Many volumes have of books been written on the art of great relationships. In this lesson, we are going to focus on several key secrets that help repair and heal troubled relationships, as well as take your healthy relationships to a whole new level.
When it comes to relationships, there is nothing new under the sun to be discovered. The same qualities and actions that produced affection and respect 6000 years ago are still the same ones in 2020.
Some experts say as much as 70% of your happiness is determined by the quality of your relationships. With this much at stake—even if those numbers are inflated—it behooves us to learn how to excel at relationships.
I remember years ago when I read the sentence, “If you look around at what you’re currently reaping in your relationships, it will tell you what you have previously sowed.” I didn’t like that sentence, as it held me responsible for poor sowing in my relationships (instead of letting me blame others). Take responsibility for having solid, deep, loving, and meaningful relationships. Don’t fret if you suddenly realize that maybe you’ve not been sowing so well. Learn these insights and your relationships can soar in five years.
May this week be pivotal in your life as we discuss how to transform and improve all of our relationships.
Be sure and first read Lesson 9 in Happy School, Where Women Learn the Secrets to Overcome Discouragement and Worry.
5 Powerful and Important Words to Say in Relationships
This week I read an article about specific words that demonstrate if you’re a good leader at work. I was surprised when I read what the words were. They were, “I was wrong. I’m sorry.” My husband and I have joked for years that the three hardest words in the English language to say are, “I was wrong.” Another very difficult sentence to spit out is, “Will you please forgive me?”
There’s something mysterious about apologizing. Imagine a big balloon filled with poisonous gas. Apologizing is like taking the balloon to the edge of the atmosphere and letting the poisonous gas out. It is normal for humans to offend each other, but often very difficult to repair. “An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city” (Proverbs 18:19). Apologizing, admitting you were wrong, and asking for forgiveness are miraculous tools to use to amend the harm.
I’d like to say it gets easier to apologize after you’ve done it for a few years, but I don’t really think it does. What helps me swallow my pride and apologize is knowing the magic and power of apologizing.
Like Jim Collins says in his business book, Good to Great, the best leaders “take the blame and give the credit.” Funny, because immature people always take the credit and give the blame.
Some of you may have seen the old movie in the 60’s called Love Story starring Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal. One famous line from the movie made its way to posters, t-shirts, and coffee mugs. It was, “Love is never having to say you’re sorry.” Friend, that is complete bunk and baloney. Love means frequently saying you’re sorry!
When you make a mistake, learn to apologize quickly and sincerely. Apologizing is an example of humility. Remember, “God opposes the proud but lifts up the humble” (James 4:6).
The friend that I most frequently ask for advice recently told me a story in which she had given her daughter-in-law some advice about how she (the d-in-law) should be handling her children. Later, the m-in-law went to her d-in-law and asked forgiveness for giving too much advice. I laugh at how unusual this is, as mothers-in-law are notorious for giving too much advice (actually, mothers of adult children do this also).
A neighbor recently told me that in her family, no one asks forgiveness. She said that offenses are like cooking onions: eventually, the odor dissipates. I didn’t argue, but I disagree. Offenses accumulate. The image I have of repeated offenses is more like a landfill or a dump, with more and more debris.
A friend of mine is trying to counsel an older woman who has been unhappily married for 30 years. No one has ever apologized in that marriage. And the rift between the spouses is like the Pacific Ocean.
A judge I know told me that he is estranged from both of his children. My heart broke when he told me that. But knowing him, I’m pretty sure he has said some hateful things over time and then never apologized. Admitting you were wrong and asking for forgiveness is powerful medicine to mend relational wreckage.
I know it’s tough saying you were wrong. But you can’t imagine the harm it does when you don’t.
Death and Life Are in the Power of the Tongue
Sometimes a specific sentence in the Bible will have a profound effect on me. One such Scripture is, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21) I mean, death and life. What’s more important than death and life?
See if you can hear death in the following sentences: “You’re never going to amount to much.” “Oh, that isn’t going to work out well.” “You’ve never tried that. And you don’t have a very good track record.” “You are a disappointment.” “I don’t think you’re built for that, are you?” “I doubt it because I haven’t seen you be successful in that area before.” “You know, you’re not really very smart (pretty, likable, etc.).”
Now see if you can hear life in these sentences: “You are so good at that and I really respect it.” “You have what it takes.” “No one gets everything right on the first try. So try again. I believe you can do it.” “You are so good at X. An example of that is…” “I enjoy your company so much. You are really a delightful person.” “You’ll figure it out. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders.”
Think of your relationships like a garden and your words as the different elements affecting the garden. Negative, critical words are like predators, bugs, drought, lack of nutrients, and lack of sunlight. But positive words, such as praise, appreciation, affection, etc. are like water, sunlight, fertilizer, and good soil. Words matter.
What I want to remind you is that people are going to disappoint you. That’s not a maybe, it’s a given and a certainty. We’re all porcupines and we prick each other.
I think of Sarai in the Old Testament when her husband, Abram, said to lie and say that she was his sister to protect himself. Never mind that she was taken into the Pharoah’s court as a wife and had to perform wife-ly activities with him! What a disappointment Abram was. If there is one thing we expect from our husbands, it’s to be protected.
This is so loud because Abram became Abraham, the Father of the Jews. This was not some nobody. If the Bible tells us anything in the stories of the Old Testament, it tells us that humans are fallen and have huge weakness sets. Other people are going to majorly disappoint us!
The reason I’m going on so much about other people disappointing you is because that is when you are likely to utter words of death, not when people are bringing you flowers. Therefore, head’s up! Warning! See the blinking red lights when you’re disappointed with someone. Then choose to use self-control in your speech. It’s a whole lot easier to not say mean things than to recover from an outburst.
My husband and I were talking this morning on our early morning walk about a place to take the entire family for vacation. A couple of years ago we rented a house in Fort Lauderdale and I thought maybe we could rent it again.
Immediately he said, “No, I don’t want to deal with that leasing agent again.” I then remembered what a snarly woman she was and agreed with him. People do business with people they like. People hang out with people they like. And nobody likes people who speak negative words.
One time in a sermon, a preacher said to not be a know-it-all. He said to not give your opinion as if it is the absolutely, positively, only possible solution (even if it is). People don’t like it. This is true with your children, your spouse, and everyone. Thinking that you’re always right is using your tongue for death.
I remember a woman who was in one of my groups years ago. She was a volunteer type, a real whippersnapper, and could get one million things done. She told me one day, “No one likes me.” She didn’t ask me why, but I could’ve told her: It’s because you’re bossy. You act like your opinion is the only one. She used the power of her tongue as death, and didn’t even know it.
Jordan Peterson is an author and influencer who was big on the scene about a year ago. He talked about a dimension of human personality called agreeableness. People are naturally a certain degree of agreeableness, but they can improve. You can learn to be agreeable by watching your words, not talking too much, not being critical, bossy, cynical, or argumentative. You can learn to encourage, uplift, be friendly, and be optimistic with others.
Recently a young girl told me about a time she was out shopping with her mother and the mother was rude to the store clerk. After they left the store, the girl was embarrassed and said, “Mom, it would be nice if you had been friendlier to the store clerk.” The girl’s mother harshly defended herself, “Why should I work hard at being nice to her? It’s her job to wait on us.” That is the mindset of a person who is using her tongue for death.
A few years ago, we were at dinner with a couple and they started an argument in the restaurant. It was so heated that the people nearby must’ve thought the wife just found out the husband had a girlfriend. But wait until you hear the subject of the argument. It was over the fastest route to get to the restaurant! In a very angry voice, the wife said, “You’re just wrong and I’m sick of you always thinking you’re right. You’re not right; I am.” Whew. There was some underlying toxicity in that relationship. “It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3).
In contrast, a friend of mine told me that her elderly mother still calls her, “My angel.” The older mother still constantly points out how smart, pretty, helpful, and wise the daughter is. “My mother is my best cheerleader,” my friend said.
Do you hear it? It’s screaming loud. Death and life are in the power of the tongue! Be very careful with yours. If you’ve used your tongue harshly—even if it was years ago—seek forgiveness.
I love a famous scene in the 1961 play, Raisin in the Sun. The adult son had failed, and his sister was criticizing him. The mother said to the sister, “Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most? When they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain’t through learning – because that ain’t the time at all. It’s when he’s at his lowest and can’t believe in hisself ‘cause the world done whipped him so! When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right, child, measure him right. Make sure you done taken into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is.”
Those words of that mother are the words of life, loving others when they are at their lowest. If someone you love is having a hard time, then it’s an opportunity for you to be encouraging, hopeful, helpful, and prayerful. People remember who was there for them when they were at their lowest. When people fail, that’s when they need compassion and kindness the most.
“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Prov. 16:24).
Death and life. Death and life. Be very careful with your words.
Initiate for the Benefit of Others
The concept of initiating for the benefit of others is very tricky because we are frequently ambushed by our strong preference for our favorite trio of Me, Myself, and I. It takes a concerted effort to stop and think what others want and need. The norm is that we exaggerate what we give to others and we diminish what they give to us.
One young girl (we’ll call her Kathleen) told me that her mother-in-law is always hounding her to get dressed up and go to lunch with her. The m-in-law now feels hurt as she believes Kathleen is cold and doesn’t want to grow the relationship. Although the older woman thinks she is initiating for the benefit of her d-in-law, she is not taking into account what Kathleen wants.
In contrast to this story, a good friend of mine helps her d-in-law plant shrubs in her front yard and helps her organize her kitchen. This m-i-law too decided to initiate for another’s benefit, but she gave something the d-in-law wanted. Give people ideas and choices for how you could contribute. People will let you know yay or nay.
I talked to a young mother of many children this weekend whose mother-in-law offered to come over and help her fold clothes. The young mother didn’t want that as she said that she would now have to entertain the m-in-law and clean up her house. She said it was more work than it’s worth. The m-in-law was offended that the young girl didn’t want her offer. It’s so easy to get offended when we offer something and no one jumps on it. But remember, humility is the best characteristic. Don’t be offended. Try again and offer something else. You will find the sweet spot if you keep offering. (I’ve noticed most every young mom loves babysitting.)
Others know if you are sacrificing to help them. They also know if you’re merely throwing them your crumbs.
One pretty young girl (we’ll call her Nichole) was not invited to be a bridesmaid in a wedding in which she thought she would be. The bride told her she just missed the cut, as she could only have five bridesmaids. Nichole was very hurt over not being asked as they had been friends for years. At first, she was offended. But with some humility and analysis, she realized maybe she had not been as good of a friend to the bride as the girls who made the cut. Maybe she didn’t deserve to be in the top five, after all, she decided. With this realization, she decided to change and become a better friend. During the wedding, she helped in many ways, such as decorating for the wedding reception and offering to put together a playlist for the dancing. At the end of the wedding, the bride and her parents thanked her repeatedly.
You see, you can stamp your feet that you’re not being lifted up high enough or you can overlook, gird yourself with a towel, and wash others’ feet by initiating for their benefit.
A girl in one of my former groups (we’ll call her Madeline) has a sister who is a professional marketer. Madeline needed some help with a brand, a logo, etc. for her small home business so she asked the sister to help. The sister was a little reluctant because she’s so busy. However, the sister acquiesced and gave her a few hours of help. I said to Madeline, “Did you offer to pay her or give her a gift for her time?” Madeline was shocked. She felt like her sister owed it to her. I said, “Your sister is very busy. I would find out how much it costs to do what she did and either pay her or give her gifts that you know she would love.” Then I added, “In all your relationships, attempt to give more than you take. It keeps relationships healthy.”
Madeline heard me. Not only did she buy her sister a nice gift certificate, but she also volunteered to babysit her kids and take their older grandmother to the doctor (which she always lets the other sister do). Her sister noticed. Madeline’s sister recently said to me, “I can tell Madeline is maturing.”
Everyone knows how much you give. Everyone knows if you do the minimum or if you go the second mile. Everyone knows if you show up, if you bring your part, and if you do your part. You are not smarter than this or too important. Sacrifice for others, initiate for their benefit, and be sure you give more than you take. This is powerful advice for tying heart strings around other peoples’ hearts and yours.
In the famous children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco, the Skin Horse says to the Velveteen Rabbit, “Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
We don’t want to have our eyes drop out. Instead, we all want to be rich, beautiful, powerful, and smart. This is because if you’re these things, then other people are naturally drawn to you and will serve you and you won’t have to serve them. But just know, they won’t truly and deeply respect you if you don’t develop a servant’s heart. Eventually, people pull away from you when they realize you are a perpetual taker.
I know of a husband who wanted to surprise his wife for her birthday. They had recently moved to a new state, so he surprised her by having two of her close friends fly in and walk in the door at dinnertime. At the time, the wife had many little preschool children and had not yet even unpacked all the boxes. She had no idea where the guests would sleep and there definitely weren’t any clean sheets on any of the beds. She didn’t have food for her guests either and of course, she had not cleaned up. In addition, she now had to entertain for a weekend and she was already exhausted. The wife put on her best smile and was a delightful host. The whole weekend, the husband thought he was the golden boy.
On Monday morning after the guests left, the wife said to her husband, “Please check things out with me before you make a grand gesture like this again.” He was hugely offended as he felt like she was ungrateful. Just remember that when you initiate for the benefit of others, you mustbe sure you givethem something they want.
I remember a woman in one of my groups telling me that she had made some Paleo pumpkin muffins with cream cheese icing for her daughter-in-law for Thanksgiving dinner since the d-in-law had recently started a Paleo diet. When the d-in-law got to the Thanksgiving celebration, she told her m-in-law that she’s now off dairy and wouldn’t be able to eat the muffins. But the m-in-law said, “How much could one muffin hurt you? I made these especially for you.” There was actually a dispute over whether the girl was going to eat the muffins! If you initiate in an area for the benefit of another, but get it wrong, be humble and try again.
Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman starred in a movie in the 90’s called, Anywhere But Here. Susan Sarandon played the narcissistic and bi-polar mother of Natalie Portman. The emotionally challenged mother bought a Mercedes she couldn’t afford and with her daughter, moved to Beverly Hills to “marry a rich man”. She enrolled her daughter—who was a sane, level-headed character—in a Beverly Hills high school with rich kids. The movie’s protagonists actually had no furniture in their apartment, only a mattress. The movie was all about Susan Sarandon’s crazy, mixed-up, dysfunctional character and how it repeatedly upset her normal 18-year old daughter. The movie ended, though, with a character growth arc for the mother. The mother actually sold her Mercedes so she could initiate for the benefit of her daughter and send her to Brown University, the school her daughter wanted to attend. The point of this story is that the heart of the daughter softened to her crazy mother with this act of self-sacrifice. We know when people sacrifice. We know when people go out of their way to truly care about us and help us.
Jesus said, “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Give one’s life for a ransom? That, my friend, is what I call initiating for another’s benefit!
Day 4, Part A
How to Think When Others Disappoint You
A young newlywed, Maureen, recently told me she was visiting her friend, Cassie. Cassie’s sister, who has a toddler, was also visiting. The toddler was a busy boy, and he knocked over a drink. Maureen said she waited for a harsh reprimand but instead the sweet mother said, “Oh dear, Johnny. Did you spill your drink? Well, that’s okay. Let Mommy help you clean it up.”
My friend then said that in her family-of-origin, if you made a mess, you were met with, “Can’t you be more careful?!” We have all learned how to react when others disappoint us—even if it’s toddlers—by watching others.
I think one of the most helpful relationship skills in the world (I’m not exaggerating) is the ability to accept other people as imperfect, fallen creatures who are ½ strengths and ½ weaknesses. People disappoint. Let’s go a step further. All people disappoint. We want others to be faithful, giving, selfless, considerate, merciful, self-sacrificing, generous, and affirming. But they can’t do all of that consistently. No one can. Eventually, everyone will disappoint you. (Actually, to be fair, I’ve heard a few stories about some parents who are almost perfect like this, but just a few.)
We have a joke in our family that the most important marriage skill is “overlooking.” That’s kind of funny, because it implies that spouses do a lot wrong things that need to be overlooked. However, if people are breathing, they are in porcupine mode, pricking each other, and offending each other.
My friend, Karen, is very good at accepting others. When we lived in the same neighborhood and walked together, she would tell me stories about what people said and how they acted. But she was never offended or resentful. I remember thinking, “Really? You put up with that? You forgave that?” She accepts people because she somehow understands that this is the human lot. (It’s no surprise to find out that her sweet mother is just like this.)
For those of you who are mere mortals and your parents were average (or below), you have to learn to think like this. You have to renew your mind (Romans 12: 2) and learn to overlook (be smoke) and forgive. Knowing your own shortcomings is extremely helpful, as well, as this helps you accept others.
One very lovely woman in one of my recent groups was disappointed with the snappiness of her 17-year-old daughter. She was starting to resent her daughter because she interpreted the daughter’s need for independence as disrespect. However, when the mother understood and accepted the daughter’s need for increased independence and thus gave her a little space, her relationship with her daughter bloomed again. (Of course you have to train children, but always treat children with meekness and kindness, not anger.)
One helpful trick for when you’re offended by someone you care about is to Flip the Coin. When you realize you’re offended, you say to yourself, “Don’t look at how you’re loved and given to. Look at how you love and give.” That’s Flipping the Coin. It’s similar to Hot Potatoes. It’s changing thoughts! (If you’ve read Lessons 1-3 in Happy School, you already know all about the miracle of changing thoughts, i.e. Moving Into Another Room in Your Brain.)
God lifts up the humble. Accept, overlook, forgive, repeat. The principle is unstoppable and unbeatable for growing close, warm, deep relationships.
If you’re appalled and think this is not good relationship advice, then you have not been soaking in the New Testament. This is exactly what the Apostle Paul taught the Colossians in chapter 3, verses 12b-13: “…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Another tip I discuss with my groups in helping them deal with difficult people is to consciously think about any way this person has benefitted you. One girl told me how difficult her mother was, but it helped her to forgive her when she remembered that the mother had paid for her college. Another woman told me how a friend had betrayed her, but she also was better able to forgive as she remembered all the information she had learned from this friend about how to set-up her new home business.
It is guaranteed that other people will disappoint you. But as Christians, we have anti-cultural advice in how to respond.
Day 4, Part B
The Power of Giving Gifts
As you know, all women love birthday gifts, Christmas gifts, anniversary gifts, Valentine’s gifts, and Mother’s Day gifts. (In Husband School, these days are called The Big Five and there is a whole chapter devoted to teaching men how to properly celebrate women’s special days. As you might already realize, husbands are often in the dark as far as how women feel about these special days. Click HERE to read more on this.)
There’s another kind of gift talked about in Husband School called SUGs, Surprise and Unexpected Gifts. These are very powerful and leave a stamp on the heart.
I remember where I was when I heard a talk by author and apologist Ravi Zacharias where he discussed the power of gifts. He said to give gifts to repair and build relationships. He said if you’ve given a gift and it hasn’t worked, then give more. Maybe he was thinking about Proverbs 18:16, “A man’s gift makes room for him, and brings him before great men.”
Just know that gifts delight, heal, and strengthen the bond between the giver and the recipient. Don’t cop out on presents, just because they are a lot of work. The Queen of Sheba brought Solomon gifts and what could he have needed? We must intentionally think about those we care about, and give them gifts. But remember, gifts must “hit.”
I remember one time when one of our sons was 9. I gave him four science experiment kits for Christmas (I thought I was grooming him to be a doctor). Later in the day, he stacked them all up, handed them back to me, and said, “Thanks but I don’t want these.” I didn’t hit the mark for sure! (That son loves music, not science. I got smarter later and bought him a guitar.)
Some people have an innate sense of gift-giving, like Elaina. She gives me workout clothes, warm, comfy jammies, non-toxic, organic perfume, and Paleo cookbooks. I feel so known when she gives me a gift. And that’s the secret, finding something in another’s heart that you know will delight them.
Don’t neglect giving gifts of service. Babysitting, dog sitting, bringing a meal, doing someone’s laundry, all make powerful deposits. One of my sons, who is in the pest control business, was recently in town for a visit. He said, “You’ve got a lot of spider webs outside. I’ll get a broom and get them down.” I think he was outside for a mere 15 minutes with a broom, but to me, it was a gigantic gift. The gift hit.
A friend of mine said her mother-in-law gives them cash for all of their gifts. This friend feels like it is terribly lazy of the mother-in-law. But to others, cash is what they want. (Cash is always the right color and size, right?) You’ve got to carefully think about the recipient.
One girl’s mother-in-law gave her a trampoline because she wanted her to lose weight for her son. One husband gave his wife a leaf blower for her birthday (I laughed out loud at this one). For Christmas, another mother-in-law gave her adult son and his wife tickets to a tennis tournament (the daughter-in-law is not interested in sports, only the son.)
Stories of bad gifts go on and on. A woman in one of my groups said, “I’ve tried to give to my daughter-in-law, but she’s so ungrateful and such a snip. I’m sick of trying.” Well, it is disappointing when someone is ungrateful, but you have to be humble. You have to try again. Take the blame for not hitting the sweet spot.
I remember Dr. Adrian Rogers telling a story about how he found out what his wife wanted for her birthday. He would recommend something and she would say, “Oh, no, I have one of those.” And then he would recommend something else, and she would say, “Oh, I don’t need that.” After these recommendations though, she would say, “You know, possibly what I’d like is…” You have to keep trying.
If gift-giving is a burden to you, then know that it is really only merely thinking hard about others, and trying to delight them. You don’t want to miss this powerful method to build affection and good will in others.
Solomon knew what he was talking about when he wrote in Proverbs 19:6 says, “Many entreat the favor of the nobility, and every man is a friend to one who gives gifts.”
Day 5, Part A
The Most Important Relationship Qualities
The most important qualities in a relationship are all cousins. They are faithfulness, trustworthiness, and loyalty.
I recently heard about a support group for Christian women whose husbands cheated on them. Even though the affairs were years ago—and the husbands have not strayed since—the women still are not emotionally healed from it. One woman said that whenever her husband is even a little late, she suspects something amiss is going on. Unfaithfulness in a marriage is difficult to forgive and extremely difficult to forget.
As you also know, stories abound with embezzlement, where employees steal from their employer. My husband and I know several business owners who have suffered from this. And if you’ve read Happy School, you know that Darby’s sister, Bailey, stole diamond earrings from the grandmother’s safe. Inexcusable, right? Again, we are all aware of how trustworthiness is non-negotiable in a relationship.
So let’s discuss a subject that is a little trickier, loyalty.
Loyalty is a strong feeling of allegiance. Loyalty is behaving like another person is watching or listening, even if they’re not there. For example, when you discuss your husband, do you ever say anything about him that you wouldn’t say if he were present? This demonstrates your loyalty. (If you need a counselor or mentor to help you think through some difficult issues, be sure to enlist ones who keep confidences.)
One of the girls in one of my groups (we’ll call her Amanda) told me that shortly after her wedding, her own mother told her brother that she, Amanda, “married above herself.” The brother told his sister this story in the presence of Amanda’s new husband. Can you imagine how embarrassed Amanda was that her own mother would say this behind her back? Loyalty is absolutely foundational to great relationships. Never say anything bad about someone whom you love and whom you want to trust you.
An older woman, Megan, told me that her brother sharply criticized her adult children (his nieces and nephews). The brother never thought it would get back to his sister, but it did. Megan has forgiven her brother, but she holds her cards up a little closer when she’s dealing with him. The brother still doesn’t know Megan heard through the grapevine what he said. (Just know that people love their children as much as they love themselves, so if you want to love someone, be sure and love their children well.)
Another area in which I often see a lack of loyalty is when wives try to draw other men’s attentions and affections. They flirt, are coy with their eyes, wear low-cut shirts, light up, and flatter other men. Most of these women are not thinking about having an affair but are merely looking for some attention. But turn this around. Would you be upset if your husband did this to other women? Loyalty is a child of true faithfulness and trustworthiness.
Proverbs 20:6 says, “Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find?” Well, what about you? Why can’t you be that faithful, trustworthy, and loyal person? It’s rare but it’s beautiful.
King Lemuel’s mother knew what she was talking about when she wrote Proverbs 31 in order to give her son some advice about finding a wife. “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.”
A noble character would always include faithfulness, trustworthiness, and loyalty. Always be sure to keep the main things the main things.
Day 5, Part B
How to Be a Great Conversationalist
(I’ve written about this before but it’s so important that I am including more information in this week’s lesson.)
Being a great conversationalist demonstrates to others that you are interested in them.
The first principle in learning to be a great conversationalist is to ask specific questions to the person you are talking to: “How is your mother doing in her new apartment?” “What school are you thinking about sending your child to?” “How are things going with that difficult client?”
A lot of people do this part well, but after the other person’s initial answers, they drop the ball. They don’t know how to follow up. After you ask a question and the other person begins to talk, follow up with some version of “Then what happened?” or “Tell me more.” This enables the person to continue talking.
Recently a friend asked me, “How is your writing going?” I was pretty excited about this topic and I gave her two or three sentences. Now she’s supposed to Hit the Ping Pong Ball Back and give me a version of “Tell me more” so I could continue talking. Instead, she turned the conversation around and started talking about her current endeavors. I remember thinking to myself, “We’re already going to talk about you?” (Haha, this gave me a good opportunity to practice being smoke and overlook an offense.)
Another important concept in being a good conversationalist is to never lose eye contact. If there are other people in the room, it’s easy to look around to be sure you don’t miss anything, instead of listening intently to your friend who is talking. But this body language demonstrates to your friend that you are not truly interested in what she is saying.
This next principle is a very difficult rule for many people. It is try to never talk more than 50% of the time. Even if you’re brilliant and as great at talking as a talk show host, other people really want to talk too (if they have a good listener). I remember a lady in my church when I lived in Virginia a couple decades ago. The woman had the gift of service, and she would offer to take my kids places and would bring me meals when I had a baby. But this poor woman could not understand why she had trouble making friends. Everyone else could see it: she talked about herself and her interests almost all of the time. “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint.” (Prov. 17:27a)
This next rule of being a great conversationalist seems obvious, but surprisingly, many mature people still do it. Here it is: don’t brag or tell stories that make you look good. Recently, I heard a man say, “Yes, I get all the exercise I need, walking back and forth from one end to the other of my six huge warehouses. Each warehouse is the size of a football field.” He was letting us know how big his business was, under the guise of getting his exercise in.
Another braggy comment is, “I wanted my birthday to be a small celebration but oh no, my children insisted on having a big catered event and buying me expensive presents. I just don’t understand why they do that.” Or another doozy is, “Everyone thinks my daughter and I are sisters. Isn’t that ridiculous? People must be blind.”
Here is something else that’s very frequently done and that’s to ask another person their opinion. Now that’s a great skill to know, indeed, and other people love giving their opinions. People who are interested in our opinions pull us to them. But often it’s done so the original question-asker can give you their opinion. You lose points as a conversationalist when you do this.
In Wife School Advanced, there is much more about being a good conversationalist under the A of Attention. (Click HERE and scroll down to Day 2 to read more.) Hardly anything is better for tying heart strings around your heart and another’s than by being genuinely interested in others and demonstrating it by being a good conversationalist.
3 Supersonic Secrets for Dealing with Those You Love or Care Deeply About
There is so much to say about relationships, but I want to leave you with 3 more secrets that always, always, improve relationships. Here they are:
#1. Years ago, I read a list of 3 words that rocked me. They are words to use when you are going to be with someone you love or care deeply about. The 3 words are words that always build—and never tear down—relationships.
The three words make up a little word, SAW: Sensitivity, Affection, and Warmth. These three attitudes of the heart open up the hearts of others. Usually, we’re in go mode, or do mode. So remind yourself before you’re with someone you truly care about, to go into SAW mode.
When you’re in SAW mode, you’ll listen better. You’ll try to understand better. You’ll express gratitude and appreciation. You’ll tell the other person what you admire about them. And you’ll do it with a softness that truly disarms others.
With your kids, it’s so easy to break into “what you need to be doing differently.” And sometimes, of course, this is a necessary conversation (said gently and humbly, of course). But as a rule, stay in SAW mode.
SAW mode is great for spouses, parents, siblings, and close friends. People can’t seem to resist SAW mode. It’s not the normal interaction most of us have, for sure. But hey, who wants to be the norm? We want astonishing, breath-taking, magnificent relationships. And people love it when you SAW them.
#2. Almost everyone is starved for admiration. I discuss this at length in Wife School but as a review, be sure and tell others what positive qualities you see in them and then give them an example to support it. A young man told me that his father pointed out to him that he had courage, because when one business venture didn’t work out, the son didn’t lay low for long, but struck out again. The young man said that his father’s encouragement stuck with him for years, and he even began to think of himself as someone with courage. Be other people’s best cheerleaders. Look for their virtue as you would search for gold. For more on how to admire others, click HERE.
#3. Be dependable. If you have said you will be there, be there. If you said you would do a job, do it. If you said you would call, do it. Day in, day out, show up, do what you said. Proverbs 26:6 says, “Sending a message by the hands of a fool is like cutting off one’s feet or drinking poison.” Never miss birthdays, holidays, or special events. Never. And don’t make excuses. Be that responsible person who the people you care about deeply can count on. Be responsible to your inner circle, even if you have to leap tall buildings.
I am quick to admit that I have not been very good at relationships in the past. But I’m willing to learn and change. Help me be humble, Lord, and apologize. I’m thinking right now of a couple people I have offended and need to go to.
And Lord, help me comprehend the power in the truth of the sentence, Death and life are in the power of the tongue. Although I have had words of death spoken over me, I now choose to only speak words of life to others.
Help me think hard about the people I care about and help me use the power of gifts to bless them.
I hate to admit how much others disappoint me, Lord. Help me Flip the Coin when I’m offended, that is, to not think about how I’m loved and given to, but instead, think about how I love and give to others.
I know how important it is to be faithful, trustworthy, and loyal. I admit I have not always been loyal with my tongue, even to those I care most about. Put a muzzle over my mouth so I never say anything bad about those I love.
And God, you’re laughing when you’re thinking about how I’m not supposed to talk more than 50% of the time. Why I talk all the time! Help me use words with restraint.
And oh my goodness, please don’t let me ever brag. It’s pathetic when I do that.
You are working on me, Lord, and I know I’m quite the project. But you love turning water into wine. I am in great need of You.
In Jesus’ name,
Questions for Group Discussions
- How good are you at asking for forgiveness? How good are you at saying you were wrong?
- Did you grow up in a home where you heard words of death spoken over you or words of life? How would you rate how you currently speak to others?
- When you initiate for the benefit of others, do you try to think hard about what they would like? Do you give what you want or what others want? Do you give sacrificially to others?
- When others disappoint you, what is your reaction? How good are you at overlooking, accepting, and Flipping the Coin?
- Do you understand the power of giving gifts? Do you give gifts for no reason?
- The most important qualities in a relationship are faithfulness, trustworthiness, and loyalty. How do you rate in all of those qualities? Do you only talk about other people as if they were standing there listening?
- How good are you at asking questions to get others to talk? How good are you at a follow-up question? Do you talk more than 50% of the time in most of your relationships? Do you brag?