Have you ever been in or seen a car accident? Imagine two cars crashing in an intersection. One person is in each car and there is one person on all four corners of the intersection who see the crash. How many versions are there of the accident? That’s right, six different versions, one from the witnesses on each corner and one version from each driver. Which story is true? All six are true from their own perspective.
I don’t make very many guarantees in mental health therapy, but one thing is certain: there will be conflicts in relationships. The relationship might be between husband and wife, parent and child, brothers and sisters, friends, or even between missionary companions. It is not surprising that there are conflicts because we view things from a different perspective. The important thing is to work at resolving conflicts.
Interestingly, research by two highly respected American marriage counselors, John and Julie Gottman, discovered that 69% of conflicts in a marriage are unresolvable. What makes good marriages work is they make the marriage more important than the conflicts. And, of course, they continue to work on the conflicts over time. Bad marriages make the conflicts more important than the marriage. So, it’s important where we focus our time and energy. And Satan makes every effort to destroy relationships. He wants us to be miserable like he is. Therefore, it is important to develop conflict resolution skills that will bless you now and will bless you in your marriage and family in the future.
In Adjusting to Missionary Life (AML), there are suggestions and tools to improve our relationships with our companions, other missionaries, and mission leaders. Anytime there are conflicts, just like a car crash, we need to be humble and willing to get out of our car and see things from another perspective and, if we are truly humble and courageous, we can sit in the other car and see things from the other person’s perspective, too. Of course, the best perspective is to see and understand the other person just like the Lord sees them and knows them and loves them.
Pages 37and 38 in Adjusting to Missionary Life include suggestions for Communicating Openly with a Companion:
◼ 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. During companion inventory, 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. For example, “I have a real dislike for dirty dishes, but I also don’t like doing them all myself. I wonder if we could set up a way to share this job.” Or, “I worry you’re angry with me when you’re so quiet. Could you tell me what you’re thinking?”
◼ 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).
◼ Don’t take offense. Take suggestions, even if rudely given, with as much grace and humor as you can muster.
◼ Compliment your companion often. Thank him or her for things you appreciate.
◼ Ask your companion for suggestions on how you can improve. Also ask the Lord to help you see your weaknesses (see Ether 12:27).
◼ Try to do something nice for your companion every day. Fix lunch, listen, shine shoes, smile, hang up towels, put away dishes, write a thank-you note to his or her parents, iron a shirt, compliment him or her.
May the Lord continue to bless each of us to improve and strengthen our relationships as we serve together in the gathering of Israel and as we prepare for the Second Coming of our Savior!
[Note: The ideas and suggestions contained in these articles 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.]