In my many years as a minister, I’ve performed over 500 wedding ceremonies. I believe every one of these couples had one thing in common: they wanted their marriage to work.
But guess what? They didn’t know how to communicate effectively.
All of us have the best intentions for our relationships. When our relationships are new, we expect that our futures are bright, and we anticipate all the good times ahead. Despite our best intentions, life happens.
Trust can get undermined. Feelings can get hurt. Confidences may be betrayed. Our marvelous relationship may become degraded to something that no longer inspires us or makes us happy.
What is the most overlooked but common way we neglect our relationships?
One of the ways we inadvertently neglect our relationships is by assuming our loved ones know how we feel. Often, they do not. We stop confiding in our spouses, and we speak to our children with undertones of judgment and criticism.
It’s not really how we feel most of the time, but avoidance and mistrust have replaced open communication and intimacy.
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This brings to mind an example from my own life.
I like to think that my daughter Jennifer and I have always enjoyed a phenomenal relationship. We talk several times a week. One day, when she was just starting her career, she called me on my cell phone as I was on the way to the airport. She asked me to go to the newsstand and pick up a copy of “Dance” magazine.
She told me it was important that I do so.
I was curious, and I scoured every magazine stand at the airport, but no luck. I couldn’t find the magazine. Later, when I landed at my destination, I forgot all about it.
About a week after returning home, I went to visit my mother, and she immediately plunked a copy of the latest issue of “Dance” in my lap. “Did you see?” she asked excitedly.
I looked at the page she had bookmarked. There, neat in the center, was my daughter. She beamed from the page, posing for a story about modern dance in America. I couldn’t have been more proud!
My mom and I raved about what a beautiful and talented woman Jennifer had become.
The next week flew by in a whirlwind of meetings and work obligations. At that point, Jen and I hadn’t spoken in weeks, which was unusual for us. Finally, she called me one evening.
“I need to tell you something,” she said, her voice dripping with icicles. “A month ago I asked you to look at ‘Dance’ magazine. You knew it was important to me, and yet I haven’t heard a word from you! Why?”
I cut her off, greatly relieved. “Oh honey, I did see your photograph. Grandma had a copy of the magazine. We are so proud of you. We went on and on about how wonderful you are.”
“But how could I have known that? I didn’t hear you say that. I thought you forgot about me — that everything and everyone else was more important than me.”
Jennifer was absolutely right. In my “busy-ness” with the outside world, I had neglected her. I needed to tell her and show her how much I cared. Instead, I assumed she knew how I felt.
This situation heightened my awareness of how easily we can let a precious relationship slide. Whenever trouble arises — and it always does — it’s an intersection where two paths diverge.
If we take a path of resentment and avoidance because we are busy or feel hurt, our relationships can erode and become broken over time. If, however, we choose a path of love, warmth, and caring, we can make our relationships stronger.
There’s nothing more powerful than learning how to communicate effectively, taking the time to speak what’s in our hearts, and letting our loved ones know how we feel about them. The way we feel about one another is not meant to be a well-guarded secret. Saying, “I love you” to a spouse or child each morning speaks volumes.
We are spiritual beings having a human experience. At times, our human nature may pull us toward doing neglectful things. Most of us expend more energy complaining about a messy room or an unpaid bill than letting those who are precious to us know how much we care about them.
Ask yourself: does your loved one know that your love is unconditional, or do you merely assume they know?
Do you sometimes get so busy that you miss opportunities to demonstrate your love? Do you simply forget to offer words of encouragement, support, and affection?
Fortunately, we also have a Divine side to our nature — a side that never assumes that others know how we feel. It allows us to always be generous with love and compassion.
Our Divine side reminds us to speak from the heart and never let a day go by without putting love first.
Mary Morrissey is an international speaker and best-selling author. She is the founder and owner of Life Mastery Institute, the premier training center for transformational coaching.