I’ve never forgotten the night my friend Peter agreed to wash his wife’s feet.
He had absolutely NO clue as to why she wanted those feet washed. But he accepted her request at face value, helped her to the edge of the bath, and washed them carefully.
They were trying to get out of the house around 3:00am so Anne could give birth in the hospital – not their living room. Water had broken. Labor was coming on hard. Anne simply insisted. “Peter – you have to wash my feet. Now.”
Imagine how things might have gone if he’d said,“Now honey, why on earth do you want to wash your feet? “
Right there, between “understanding” and “acceptance,” what did Anne need most?
In creating a year-long series about great relationships, I’ve just spent the first 12 weeks promoting “understanding.”
You know, stuff like understanding yourself and ~
- how complicated you can be – but does understanding yourself help you accept yourself?
- how you try and get your needs met – but can you accept that you have needs and that they won’t all be met?
- how coordinated your emotional system really is – but can you accept you have emotions and they make you – well, you know – “emotional”?
- how to describe your feelings – but can you accept that sometimes no one is listening?
- why you are sometimes all business, sometimes all anger and sometimes just an emotional mess – but can you accept each of these imposters just the same?
- how to ”get a grip” when you need to – but can you accept yourself when you’re totally unreasonable?
- when you need some help in your relationships – but can you accept help when you understand the need for it?
And, enough of yourself already. I’ve been encouraging you to understand ~
- people’s non-verbal cues – but is understanding enough, if the goal is to build great relationships?
- how to change someone else – but isn’t there some acceptance built in to the idea of influence in relationship?
- how negativity kills relationships – but it also happens, and can we accept that in ourselves and our partners?
I find myself wondering, if I have overestimated understanding?
Why do you ask “why?” ?
Possibility A ~ Because you are genuinely curious and want to understand as much as possible about this person in order to fully accept and appreciate them? This builds relationship – we all love to feel accepted and appreciated.
Possibility B ~ Because you think this person is a fruit loop and you want ammunition to prove this to them? This undermines relationship because it’s a slippery slope from here to contempt.
We might try and believe we’re “give-the-benefit-of-the-doubt, curious, A folks”. But my guess is more often than not we’re “hang-’em-by-their-own-rope” B folks.
In the normal scheme of things you can get away with that. But if you want a great relationship with someone you’re going to have to tone down that poised-for-attack “why” – which sounds more like “WHY!” than “why?”
Even more than understanding, great relationships rely on a whole heap of ~
WHAT TO DO?
When you find yourself about to blurt the “why” bomb, try this.
Be honest – What are you up to?
Do you want to understand this person so you can love and accept them more wholeheartedly?
Or have you already decided “Fruit-Loop!” and your “Why!” is more in scorn, disbelief and a hope they prove you right?
Consider ~ your motive. Which of these two “why” alternatives is closest to what you mean?
A. “I’m interested. Would you be willing to tell me more about this?”
B. “I can’t believe you just said that and now I want to know how nuts you really are, so do say more…”
If your thinking is closer to Option A your “why” will probably communicate interest and maybe even acceptance.
If your thinking is closer to Option B, it gets more complicated.
If you’re Peter and you love your wife and know it makes no difference how she might answer his “Why?” you could jump to “OK.”
If your kid has just announced his interest in knowing how many Oreos he can eat in 1 minute and you think this is gross and have no interest in indulging his curiosity, rather that a dismissive or scornful “Why!” try simply acknowledging what you hear with a bit of warmth: “Wow – you wonder about that! Want to take a guess?”
If it’s your partner telling you something you don’t like try dumping the semi-hostile “Why!” (since you don’t really want to understand them anyway-right?) and try honesty. “Hum, I don’t agree. Do you want to tell me more so we can find a compromise?”
Why does this matter? ~ Respect always trumps disrespect & contempt.
I know! ~ There are loads of exceptions. Not all questions are asked because you want to get to “acceptance.” I’m writing this to move the bar a tad in that direction and invite you to notice how you use that all too ubiquitous three letter bomb.
What you discover could be interesting.
NEXT WEEK? With April, our focus shifts from Understanding, to Connecting. First topic? Mastering the Art of Conversation.
FIRST TIME HERE? This is the thirteenth article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.
If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.
SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING
SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”
SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.
- Report The News – Don’t Act it Out
- Happy Families
- Self Leadership
- When Does A Relationship Need Help?
SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity