When Our Efforts Fail

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Have you noticed the uptick in the efforts of so many that want to see things as they do? It seems there is less tolerance to accept others and their own perspectives. As a result we do all in our power to try to change them. After all, we believe we are right, don’t we?

The sad truth is that when we do not succeed in persuading the other person to adopt our view or “our” truth, we can be tempted to be unwilling or unable to extend grace. It can be far too easy to walk away from the relationship or put it in such a frosty place that it becomes uncomfortable for us as well as the other person.

It’s thought provoking how often these differences can come from the smallest of things. Many times they relate to preferences rather than actual right or wrong beliefs or thinking. Other times they come from a contrast in lived experience or knowledge, but we cannot skip over biases or prejudice as causes as well.

Some of the areas that remain the stickiest have been so since mankind was created, I think. You can likely guess them − politics and issues related to our spiritual beliefs.

As you might guess, these things are prone to be most ticklish in our closest relationships.

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During the years I worked as a marriage and family therapist, one of my favorite resources was a book entitled How to Change Your Spouse (Without Ruining Your Marriage), written by H. Norman Wright & Gary J. Oliver, PhD. The title often appeals to someone who has not been successful at changing his or her spouse despite feeling a need or desire to do so.

Of course the title doesn’t reveal what is involved and requires us to look beyond our preferences alone and see what is good for the whole relationship. An example of their premise is to look at the level of commitment to the other person (in marriage or any close relationship).

Commitment is not a word used or revered as it once was. We like things as we like them and too often our commitment in any relationship is very very conditional.

One quote of the wisdom of the authors of the book I noted is:

“You commit to another person because of the depth of your love and because being with the person fulfills you. You commit knowing the other person’s faults…any marriage is two imperfect people making a commitment to accept one another.”

How true that is in marriage and just as true in any close friendship!

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We can miss that the change we seek for us from them usually is not looked at as something that will be a gain for them also. If we don’t do that, it shows that self-focus lurks around our motives and is not defeated.

A key here is summed up by this sentence by Wright and Oliver:

“Whatever change you seek needs to be advantageous for both you and your partner (or friend…my addition)…”

Change requires something of each of us. Some of us handle it better than others. Maybe we see change with a negative lens and forget that without change there can be no growth in any area or realm of our life.

If asked if we want to grow in any area (you make the choice), we might choose “yes” if we really acknowledge what not growing looks like: stale, dormant, stagnant, lethargic, and lazy (to name a few).

Another key to keep in mind if we desire change in another person is to remember that he or she may be able to more readily change a behavior than a preference. You may groan and wonder what good that does?

I’m glad you asked that.

If we are committed to what is best for both persons in a relationship and choose to change our behavior, it tends to result in softening the sharp edges and allows the other aspects of the relationship to grow stronger.

There are persons in my life who do not line up with my preferences in a number of areas while having other aspects of them that I like a great deal. Choosing to change my own behavior has resulted in a “win-win” and allowed the relationship to weather the differences between us.

Acceptance given often comes back to us as a gift.

Lisa Wingate wrote this truism regarding change in her book, Tending Roses:

“What we cannot change, we must endure without bitterness. Sometimes we must try to view the actions of those around us with forgiveness. We must realize that they are going on the only road they can see. Sometimes we cannot raise our chins and see eye to eye, so we must bow our heads and have faith in one another.”

Lisa Wingate in Tending Roses

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5 thoughts on “When Our Efforts Fail

  1. Commitment as a function of forgiveness—-I have a feeling that this is what is missing in our impatient, quick to speak, slow to listen culture!

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