Peace Partnership

Difficult Conversations: Balancing Truth & Love

Posted by on Jul 9, 2018

One of my favorite commercials is for car insurance. The scene opens with three elderly women facing a wall covered with pictures. While one woman explains that she’s posted all of her vacation photos to the wall in front of them, another says, “I like that one!” And the other tells them both, “That’s not how any of this works!” The first woman responds, “I unfriend you!” Making reference, of course, to the popular social media site Facebook.

It’s funny because we all have friends, parents or grandparents who just can’t seem to get the swing of technology and social media. Heck, half the time I think I’m not getting it either. And I know I’m already behind the times when it comes to my kid’s technology habits! Either way, I think we have all felt like these women at one point or another. Truth is seldom subjective, and healthy relationships are often faced with difficult conversations in need of balancing truth and love. There are times we’ll think we’re the only one in the room who seems to realize that things are not being done well. Like the woman in the commercial we want to scream, “That’s not how any of this works!”

As a professional counselor I frequently find myself at a crossroads between making sound judgment calls and displaying grace. Balancing truth and love is a difficult and tedious process–which is why most of us try to avoid it. How do you tell a friend or family member that the decisions they’re making could lead to ruin? I don’t believe we should avoid telling the truth, because that does no good. Sugarcoating something that is poison is a poor decision. Likewise, plowing someone down with a “truth tank” can be damaging to the relationship. So how do we truly love someone and at the same time not offend? There are times this is impossible. Like when a person has hardened their heart to any advice or any other way but their own, it may be difficult to avoid an abrasive truth. However, there are many times that kind words or loving encouragement can go a long way towards healing and hopefully lead to wise decisions. Here are a few tricks of the trade I’ve picked up over the years.

1) Reflect. Taking the time to reflect with a person, even if you’re pretty certain on what they should do, will be helpful for them to see other options. When we ask questions about how they’re feeling regarding the decision or how they think their decision will impact the future, it gives them an opportunity to think out loud about the decisions they are making. Most of us avoid reflecting because we are too emotionally or personally invested in the outcome of the other person’s decision. In short, we are taking responsibility for something that does not belong to us. Instead, we need to work hard to separate ourselves from fearful emotions that come along with such decisions. We have to learn to accept that people we love will make poor decisions that are out of our control. Sometimes those decisions may seem like a poor reflection on our friendship, our marriage, or our parenting. But the truth is, we can’t control others and shouldn’t try to because this often makes the situation worse. Sitting back and reflecting is difficult, but can be very effective.

2) Reframe. If you’re “in” on the counseling lingo you’ve heard this word passed around a lot. But it’s easier said than done. Reframing a really poor decision is, at times, not possible. For instance, it’s never a good idea to play hopscotch on a busy street. Reframing that idea with something like, “Well, I suppose you could just put on a helmet,” is like putting lipstick on a pig. Instead, we should attempt to reframe the desire that is feeding the poor decision. Saying, “Wow, sounds like you like to live on the edge,” instead of “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!” highlights the risk involved in the behavior and reinforces your ability to hear and understand the other person.

3) Don’t Regurgitate. Cud is for cows not people. If you find yourself having the same conversation over and over again with your friend, child, or spouse, don’t be afraid to throw in the towel. Sometimes giving up on the same old pattern can force a new pattern to emerge. Once someone understands where a behavior is coming from they often have the energy to either hang in there or create some distance between themselves and the other person. But constantly repeating the same conversation hardly does any good for anyone.

4) Encourage. This one requires some risk. There are times your advice is not going to be heard. In my experience wishing the person the best and encouraging them along their path can be one of the most beneficial moves for them. This means you relinquish any sort of power struggle or fight that may be brewing within you, and let the person know that even though you cannot follow them you will be there for them if they should choose a different path. The biblical story of the Prodigal Son is a wonderful example of this painful but rewarding concept of truth in love. It is never easy to admit the pain of a failed relationship, but I find hope in the knowledge that life is chock-full of endings which inevitably become opportunities for new beginnings. Sometimes we fear encouraging someone because we think we’re enabling him or her. The truth is these two things can often be confused. The key to not confusing encouragement with enabling is understanding true love. Encouragement is often a concise word or arraignment aimed toward the goal of loving an individual and giving them the opportunity to learn from the consequences of their decisions. Enabling is an established, long-term pattern of supporting dysfunctional behavior by protecting an individual from the effects of their poor decisions. When we protect someone from suffering in this way we do not truly show him or her love. In fact, we do great damage to their ability to develop character. And when a person fails to develop character, their life is destined for hardship. Truly loving someone also involves allowing them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.



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Now – August 2018
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