Can you read my mind?

by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

What woman hasn’t wished her husband or boyfriend could read her mind? Perhaps we’ve thought, “Just once, could he know what I’m feeling or what I need without me explaining it to him or writing him a book?”

Sorry to tell you this, my women friends, but not even Superman could read minds, much to Lois Lane’s dismay.

I spent years in anguish and agony over my husband’s inability to understand what I was thinking. The thought never occurred to me that I couldn’t read his thoughts so why did I ever imagine — or hope — he could read mine?

I knew a couple who were married for almost seventy years. The wife wrote her husband weekly letters explaining to him — in infinite detail — her feelings, frustrations and longings. I used to think it was a funny thing to do. But it seemed to work well for them. I don’t know if he ever wrote her letters.

I must admit that many years of my marriage went by before my communication skills with my husband began to improve. Why was it so hard to talk with him about my innermost feelings?

I remember many days I spent crying that he didn’t understand me. And he didn’t. But how could he have without me making an effort to help him?

Perhaps the place to get to in a marriage is the desire to understand your husband as much as you want him to understand you. I think this is the essence of the “Golden Rule.” The idea of treating others the way you would like them to treat you.

Webster defines communication as “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals.”

“Exchanged” is the key word in this definition to me, as it suggests two parties exchanging — communicating — with each other.

Another definition of communication is “the exchange of thoughts, messages or information by speech, signals, writing or behavior.” From my experience, speech and writing have been more effective at getting my point across than signals or behavior.

Every time I’ve tried the “silent treatment” when I’m upset about something and go to bed in that mode, my husband just thinks I’m sleepy and he goes on to sleep while I lay there half the night stewing. When I wake him — eventually — he is totally clueless that anything is wrong.

I’ve almost always found that signals can get crossed, which then results in a mutual misunderstanding, or in other words, a failure to communicate.

Using words to effectively impart information could be considered an “art” — as another definition of communication suggested.

There seems to be an art in how we say what we want to say. Specifically, implementing the proper use of tone and emphasis as well as body language when speaking, are significant factors in getting our meaning across correctly. Without the correct usage, however, the “recipient” in the exchange could become defensive or get hurt feelings as well as totally misunderstand the meaning the “sender” intended.

I have definitely NOT mastered the art of communicating with my husband. And if there are wives out there who feel they have, I would sure love to hear from you. Tips and advice would be most welcomed!

Of course, it could be that women really are from Venus and men from Mars, so we’re destined to never completely understand each other. But perhaps recognizing that men and women have different needs and communicate in different ways is a good way to begin.

It’s probably important, too, to realize that words can have different meanings to men and women.

I heard a comedian explain this once. He gave the word — communication — as an example. He said women define communication as “the open sharing of thoughts and feelings with one’s partner” while men define it as “leaving a note before taking a fishing trip with the boys.”

Alas, without the ability to read each other’s minds, men and women may never be able to completely understand each other, but we can remember that we never will without trying. And that takes some form of communication!

Talking past each other

by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

Do you ever feel like you and your spouse are talking past each other? It’s certainly easy to conclude that our politicians on the so-called “right” and “left” talk past each other constantly! And there are times, I suspect, when parents and children may be guilty of the same.

Since I can’t do anything to change the behavior patterns of those I speak to, I can do something about how I listen and respond. It can be difficult to begin with the “man in the mirror” as Michael Jackson put it, but I am humbly recognizing that I am the only place I can go to make a change.

It’s frustrating when one feels misunderstood. And how can we be understood when no one is listening to what we’re saying or our meaning is being misconstrued?

One thing is certain. If we continue to talk past each other, agreements will never be reached, good decisions will never be made, and harmony and happiness will continue to elude us.

I’m the first to admit the challenge of understanding beyond my frame of reference and experience. Empathy — with the attempt to put oneself in another’s shoes — is a worthy effort but not one that is easy to genuinely accomplish.

Yet something is telling me that I must make a greater effort or at least want to make an effort, if ever I hope to have someone do the same for me.

I think any change begins with a sincere desire. In fact, I believe if we have a sincere desire, anything is possible, doable and achievable.

I can see how my husband has talked past me. Usually, I’m so busy thinking he’s not listening to me or not understanding me that I’m not listening or caring about what he has to say. So I find myself as guilty as I think he is.

What a vicious cycle talking past each other can be!

One could conclude that we are a bunch of slow learners. I think Jesus came to this conclusion once. I often chuckle to myself when I read in the Gospels where the disciples couldn’t heal a child and so they brought him to Jesus for healing. And Jesus’ first comment was, “How many times do I have to go over these things?” (Mark 9:19)

So we may have to repeat ourselves from time to time. We may have to rethink our word choice or use a different emphasis on select words to get our point across. So do it. We must do whatever it takes to understand and be understood. Let’s not give up on each other!

There are lots of theories out about how repetition impacts or improves our memory, but I’m not convinced mere repetition alone is what it takes for us to accomplish better understanding. No, I think it has much more to do with our desire — our sincere desire — to listen and to understand others. This desire results in the kind of effort that leads to mutual and accurate understanding.

When we are tempted to raise our voice in an attempt to clarify our stance or walk away in dismay or disappointment, we would be wise to rethink these actions. I have found that the louder I speak, the more defensive or close-minded the person I’m directing my remarks to becomes.

And I have been guilty of walking away when feeling misunderstood. In fact, it’s my most frequent response. But I’m finally admitting the futileness of such action. Of course there are times, when I’m feeling angry for example, that walking away and cooling off before giving a response may be a wise move.

I feel certain, though, that if I really want to be understood better, I need to make sure I’m doing my best to understand. Communication, like any other aspect of our lives, is best served when we have the Golden Rule as our guide. This means listening and speaking to others in the way we long for them to listen and speak to us.

I must say that when I was in Italy, I was impressed by the conversations I witnessed between Italian men and women. I was awed by the full attention they seem to give each other. It was as if nothing else was going on around them but what was being said to one another. Something told me that giving my full attention is a skill to be improved upon.

So I’m going on record here, my friends. My desire — my prayer — is that I will endeavor to better listen to and understand my husband’s feelings, needs and viewpoints. And my desire is to do the same with my daughter and other family members, friends and strangers, too.

And hopefully, talking past each other will become a thing of the past!

Get off your high horse!

by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

I suspect we all know what this idiom means. Perhaps we’ve all said this — or felt like saying it — at least once in our lives. Or maybe this exclamation has been directed toward us!

In short, the demand is to stop acting as if we are better or more intelligent than other people. The call is to become more humble, less haughty, and to lose any attitude of superiority with its overbearing manner and distasteful pride.

This phrase is directed at dismissive arrogance, which I can assure you will poison any relationship — whether the relationship is between husbands and wives, parents and children, bosses and their employees, or leaders and their constituents.

The arrogant assumes his views and opinions are “the truth.” He is more concerned about his own viewpoint being heard, accepted and obeyed than being right or doing what is right.

She demands respect from others when she needs to give respect to others.

An Arabian proverb warns, “Arrogance diminishes wisdom.” Indeed, arrogance and pride can keep us from making good decisions.

There was a general named Naaman, whose story is told in II Kings in the Bible. (II Kings 5:9-14) Naaman’s inflated arrogance and pride almost kept him from being healed of leprosy. When he went to Elisha in search of healing, Elisha sent a message to him telling him to wash seven times in the Jordan River and his skin condition would be cured.

But Naaman was disappointed that Elisha had not come to see him in person to perform an admirable show of God’s healing power. He reacted with haughtiness and disdain at Elisha’s instructions and even asked why he couldn’t wash in a different river that he thought was cleaner.

Naaman’s servants eventually persuaded him to follow Elisha’s directions, and he was cured.

I think the lesson for Naaman (and all of us) is to be willing to listen and humble our ego enough to be open-minded to a new idea — a better and more productive solution than perhaps what we first thought was best.

Have you ever asked someone for advice and then didn’t pay attention to it because it was not what you were hoping to hear?

If we really want the advice of others, then we need to be willing to listen and be attentive and open to their ideas and suggestions. We need a sincere desire to learn. And with that learning, be willing to adapt and change any preconceived notions. This attitude would keep us approachable and teachable and no doubt direct us toward wiser decisions.

Even when we are confident about a decision we’ve made today, we need to be open to making a new one tomorrow.

We live in an ever-changing world. Surely, to keep progressive pace in this world, we need to maintain a modest estimate of our own opinion and remain ready and willing to be taught, to be flexible and yes — to change our mind.

This may mean taking a different approach. This could require an admission that we’ve made a mistake. And if we’re talking about the government of a country, then it would certainly mean a willingness to compromise opinion to work together for the good of the country. There is no place for arrogance in the wise governing of a great nation.

Surely all relationships benefit when we get off our high horse and are not so certain we are right. After all, we might not be!

Do you hold grudges?

by Annette Bridges. ©2009. All rights reserved.

I admit it. I’ve been a grudge holder. But I’m not proud to say so. Holding a grudge has never proven to be a good thing in my life.

Plenty of medical studies confirm grudge holding is not good for you — increasing stress, raising blood pressure, causing ulcers and producing a multitude of other harmful side effects. I suspect we all would admit to the lousy way we feel when we’re angry with another person.

I’ve never held a grudge toward someone that I’ve not eventually regretted.

Holding onto a grudge has generally proved to be the greatest waste of my time and I suspect caused me more grief than it did the person I felt injured by. I’ve never found holding a grudge to serve any good purpose, and it often has cost me a good friend. In fact, I’ve had friendships that never fully recovered, and for that, I’m sad and sorry that I ever let anything permanently hurt my feelings toward a friend.

When I think about where and how some grudges began, I usually can’t understand why I took offense in the first place.

Nineteenth century philosopher and author, Mary Baker Eddy, has a short writing she titled, “Taking Offense” that I’ve referred to when I’ve found myself feeling irritated by someone’s words or actions. She quotes English religious writer and philanthropist, Hannah More, in the opening paragraph: “If I wished to punish my enemy, I should make him hate somebody.”

Holding on to resentment, bitterness, hard feelings or hatred is emotionally draining and physically destructive. So why do we do it?

Once upon a time my defense for a grudge came when I felt a friend stuck her nose in where it didn’t belong. I not only didn’t want her opinion — I disagreed with it. And I guess my arrogance took precedence over patience and tolerance, and I lost a good friend. Another time with another friend, deep-seated hurt feelings led to my suffering with chest pains and headaches.

Eddy says we let pride, self-will and egotism cloud our reasoning and determine our reactions. But she wisely cautioned, “Well may we feel wounded by our own faults; but we can hardly afford to be miserable for the faults of others.”

We can’t be responsible for the behavior of others, but we are responsible for how we respond back to them. Every action we take has its consequence. And as with any action, we should think more carefully about the consequences before we act.

Of course, in any relationship there are times when honest and sincere discussions of feelings are needed. My grandmother advised me before I married to never go to bed mad. I’ve not always heeded her instruction, but I have tried. No doubt she got her wisdom from the Bible, “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” (Ephesians 4:26) And I’ve learned that this is good wisdom for all relationships — not just with my husband.

Eddy’s message in “Taking Offense” is helpful to those who feel someone has “wronged” them. She wrote:

“We should remember that the world is wide; that there are a thousand million different human wills, opinions, ambitions, tastes, and loves; that each person has a different history, constitution, culture, character, from all the rest; that human life is the work, the play, the ceaseless action and reaction upon each other of these different atoms. Then, we should go forth into life with the smallest expectations, but with the largest patience; with a keen relish for and appreciation of everything beautiful, great, and good, but with a temper so genial that the friction of the world shall not wear upon our sensibilities; with an equanimity so settled that no passing breath nor accidental disturbance shall agitate or ruffle it; with a charity broad enough to cover the whole world’s evil, and sweet enough to neutralize what is bitter in it, — determined not to be offended when no wrong is meant, nor even when it is, unless the offense be against God.”

Some say it’s human nature to hold grudges. Perhaps so, but even still, we always have a choice.

We can choose to brood, ruminate and rehash the details of how we’ve been hurt or disappointed by someone — torturing ourselves by playing the same scene over and over in our heads. Or we can implement a simple, ancient practice — the practice of forgiveness — and dismiss painful memories and move forward with our lives and our relationships.

The road to romance

by Annette Bridges. ©2009. All rights reserved.

Looking for your Mr. Right may sometimes seem like a futile journey. Some “experts” suggest that too many of us are clueless about what we really want or need and explain this as the reason we don’t find a permanent partner.

Perhaps your love life has not been a bed of roses. And if you’re like me, you’ve been dumped more times than you want to say. I wish someone had told me, “He’s just not that into you!” These words of wisdom might have kept me from wasting so many days (or weeks) pining over what I thought was lost love.

I had seven years of dating prior to meeting my husband. And during those years I traveled many miles on the road from rejection to romance.

Rejection can leave you feeling devastated. It can seem impossible to get past the hurt. At such times I usually wanted to withdraw into my little burrow and hide away from the world. But time truly healed all wounds, and I found myself back in the saddle — at least until I was thrown off the horse again!

After a fall, most folks advise: “Dust yourself off and get back on the horse.”

This reminds me of the time Jesus told his disciples to “shake off the dust of their feet” (Matthew 10:14) when they were faced with folks who didn’t welcome them into their communities or want to hear what they had to say. He seemed to be telling them to just move on in those instances, to not make a scene, to not hang around and try to force the situation. There were plenty of people who would be interested in them elsewhere, just as there is someone who will be interested in each of us.

Some people promise you’re most likely to find Mr. Right when you’re not looking for him. And I suppose this is what happened to me. But just because I wasn’t specifically looking for my husband at Six Flags over Texas that hot summer day, doesn’t mean I wasn’t a hopeful romantic and very expectant that Mr. Right would cross my path —eventually.

I had spent my dating years implementing the “Are you my husband?” method. Remember the Dr. Seuss book, Are you my mother? A baby bird is hatched while his mother is away. After falling from his nest, the confused little bird sets out to find his mother and asks everyone he meets the big question — including a dog, a cow and even an airplane.

Every man I dated was evaluated with my big question in mind. And, frankly, after years of unsuccessful hunting by this method, I came to the realization that too much analysis caused me to miss out on a lot of fun and friendships, and in the end, I still had no husband.

A few months before I met my husband (of 28 years now), I decided I needed a new approach to my pursuit of lasting romance.

Friends advised me to focus on living a full and happy life rather than searching desperately for a husband. “Do things you like to do and you’ll meet others who love to do the same as you.” Good advice!

Psychologists say the key to getting off the dating merry-go-round requires nothing more than taking the time to get to know yourself before you try to get to know someone else. Also good advice!

So take heart my single friends. I believe God peoples the world so none of us have to be alone. We’re walking this life journey together — side by side. And we’re never really alone because our Father is with us.

Don’t waste time in dismay when your Mr. Today turns out not to be your Mr. Forever. I met my husband when I least expected to. The same thing could happen to you, too.