Real Life Leading 64: How to Handle Difficult Conversations in Blended Families
Do you remember being a teenager and getting into an argument with someone that you already didn’t like very much? Words got louder, the exchange got more and more heated, and as a result you both ended up saying angry and hurtful things. Sometimes the exchange may have gone even farther and resulted in a physical confrontation. Now, imagine that same scenario between two ex-spouses (without the physical altercation at the end): hurt feelings, loud voices, angry words, hurtful tones, and ultimately nothing getting accomplished or solved. Unfortunately, this situation is all too common in blended family situations. So, what’s the solution? Well, as with most things, the solution is to be found in Scripture.
Proverbs 15:1 tells us that, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Many of us have heard those words in our past, though perhaps we never fully realized how powerful they actually are. The solution to de-escalating a tense and anger-filled situation is often as simple as answering quietly and in humility. The volume, tone, and voice we use often send a more powerful message than the actual words we say. And when we remember that, we are more likely to get things accomplished.
When heading into a potentially difficult conversation within a blended family, it’s important to be clear on a few things ahead of time: 1) What is the purpose/goal of the conversation? Whatever that is, stick to it and keep the conversation relevant to that topic. 2) Genuinely seek out the best solution, even if it’s not the one that you have proposed. Do your best to keep your ego out of the equation. 3) Remember that the only person you can control is yourself. Do that, even if the other person chooses not to.
Why are these so important to remember? Well, consider the alternative: the conversation gets heated, the original purpose gets lots, more hurtful words are said, and you end up worse of than before and without having solved anything. Instead, consciously choose to remain calm and respectful. “Well, you don’t know what they did!” or “You don’t know what they said!”, someone might say to me. You’re correct! I don’t know what your ex did or said, but I do know that you can still choose to be in control of your emotions and your response.
How do I know? Because I have learned, through failure before success, from experience and observation, that it is possible to keep your temper and ego in check regardless of what else is being said to or about you. I’ll be the first to admit (as I did just a moment ago) that I have also failed. But the principle remains true, even in our failure: “A soft answer turns away wrath.” When I have been able to remember that, the results have always been better. I’ve never once had a good conversation that involved heated words and loud voices. However, I have seen situations where a soft answer has helped calm things down and keep them on track. Is it easy? Certainly not! Is it worth it? Absolutely.
[Full disclosure: It would be easy to ‘read into this post’ things that I haven’t said. Please avoid the temptation to ‘read into it’ any implied or covert complaint or criticism about my ex-wife or her husband. None is intended; the post, like all others, is simply written from my first-hand perspective. Thank you!]
Action Step: This week, whenever you’re faced with a tough situation, pray for calm, for patience, and for the humility to be respectful even when it’s difficult. You won’t get it right every time, but when you do you’ll see that the results are much better.