This comes from a series of emails I sent out in 2010.
Before I start I’d like to make a disclaimer. I know these thoughts come from my perspective and my background. There will be other temperament combinations in a relationship that are not as obvious—maybe both are introverts or perhaps both may have extrovert traits. I think the principles are true, but it always takes listening to the Holy Spirit’s guidance to see your areas that need honesty and transparency.
This is my thinking and our experiences….but please remember I’m not God nor the Holy Spirit. This is to consider!
When it comes to repairing relationships think details, not big picture!
I don’t think it’s an accident that the following verse is in the Song of Solomon. Chapter 2, verse 15 says “Catch us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vine, for our vines have tender grapes.” (emphasis mine) The Wesley Study Bible note says, “Possibly a precautionary measure: keep the things that could spoil budding love from destroying it.”
It’s the little things that undermine relationships. “Oh, that’s not worth talking about. It will just upset both of us.” “I can handle this…it’s not worth the stress.” “I’m embarrassed to even say that this bothers me, it’s such a little thing.” “Surely I’m grown up enough to not let this bother me!” etc. etc.
However, that little thing becomes a “brick” in a wall between you and someone else. And given time, even small bricks will develop into a huge wall.
To be continued…
These thoughts are something to seriously consider…
Verbal extroverts (Cholerics, Sanguines, Type A personalities, Lions, Otters, etc), as maturing adults, often need to go back and un-say or un-do what’s been said or done. How wise for verbal people to open the door and invite one person at a time to share just one hurt they may still have in their heart from their relationships with them. (Current issues of course, but especially past situations with spouse, children, friends, etc.) It’s wiser still to continue that practice until nothing is left between them and the other person, no matter how far back into the past they have to reach!
Quiet introverts (Phlegmatics, Melancholies, Type B personalities, Golden Retrievers, Beavers, etc.), as maturing adults, usually need to go back and say or do what’s been unsaid or undone! It’s nice if someone else opens the door—but if they don’t, it’s your responsibility to bring up the subject. Take the emotional risks. Face your deepest fears. Don’t let the emotions of fear paralyze you! If you don’t take these risks, you’re robbing yourself—and your family and friends!!!
As an introvert, I was a “stuffer” of my feelings. Looking back, I see now that the women in my life never felt emotionally safe enough to express their feelings, so as a young wife I didn’t either. It wasn’t a choice; I didn’t know how to do otherwise.
After 10-15 years of marriage, I was like a pressure cooker ready to blow, for there is no way you can live together as two entirely different people and not have issues you need to work through. I had stuffed feelings until there was no room left for another feeling. But because of my personality, rather than exploding, I think I would have imploded—the danger being that I could have emotionally withdrawn from John permanently—which would have left both of us empty. (I feared crossing a line with John, but I was the one who could draw my line (out of fear) and cut someone off. Maybe that’s why I feared this with John so much….!
To be continued…
If an extrovert is wise and decides to take the risks of asking someone else to share a painful memory, don’t be surprised if at first the other person starts out by saying “Everything’s fine.” But don’t stop there. Probe a little bit. Give them permission to bring up the past. “If you were to answer, what might be the first thing that comes to your mind…even if it’s from years ago….”
The following suggestion is especially important. Invite introverts to write their memory and their feelings about it. Introverts are not always verbal people. Tell them you will listen and will think and pray about it before responding. Then consider responding in writing, especially if you’re feeling defensive and emotional! However a written answer is not always key to communicating with introverts. It’s most important that they feel free to use writing. Somehow when writing/email/texting, etc. are used, you can avoid much of the negative reactive emotion…and body language….that goes with being open, honest and transparent with each other about hurtful actions or attitudes.
Why would introverts hesitate before being honest with an extrovert? For one thing introverts are testing your reactions. Do you really mean this? How safe are you really going to be? Are you really going to listen to me? Or am I just setting myself up to be hurt or disrespected again? Introverts open up slowly.
The second reason is most of us usually move from the least painful to the most painful when working through memories. Maybe we get stronger as we go… I’m not sure. I just think it’s true that we work back to the most painful memories. So it’s important not to stop too soon.
It’s also important to do one memory at a time. Both sides need time to test God’s leadership out. As we obey, we find out that each obedience has a positive result and that gives you courage to try again.
However, be aware that memories and/or crazy cycles never get easier to tackle. The same depth of emotion is there each time. The same feeling of risk is there. However, your head remembers that good has resulted from the other risks you’ve taken in obedience to God. So hopefully you will ask for courage and pray, “Lord, please help me again!!”
To be continued
Why should we deliberately bring up the past? Introverts need to understand that when extroverts are stressed or bothered, they say what they’re thinking and it’s over for them. They likely will never think of it again. But the bricks are left in the relationship, although an extrovert may have no clue they are there. The person who knows the brick is there needs to bring up the subject. Even the smallest brick!! Start with what’s current and work your way back. You don’t have to worry about “picking out” what needs to be worked on. A hurt or an issue will naturally float to the surface when it’s time to be healed. God, the Holy Spirit, will lead you step by step as you ask for grace!!!
Extroverts need to understand that introverts will get more and more depressed if they stuff feelings and avoid truth in their relationship. The more disconnection they feel, the less motivation there is to try and the greater the threat of separation—of setting their one and only boundary of separation and divorce—rather than risk taking care of details!
Why do all this painful work? Because when the details are taken care of, the big picture will take care of itself. Every memory you work through and resolve sends you UP the emotional spiral one more step. It releases the internal pressure just a little more! The day will come when you know in your heart there is nothing left between you and that is such a wonderful feeling you don’t want anything to ever be between you again!
It took serious pain for me to be motivated to tackle my relationship habits. This is a prayer I wrote down and have read over many times that came out of a time of deep painful feelings. “Lord, if this is the only way to change me, please let the pain become greater than my fears. Help me to care! I want you to make my stony heart flesh!” (Referring to Ezekiel 36:26)
To be continued…
I’m saying all this because it has worked. Yet also remember that decisions have to be made daily. It will always be my temptation, my nature to hide feelings. If I give into what comes naturally to me and withdraw, then I start down the spiral in my relationships again. If, by asking for God’s grace and by trusting and obeying, I decide to be open and honest, I reverse that, and start back UP the spiral.
When I have revealed a wound or a boundary violation to John, I have deeply hurt him every time because hurting me was never his intention. The behavior was a natural emotional reaction, either inborn and/or from training by role models. Neither have I ever meant to hurt him with my actions or attitude of disrespect or distrust. The behavior was natural emotional reactions.
I would see the pain I was putting him in and I’d think, “This is it. I’ve crossed the line. He’s going to cut me off! He’s going to say, “That’s so stupid!” What you’re saying is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of!” “ I don’t believe that!” “Big deal! Get over it!”
But he never did. And we would painfully work our way through whatever issue had come up.
Now I’m not implying that during that time our relationship was “peace like a river”! It was more like entering wild “rapids”. Emotionally you are afraid you’re going to go under, maybe for the last time! You come up, catch your breath, and then you may be hit again with some of those stuffed feelings from years ago! J
But as we kept on plowing thru the rapids, we always came back out into the calm. And with the calm came the rewards—closer connectedness, emotional intimacy, a deeper trust in one another and the sure knowledge that “this issue” was forever behind us. We’d talked it out until there was nothing left to discuss or feel. You know when there is nothing between you any more.
I’m not going to lie to you. God didn’t lie to me. Be aware that this is not a one-time event. Depending on your past, it could be a longer process—it was a five year process for me. Good counseling and intentional reading and learning can cut down that time quite a bit!! But it does take time to process emotion. It takes time to take care of the details.
Neither can you do this on your own. You need God’s help and leadership. You need your Christian friends’ involvement. You need good instruction from counselors. If you are an adult child of alcohol/drug-using parents or an adult survivor of abuse, you almost always need professional Christian counseling by someone who specializes in that area. But it starts with you! Good things are waiting for you!!!
I’m telling you a truth. God’s ways work. And God’s ways satisfy our deepest needs! But it takes faith to believe His leadership before the fact!! Obedience precedes understanding! It takes faith and trust to let go of our control and to risk jumping out into the unknown! But even if our faith is as small as a grain of mustard seed, good things start happening.
To be continued
I believe these principles are true for our relationship with God als
If we have a wall of disconnection between us and God, in this case it’s all on our side. God has already made the decision to be in relationship with us. God is completely healthy, unselfish and trustworthy. There is nothing “fallen” about Him. We are the ones who need to correct ourselves and to choose to be in relationship with God! WE are the ones to figure out the lies we have believed about God.
Start with the “detail” that comes to your mind. Work thru it by obeying. This will probably involve practicing unselfishness or it will likely involve putting trust into practice and letting go of control. The problem is it’s not easy for us to see ourselves. Our pride is always there to interfere! It takes obeying God first, then the understanding comes! That’s why the Christian life is called a life of faith!!!
This is also why it’s important to confess details when we want to have a personal relationship with God, and not give in to a blanket big picture confession. We are clearing up relationship offenses one by one. This works.
When we know there is nothing left between us and God, that open and transparent relationship is so wonderful we don’t want anything to ever come between us and God again. That’s what gave me strength to face my own pain and failures. It was a matter of obedience to God. God would speak to my heart, “You have to be honest with John about your hurt feelings before you go to bed.” Change happened because I wanted to be in relationship with God more than I wanted to protect my emotions! My procrastination would put it off and put it off until the last minute. There were a couple of times I even woke John up. “Do you remember…..? That really hurt my feelings…” “What?! What are you talking about?!” But God helped us. I talked and he listened. Neither of those reactions came naturally to us—that was the grace of God working in us!!! God’s grace is there waiting for every one of us!
Obeying God one step at a time even though it meant feeling a lot of negative feelings brought me to the sure knowledge that God my Father cares about my feelings, unlike some of my male role models from childhood. God never tired of me. He never told me I was foolish for feeling the way I did. None of my unbearably painful emotions ever overwhelmed Him! God didn’t stop my pain…but He walked with me through it!
A clear conscience is a gift from God!! It leads to closeness with people and with God.
It’s true I’ve been thinking primarily of marriage relationships, but I believe these principles are also true for parent/older child relationships, adult siblings, friendships, church relationships, office relationships, etc. For those behind me…start out now practicing honesty and openness in your relationships. Intentionally and consistently learn what is true about relationships!! Keep the little foxes out of your vineyard! The more both of you practice this, the easier it is to recognize the bricks for what they are and to do what it takes to remove them.
Verbal extroverts, as maturing adults, often need to go back and un-say or un-do what’s been said or done.
Quiet introverts, as maturing adults, usually need to go back and say or do what’s been unsaid or undone!
Take care of the details…. “Don’t let the sun go down upon your wrath” from hurt feelings on either side that come from offenses, disrespect, boundary violations, etc. …. and the big picture will take care of itself!