“Assumptions are the termites of relationships.” Henry Winkler
“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky
You know how they say if you assume anything, it makes an “a**” of “u” and “me”. Well, I can attest to that; and it all could have been avoided …
For the past year or so, I have been trying to reestablish a relationship with a dear friend whom I knew years ago and with whom I had lost contact. Things started out relatively well until I started searching for answers to questions my friend was not willing to answer. Instead of leaving things lie and allowing my friend to talk to me in his own time, I became pushy in my desperation to get answers I thought I needed. In the process, I wound up pushing my friend away, and he accused me of having no respect for other people’s boundaries. My mouth dropped to the floor in righteous indignation. “What? ME?!? No concept of other people’s boundaries?” What in the world was he talking about. I have a history of letting people walk all over me. I have a history of letting people bleed me dry … people who take and don’t give much in return. I knew I had boundary issues when it came to establishing my own boundaries, but I was taken aback by the accusation that I have no respect for the boundaries of others.
At first, I was furious. How dare he! How dare he accuse me of being presumptuous, judgmental, and righteous to boot. Who did he think he was? Did he not realize he was being the very things he accused me of being? To top it all off, he accused me of having a hard time understanding other people and their issues (something I happen to be very good at, which those who know me well will attest to).
It would have been so easy to lash out, but I didn’t. I realized there was some truth in what he said. I hadn’t respected his boundaries in this particular instance. He had given me fair warning but had failed to explain himself in the process (kind of like someone yelling “STOP!” as you’re driving along about to collide with a train bearing down at full speed, but you’re too busy talking to notice). Nonetheless, I knew by his tone and by his choice of words that I had crossed the line. He was hurt and feeling attacked. Defense mechanisms kicked in, shields went up, and arrows began flying.
Instead of shooting arrows back, it was time for me to apologize. As badly as I wanted answers to my questions, it was not worth the price of losing an extremely important relationship with someone I dearly cared about. The apology came easy. I meant it. I was sincere. The agony of wondering if the relationship has been irreparably damaged … not so easy to bear.
Had my friend explained a little bit about all the things going on in his life, I wouldn’t have continued to pester him with questions he simply couldn’t deal with on top of everything else. Although I’m very good at understanding the undercurrents behind people’s behavior, I’m a terrible mind reader; so if you’re unwilling to share anything, I’m afraid I will fail miserably. In this case, I hurt my friend deeply and that, in turn, hurt me.
Communication is so extremely vital. When communication breaks down, I don’t know about you, but I do start to assume. My mind kicks into overdrive, and I begin imagining all sorts of scenarios. Satan has a heyday inside my head … feeding me lies that trigger my insecurity and make me start doubting and worrying and second-guessing. It takes concentrated effort to remind myself that just because someone isn’t willing to communicate with me doesn’t mean they don’t like me; it may just mean they have to process things themselves first or they may just have a lot their plate at the moment.
Take my friend, for example. Over the past year, he:
- sold his house,
- started a new job,
- had his company file Chapter 11 bankruptcy,
- had been dealing with an ill family member.
As my former brother-in-law told me upon hearing I had lost my first baby in utero, “How can people pray for you if they don’t know what’s going on?” How can people walk alongside you as you struggle through life if they don’t know you are struggling? How can people share in your joy if they don’t know you are rejoicing?
Bottom line: Talk to one another!
In this most recent experience with my friend, yes, I was way out of line. I barreled my way past my friend’s boundaries oblivious to the consequences. My need to know something made me blind to the fact that my friend couldn’t handle my questions right now. When he screamed “STOP”, I finally could see the train in my peripheral vision. Suddenly the answers I thought I so desperately needed aren’t that important. What’s more important is that my friend is hurting, and it all could have been avoided if:
- my friend had just conversed with me instead of remaining silent, and
- I had not jumped to conclusions and made my own assumptions.
I forgive my friend for lashing out at me (stress makes us do crazy things), and I hope he will forgive me in time. In the meantime, I will pray for him … that his stress level will diminish and that lines of communication will once again open up.
Two-way communication fixes so much. It alleviates stress, corrects misunderstandings, avoids assumptions (and the consequences that go along with them), and fosters intimacy and warmth. It may not happen immediately, but keep at it. Don’t give up. A good relationship deserves the hard work of pressing through and keeping the lines of communication open.
Talk to me …
Father … You bring people into our lives for a reason. When we mess up those relationships, may we do all we can to break through the miscommunication and hurt feelings by talking to each other openly until the issue is resolved. Life is too short to be angry and upset. It ruins our health and causes sleepless nights. Grant us grace to be more loving. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.