Cover image via Gospel Media Library.
A missionary is struggling with his companion. [This could be a spouse, a family member, or other relationship.] They don’t eat together. They don’t have companion study. They don’t leave the apartment on time. It is a struggle to work together and to teach effectively. It is difficult to feel the spirit of the work. As a mental health advisor to missionaries, my question is “How well do you know your companion?” Is there something going on with her/his family causing distress? What can you do to support them?
Sometimes, just getting to know them shows that you care and makes all the difference. You don’t have to ask intrusive questions, but maybe ask some of the following: How did you find out about the church? How did you decide to go on a mission? How is everything going back home? What are your interests? What are your plans after your mission?
When someone asks for quick advice to make a marriage work, my question is: “Does your wife/husband feel heard, understood, and validated?” Do you acknowledge their feelings and their perspective on different issues? This applies to couples, missionary companions, work colleagues, and more.
In his book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen R. Covey taught “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Whenever there are disagreements or conflicts in a relationship, it takes courage and humility to sincerely ask about and understand the other person’s perspective. It takes courage to accept feedback. It takes humility to learn how we might have negatively impacted a relationship. And it becomes essential to acknowledge our own weaknesses. It might seem counterintuitive, but acknowledging our weaknesses with our partner actually has the potential to strengthen us and to strengthen our relationships.
Do I know you? Do I really know you?
Adjusting to Missionary Life suggests the following:
- Learn to ask inspired questions.Learn and practice questions to get other people talking. Ask people about their work, hobbies, family, or personal history. Ask about what matters most to them, what they yearn for or worry about.
- Listen first.When you live with someone 24/7, you will notice some things that annoy you. You come from different backgrounds and have different expectations and “rules” for what is appropriate or normal. Your companion’s behavior makes perfect sense to him or her, even if it doesn’t to you. Find out more about how he or she sees things by asking questions and listening carefully.
- Respectfully explain what is bothering you.If you are critical or angry, your companion is likely to become defensive rather than cooperative. Explain your problem and what you need rather than criticizing your companion’s bothersome behavior.
- Be straightforward and kind. Avoid negative labels or judgments. Don’t bolster your position with long lists of your companion’s faults. Try to keep an even tone that is not angry or self-pitying (see Ephesians 4:29–32).
- Ask your companion for suggestions on how you can improve. Also ask the Lord to help you see your weaknesses (see Ether 12:27). [Please do not ask unless you are sincere about improving. An insincere request will likely cause more damage to the relationship.]
- Pray for the gift of charity. Do so “with all the energy of heart” (Moroni 7:48). Ask for eyes to see others as God sees them.
May the Lord continue to bless each of us as we strive to know and to love our neighbor as the Savior loves each of us.
[Note: The ideas and suggestions contained in these articles are designed for self-care, but they are not intended as a substitute for consultation with a qualified mental health professional. In addition, if you are experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please seek medical or mental health assistance immediately. In the U.S., call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Or use the Lifeline Chat at 988lifeline.org/chat/. Services are free and confidential.]