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Speaking Truth with Love

The quality of relationships shapes the quality of your life, so it’s worth investing time and energy to improve our relationships, and accepting what we cannot change.

Most of us have a mixture of relationships in our lives: family, friends, acquaintances, extended family, co-workers. Some of these relationships come with obligations, while others are voluntary. It’s worth being picky about the voluntary ones.

And sometimes it’s hard to be honest with people around you. From social conventions to not wanting to hurt feelings, there are all sorts of ways that we avoid honesty. Sometimes it’s an act of kindness, sometimes cowardice. We let people push buttons, and we resent it but don’t speak up. Eventually we lose our temper. We seem to be overreacting, and for that particular moment, we are. We dropped the ball by not communicating our building frustration earlier, or not extricating ourselves politely from the situation.

Women are particularly likely to be peacemakers, pleasers, compliant, and bury their feelings to make a situation work. But feelings are still there, and come back with a vengeance. The people in our lives are baffled to find how we’ve been “keeping score”.

A key part of having a good life is taking responsibility for all your behavior. Any time the phrase “they made me“ or the excuse “it’s just that she ---” comes out, you’re not taking responsibility. Of course other people’s behavior can cause anger or sadness. But you choose how to act in response.

Situations and people “push our buttons” because they recall a prior experience, or something that’s important to us. Sometimes our overreaction is built up from days or years of holding in our reactions. A simple rule to remember is if you’re hysterical, it’s historical; in other words, when you overreact, it’s about more than just that moment. The better you see these situations as they develop, the better you can react appropriately.

One of the best and hardest-to-implement pieces of advice I’ve received is to “Speak the Truth with Love”. We often avoid speaking the truth because we worry about hurt feelings, how we will appear to others, or other consequences that seem unpleasant. Perhaps we assume that the person isn’t ready to change, or we’ll speak too harshly if we say anything at all. We often cover hurt with anger, or distract ourselves or the other person from the real concerns with smaller worries that we blow out of proportion.

If we live in truth, we should apologize for the “joke” that hurts someone’s feelings, the careless word that exposes their weakness, the failure to offer a kind gesture or prayers. I’ve resented honesty at first (though I generally hold my tongue), only to see the truth in it as I reflect further.

If we choose immediate honesty, and accept honesty from others, it can be awkward at first. Once others understand that we will deliver the truth with kindness, they can accept our honesty without fear. Our relationships become warmer, stronger, and more real.

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