Certainly all relationships can be difficult at times. In those moments of conflict or miscommunication, patience and acceptance can sure go a long way. I’ve been discovering that it can be so helpful to try to see things from the other person’s perspective and to try to understand where they are coming from or what their motivations may or may not be. For instance, at times we can hear and react to things that are said differently than the way they were actually meant. How many times have I heard someone say, or I’ve said myself, “But I didn’t mean it that way!”
I know for sure this happens with my mother and me. At times she says things that can push my long ago adolescent buttons and get quite a rise out of me. Of course, I’m thinking she’s being critical or rejecting or any other number of not very positive things. But is she really? And if I took the time to understand where she was coming from would I still feel the same way?
I had a chance to test out this idea not too long ago. My mom and I had gone out to lunch and, as per usual, we were going to share two entrees. This is something she and my dad had done for almost 60 years, and I’m happy to continue the tradition. Usually, though, I just let her choose the two items, especially since she is much pickier than I am and is often difficult to please. I think I’m afraid to make the choice and have her unhappy with my decision.
This feeling brings me back to my childhood and wanting to please her and get her approval. But back then I would often end up feeling like I couldn’t win no matter what I did. That’s the thing about these “buttons” everyone is always talking about. There are all these emotions left over from childhood that may not even be in our day-to-day consciousness anymore and, so, we don’t even think about them. But then something can come out of nowhere, push this “button” and send us sailing back to those long ago days and feelings.
On this particular day and for this particular lunch, my mom and I had already started out with some issues as to what restaurant we were going to go to. Sometimes it seems as if neither of us wants to make the decision; maybe because we’re so concerned about what the other one will think or we want to please the other so badly – kind of a “no you…oh, no you” scenario. Even once we were settled at our restaurant of choice, things were already feeling frustrating to me.
I tried to let my mom choose the two items we were going to share, as I usually do, but she insisted I choose one and she would choose the other. After some back and forth, and a little “adolescent” nervousness on my part that my mom would be unhappy with my choice, I chose an entrée salad I had been dying to try. After my mom suggested a different salad instead, I then thought we were settled with our decision and were just waiting for the server to come and take our order. My mom, however, continued looking at the menu and kept coming up with other options; “Oh, look, they have lasagna, maybe you want that?” “How about the scallops?” “Or we could get the ravioli?” My frustration continued to mount. To me, this continual listing of the other options came across as a criticism of my choice…disapproval… a rejection. I became defensive. She did too. And soon things escalated into a big fight (and, over what???).
The next day, to my surprise since we had not been able to do this before, we were actually able to talk about what had happened and what we could do to keep it from happening in the future. Never eat lunch together again? Stop sharing when we do? No, those weren’t the solution. But maybe talking it out was the answer? By doing so we were actually able to determine that she wasn’t rejecting my entrée choice at all…she was merely overwhelmed with all the good options and was “thinking out loud” about what else there was. This was an enlightening moment for me. With this new awareness and understanding, I was able to see that she really wasn’t being critical of my choice after all and that I had no need to get defensive.
Just the other day we were in a similar situation. But this time I took a breath and then asked her if she was just thinking out loud. She said, yes, to which I calmly responded with a smile, “Great, but we’ve already made our decision so we’ll just go with that.” And it actually worked! Another crisis averted and one less button pushed…