatened to hold me at distance from spiritual freedom.  I also made a lifetime commitment to keep the knowledge of my pocket entitlement at the forefront of my mind.

My third revelation of a significant blind spot came just last year in early 2021.  I very nearly invoked significant harm upon another person on the road when I turned left right in front of a cyclist one Friday afternoon.

The previous six years I’d struggled to forgive certain persons and situations, and no matter how hard I tried, that grace continued to elude me.  This event shook me so much that I literally felt I should be in prison—I could have maimed or killed a person through my tired inattention.  That was when the concept of mercy came over me in the freshest of ways, cleansing me of the blind spot of a hard heart.

Suddenly it was real when I considered, “If I deserve mercy, ALL deserve mercy.”  This blind spot I was cured of seemingly overnight, but occasionally I’m still reminded when I’m ignorant in judging what I don’t know.  But I’m getting better at seeing, and quicker to arrest, my biases when they arise.

~

I know there are more blind spots that will be identified for me, and my only prayer ought to be that I’d have the humility sufficient to be honest about them when they’re revealed.

I can’t take any credit for these three events that forced me into seasons of growth for change.  It was always the facilitation of God orchestrating many others that brought these seasons of growth into my life at those points.

~

We cannot grow and we’re certainly not humble if we’re not open to learning about our blind spots.  We cannot love others well if we cannot see our blind spots.  We can never live out our potential if we’re closed-minded or humiliated about our blind spots.

Honest humility will always lead us on a magnificent journey of growth.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Nobody’s ’there’ yet – nobody ‘arrives’ & that’s okay


Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised so much, but I was taken aback recently when someone I look up to suggested they were not as far along their journey of maturity. I was actually staggered that they were facing what I thought for them would be quite an elementary challenge.

And then I was reminded of the common nature of life that overwhelms us when we least expect it.

We never expect to be challenged
unless challenge is what we expect.

We don’t tend to anticipate hardship or loss or trials of many kinds. When we are blindsided, we could never have anticipated it. We should expect disappointments, failures, betrayals and the like, but few of us ever do.

One of the greatest ironies of life
is that when we think we have arrived,
we are most at risk of finding out we haven’t.

I suffered divorce in 2003, burnout in 2005, a midlife crisis in 2007, and we lost Nathanael in 2014, but the worst year of my life (so far) was 2016. How is it that that year eclipsed those previous experiences of cataclysmic challenge and loss? Long story.

Can a pastor of 40 years in the ministry suffer depression for the very first time? Yes, he or she can. Can a psychologist who has counselled people for decades come to a place where they need a psychotherapist to get them through what is revealed in them as a great hole? Yes, it can happen like this. What about mentors. Can it be the case that somebody who has mentored someone for years becomes the person who needs the guidance? Yes, it’s a possibility. How ironic it is that someone who guided another person through the passage of grief swaps roles with that person at a later time when they go through grief. Then there’s the case of the scholar that’s guided a student, and that student is given the great privilege of conducting their mentor’s funeral. The person who arrives at cancer never foresaw it heading their way, nor did the parent of the disabled child, who went to sight-see in Italy but found themselves in Holland. And finally, there’s the minister who is heralded as the great leader who comes crashing down with a great fall. Everybody who loved their leadership and them as a person is shattered. Yet, within every fall is the opportunity to rise.

We keep learning;
we can never anticipate
the learning for any of us
that’s on the horizon.

Common to our human nature we tend to elevate those we look up to. But they are just human beings like we are. Guides are guides; they aren’t God. Why do we smooze mere mortals with an excess of praise? Because flattery is evidence we’ve made an idol out of a person.

I found it striking, years ago, to watch a man in his eighties of such maturity in the Christian faith suffer much because, although he had dealt with much spiritual pain in his life, he had not yet dealt with a lot of physical pain. That physical pain sanctified him so much as he gritted his teeth through it. His spiritual prowess was further impetus to soften him more through the physical pain to bring him to an even deeper level of spiritual humility. Even in his eighties!

God has a way of levelling the playing field.

He doesn’t give our challenges to us arbitrarily, though it does seem that way. We must believe for our benefit, that His design in the circumstances of our lives is good; that it is designed to grow and mature us in ways we have not yet faced. It does us no good to imagine that God is simply being cruel. If we think that God is being cruel, we suggest that our lives are more important than God’s purpose for the pain in our lives, and that is just plain wrong.

We are not there yet…
life would hold no purpose
if we were.

Isn’t it a great comfort that, no matter who our contemporaries are, they like we are subject to the very same fragilities of life as everyone else is. But only a person who has been cruelled by pain can see this. Pain teaches us that we don’t have the control over life we always somehow thought we had.

Pain schools us in the most valuable 
curriculum of all: reality.
Equipped to bear reality,
we serve with enhanced understanding.

This is a harsh yet encouraging fact:

The person who’s been through pain
that sanctified them
has a spiritual advantage
over the person who hasn’t.

 

None of us are there yet… ever.

Originally written in 2018.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

The intimacy gap in intimate relationships


I’m just going to be honest here and write about something we all struggle with, particularly say with most in our family other than our partner perhaps.

We all struggle being completely ourselves with our children, our parents, our siblings, our friends, etc.  The evidence of this is how we overcompensate for moments when either or both of us is preoccupied by the intimacy gap—and it often happens in tandem, that is, either both overcompensating, or one overcompensating and the other reacting to it.  Overcompensating will manifest in being overly praiseworthy of the other, overly humorous, overly apologetic, and even (sadly) overly critical and judgmental.

The fact is we can’t be as intimate with everyone we’d like to be intimate with.

Intimacy like this is essentially the confidence of being completely ourselves, together with completely accepting of the other person.  The clash comes when there is even the remotest distraction, because to get such a focus right in a relationship that isn’t typically our closest one is hard.

It needs to be said at this point—another thing that’s overwhelmingly normal—is there are many people who don’t have a single symbiotic relationship; that is, someone that can absolutely be themselves around.  Whilst this is hard and sad, it’s also normal, and many of us recall these times in our past if we’ve transcended it now.

Now of course we accept the other person—a parent, a child, a sibling, a friend—at one level, because we love them with an indissoluble love.  But we may not always accept what they think, say, or do, for instance.  There’s also the issue very often of a mismatch in mood or life situation, so much so that it’s hard to empathise.

And having the confidence to be truly ourselves isn’t always the easiest thing either.  It’s always easier to be full of confidence in ourselves when there’s the symbiosis of the partner relationship—though not all partner relationships bear that innate intimacy.

The key to be aware of is it’s okay that there’s an intimacy gap in relationships we want to be intimate with.

Being honest about it is the key.  When we’re honest that we love this other person, yet we don’t feel always so natural in the relationship that at times we overcompensate, we then tend to relax a little.

It’s exactly the same in moderating or regulating our emotional response to stimuli that we’ll be fearful or angry of.  First, it’s a matter of recognising that we’re feeling something uncomfortable, feeling it in an area of our body, being mindful about that as a physical feeling, reflecting on the emotions that arise, THEN (and only then afterwards) responding behaviourally.  This response from the higher mind is always more reasonable, rational, reliable, responsible, and logical—more adult.  Good responses like this build confidence because others and ourselves see a mature response that is calm, ordered, reflective, respectful.

It's okay that we have parents and children and siblings and friends that we love yet we don’t feel 100 percent intimate with.  We typically can only be that intimate with our partner or with one special person.

Accepting the intimacy gap is the springboard to higher awareness so we can relax in that relationship, being present with them, minimising the reaction of overcompensating.

Friday, April 8, 2022

The cosmic irony within the difficult person


We’ve all got that person in our lives who seems to exist to make others’ lives hard.  Sometimes it’s a person who’s no longer in our life, and sometimes it was us that made it that way, however arduous that process was.

The person I have in mind comes with the condition that others must always compromise but the difficult person never does.  They’re constantly talking, barking, instructing, criticising.  Others are constantly on the back foot, intimidated if they’re honest, hardly with any space to move, always having to back off and be gracious.  There is no graciousness in the difficult person.

The cosmic irony within the difficult person is that they’re a walking contradiction.

Rather than consuming the bandwidth and the airwaves as they do, they’re the ones who ought to be listening and learning, because, let’s face it, they’ve never made ANY genuine attempt at being humble.

It seems everyone around the difficult person feels the same way—intimidated, at a loss, unsafe—but nobody knows what to do to stand up to their bullish behaviour.  How can you get a word in edge-ways when the difficult person has the attention span for others of literally a few seconds?

The cosmic irony of the difficult person is that in their expertise in everything, their world revolves only around them.  In their insinuating that others are obnoxious, they’re truly the most obnoxious ones.  In their talking over others, they stand to continue to learn nothing.

For those who are difficult Christians they might seem to harm the name of Christ, yet even those who know nothing about God know that Jesus stood up to bullies like these that claim to know him.

Who is it that will stamp and kick and spit and scream when they’re cornered by the truth?

Who is it that we’re tempted to pussyfoot around and make all sorts of accommodations for?

Who is it that always blames others and can therefore not help themselves?

The person who has every moment of their lives on their own terms won’t and can’t learn.

Those who behave like a recalcitrant and yet who do change are evidence that miracles still occur, but they’re more like one in a hundred than one in five.  That’s because it takes a tremendous amount of humility and strength that difficult people just don’t have.

What can we do to bear with the difficult person in our lives?

Rarely can we change the dynamics that present easily or quickly.  We need to bear what’s difficult and pray for the wisdom to change our environment as much as we possibly can, for our own survival.

Whether it’s a workplace situation or an intimate partner, consider just about any action you commit to doing may end up backfiring against you.  That’s why I said wisdom is required.  Wisdom is applied knowledge that works.  With the difficult person, it can seem that they’re ten steps ahead, waiting to ambush us.

It’s crucial that we get the support we need through mentors, counsellors, wise older people, and peers who can empathise without getting upset.  Many times, we just need someone objective to share with or vent with.

We can also normalise our experience by reminding ourselves that difficult people are in every family, church, workplace, in every sphere of life.  They’re the entitled ones who have no interest in what others think.

Perhaps most important is to be regularly reminded that the difficult person is not our problem, so we should not assume ownership of the problems they bring or make for us.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Raising controversial issues safely in conversation


One of the hardest things to do amid the conflict of unaddressed issues is to speak the truth in love.  Hardly ever do we achieve the perfect balance of being direct and kind in our delivery, and even when we do there’s no guarantee loving truth will be well received.

All relationships, at least in theory, should be characterised as being safe enough for parties to communicate important truth.  When we cannot—when we must repress what’s important to us—it’s a red flag and a warning for the sustainability of the relationship.

Early in all relationships, there should be space made to test the response of the partner or other person we’re in a relationship with—for instance, workplace relationships.

How do people respond when we cannot give them what they desire?  It’s an important question.

The fact is we’ll all be in situations where we cannot give people what they want from us.

If there’s no capacity for us to say ‘no’ or ‘not yet’ or ‘I cannot do that’ and they can’t or won’t accept what we say, where does that leave us or, for that matter, the relationship?

In all good (a.k.a. safe and sound) relationships, there’s the ability—and freedom no less—to make up our mind about what’s respectful and safe and have those decisions respected.

Where there are those safe and peaceful dynamics in our relationship there’s less chance we’re going to end up in a screaming match, but the reality is, all our relationships reveal signs of strain on some topics at some times.

Crucial conversations could be described three ways:

1.             The thriving conversation – where both are ready and equipped to chat about truths that will improve the relationship for one or both.  These conversations feature both partners able to stay in their own stuff and not thrust blame outward

2.             The tenuous conversation – where truth is potentially held back because of concern for how it will be received – we won’t know until we test the boundary

3.             The toxic conversation – where either the discussion is had and there are volatile reactions or controversial matters aren’t raised because they can’t be

Handling the second and third conversations involves some thought.  Perhaps for the third we’d not want to be confronted with such likelihood of aggression.

To commence these discussions, it’s always a good idea to pick the right moment, when partners aren’t tired, when the mood is right.  If we never get an opportunity because the mood is never right or they’re always tired, it’s a problem.

Then it’s about communicating first and foremost what’s safe and good about the relationship.  A lot of horrible conflict experiences can be avoided merely by using some form of icebreaker.  Communicating what’s safe and good about the relationship is affirming.

Once there’s some warmth about the discussion, the scene is set to speak truth kindly.  And with kindness there’s some license to be clear and direct.  Being ready to negotiate the heat of our emotions as they rise, we need to keep counselling ourselves to be calm and retain perspective.  With calmness, we can communicate truth courageously because it’s kindly expressed.

Being prepared to listen and to ask questions rather than remark with judgment is best wherever possible.

In conflict laden moments simply slowing things down helps.  And it’s just as important to communicate “in the adult,” which is logically, responsibly, reliably (safe), realistically, and reasonably.  Practically, it’s about lowering the intensity in our voice, slowing down our speech, being gentler and more patient.

It’s really important in high stakes and high emotion situations to give people space to absorb what’s been tough to hear.  It usually takes a day or even two to adjust to hard things heard.  Vocalising this is important, like saying, “Please don’t feel you need to respond right now.  Let’s give ourselves some time and once we feel we’re ready...”

All relationships need short lines of account if they’re to remain healthy.  The best thing about the best relationships is the capacity to be truthful without fearing something bad is going to happen.