Hello my Zebras and Spoonies! Thanks for coming and hanging out with me today. I’m glad that you are here. Today, I am going to be talking about relationships and how to have difficult conversations with the people that we care about.
The single most difficult thing as a human being is making ourselves understood to another human being. It’s crazy, but I also believe it to be true. Everyone is trapped into their world view and it is very difficult to shift that perspective to another person’s view point. That’s especially true if that view point is particularly different than yours. Add into that the reality of logical fallacies and intellectual biases that all of us carry around and things only get messier. In this post, I want to talk about the things that I believe are essential in order to have really good conversations with the people we really care about.
Accept No Excuses
A boundary exists in your life for a reason. You are never wrong for having them or for defending them. Do not allow the people in your life to brush off your concerns with trite excuses. This isn’t to say that they couldn’t have had an honest misunderstanding or crossed a boundary without knowing. But don’t allow them to simply brush away the offense regardless of why that offense occurred. Looking at why it happened can help from keeping it from happening again, but the reason it happened will never erase the fact that an offense has occurred.
Sometimes, the reason that these offenses happen are because one or both parties have mental illness or are neurodivergent and thus are looking at the situation from a completely different perspective than you are. But keep in mind that having mental illness or being neurodivergent doesn’t give us permission to be an asshole. Yes, I have mental illness and I’m neurodivergent both of which often lead to me offending other people with unexpected behaviors or reactions. And yes, these things make it impossible for me to ever think the same or approach life the same as a neurotypical without mental illness. But that doesn’t give me a free pass. I am still responsible for my behaviors.
Yes, we need to give each other grace and understand that we are all different. But we need to meet each other in the middle. That means that when anyone is offended the other party needs to own that they caused that offense and do their best to make things right. Giving an excuse is giving a reason why something happened with the expectation that reason will nullify the need to make reparations. That is never the case. Any time a harm has been caused, the person causing the harm has the responsibility to try to undo that harm. Taking responsibility for your actions means that you try to repair the harm caused and you try to problem solve so that the offense doesn’t happen in the future. That’s how healthy relationships are maintained.
Own Your Emotions
Whatever you feel is what you feel. You didn’t ask to have the feelings that you are having any more than you asked to have the color of hair you were born with. It’s just what biology gave you. Emotions are the same. But we have the same responsibility to take care of and manage our emotions, just like we are expected to manage our hair. We didn’t choose them, but we do own them and we need to be responsible for them.
But what does that mean? Well, it first means being honest with yourself about what you’re feeling. And the more up front and honest you can be about your feelings with others, the easier things will be in your relationships. It also means that regardless of how you are feeling, they are never an excuse for bad behavior. You’re feeling angry? Alright. That’s fine. We all feel angry sometimes. That’s part of being human. But that feeling never gives you permission to engage in violence. Feelings are never right or wrong, it’s what you choose to do with them that carries the ethical value.
When you’re having a difficult conversation, it is essential that you keep a very close eye on how you’re feeling. If you’re getting really angry or finding that your Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD) is being really triggered then it might be best for you to call a time out so that you can deal with your emotions before you finish with the conversation you’re having. Because it is always your job to monitor and police your own emotions. Someone else triggering you isn’t a reason to allow that emotion to explode all over them. You still own it and need to make sure that you are managing those emotions in a way that is both safe and appropriate.
Make Expectations Clear
Don’t assume that the other person will know what you are thinking. When they have done something that you don’t feel alright with, you need to let them know. Tell them what they have done, how it makes you feel and why you think it isn’t alright. Just because you feel that a behavior is unacceptable, doesn’t mean that they aren’t completely comfortable with that behavior. Assume nothing. If you haven’t told them, they don’t know. This is especially true with mixed neurotypes. Neurotypicals and neurodivergent people frequently disagree on what is normal or acceptable behavior.
If there are things that you know are triggers and are especially upsetting to you, the best approach is to talk to them about it before it ever comes up. Having these conversations can go a long way to preventing problems, but it can also help build trust in your relationship. Talking about the things that make us uncomfortable and the reasons that they make us uncomfortable tends to be hard. Having those conversations with people is an indication that you trust them and value their relationship. This fosters more trust and a greater bond in that relationship. There really isn’t a down side to having these conversations ahead of time.
But you will never think of everything. And you will discover that you have boundaries that you didn’t know you had. And just to make things even more complex, your boundaries will simply change over time. Because you change over time. This means that it is never possible to predict all the ways that another person can offend us. All of us humans are delicate little flowers even though we generally like to think of ourselves as being tough and invincible. We’re just not. And that’s ok.
Do not avoid saying things that are important because you might hurt their feelings. Sometimes you will hurt the feelings of the people you love. And sometimes, you need to in order for them to know what you are thinking, feeling and what your needs are. Building boundaries is very important for a healthy relationship and the only way that those boundaries can be built is with honest communication. And no one likes to hear that they have done something wrong.
The truth is that the more we care about someone and the more time we spend with them: the more likely it is that we are going to hurt their feelings. Human interactions are complex and messy. Hurting each other’s feelings is an inevitable part of having any kind of relationship. It just happens. But being honest will help keep that damage to a minimum.
When we are not honest in our relationships and we keep these offenses to ourselves, resentment inevitability builds up in us. That is poison to any relationship. Not to mention that something that was a small offense will grow into a larger offense when left unaddressed especially if the person repeats the offense. This is a sure way to turn a mole hill into a mountain. So, as much as hurting their feelings sucks, it is better to just bite the bullet while the issue is relatively small. Because it will get bigger.
When they respond to your report of offense with hurt feelings, give those feelings space. But stick to your truth. Don’t allow their emotional response to cloud the issue. Yes, they are entitled to their emotions, but that’s not what the focus of the conversation needs to be. At least not at the start. Once you’ve covered the issue, there is nothing wrong with also talking about their feelings about that issue. But it’s important to not allow their emotional response to derail the conversation’s purpose.
Do your best to say what needs saying without being mean. Just state the facts. For larger and more important issues, take the time to think about and plan what you want to say before having the conversation. Writing them a letter can also be a good option. This can be a very powerful tool if you have a difficult time processing information in the moment or if auditory communication isn’t your strongest form of communication. You may also benefit from involving a third party but do so with careful consideration as involving another person is only going to make the issue more complicated.
If something is upsetting you, tell the person at the time it happens. Waiting will make it harder to talk about. For one, the details get fuzzier as time goes by. For two, you don’t want to let yourself stew over it before you talk about it. Yes, give yourself a chance to cool off and collect yourself. But don’t go over it in your head a billion times before having the conversation. And bringing up an issue years after it has happened makes it impossible for that person to address.
These kinds of conversations can be hard, but with practice you will get better at them. And even more importantly, people will see that you care and are trying to have good conversations with them. It will help build trust. This goes a long way. Don’t be afraid to talk with other people about having difficult conversations. Sometimes, having ground rules for these kinds of conversations can be helpful. The more you can talk about this stuff ahead of time, the easier the conversations will be when the offenses inevitability come up.