There’s nothing like a tense standoff with close up shots of sweating foreheads, squinting eyes, and determined hands hovering over willing six-shooters to set up an old western duel. The two cowboys faced off, waiting nervously for that first twitch.
Relationships can be like that. The two of you facing off, waiting for the other to twitch so you can gun them down with all those word-bullets you’ve been longing to fire. All that pent up tension and disappointment can explode from the frustration that’s been boiling inside. All that anger fires off like a Colt .45 when we get pushed. Or, perhaps worse, we get gunned down because we’re just too tired to try anymore.
These ‘gunfights’ are all too common. Especially when it comes to dealing with a disconnected man you’ve been trying to get through to for years. It seems the cycle starts and circles back round to where it always ends – a misunderstanding and fight that’s got nothing to do with what you really want. And, truth be told, not what he wants either.
How do we change that cycle and avoid these fights?
I like the advice Emerson Eggerichs gives during his ‘Love and Respect’ Conferences. When couples stand off for a duel by saying, ‘I’ll be more loving if she’ll be more respectful. Or, I’ll be more respectful when he becomes more loving’, and fight over who goes first. He responds by saying, ‘The more mature one goes first.’ And by that, he is creating a pointed challenge – who is the most mature?
Another way to say this is, who is willing to sacrifice, to give up power, to yield ground, to bow his or her heart to the other? A simple word for it is humility. Who is willing to humble himself or herself and connect? This is the real test. The one who is first to ‘draw’ is the one who is ready to be humble.
When I say humble, I don’t mean ‘give in’. I’m not taking confrontation off the table as long as it’s gentle and loving. Confronting someone in love with a truly humble attitude can be the most powerful thing a person can do.
It looks like this. You have a desire to connect. And the disconnected man is happy being disconnected. In fact, he may even fear intimate connection. We’ll address both, but we’ll start with the person who has the skills to connect.
The Connected: What you have probably done in the past is to focus on your desire. You want to emotionally, relationally connect with this man you love. With this desire you’ve approached your disconnected man. Using several different tactics, you’ve attempted every way to get him to engage with you. Always to have him misunderstand, withdraw, get frustrated or angry, or turn the conversation back on you. You both then empty your guns and lay there in a pool of emotional blood.
Here’s how to change that. Approach him with a desire to meet his needs, not yours. Make him your focus, rather than what you need from him. Attempt to understand him and help him. You do this by asking him questions rather than making statements.
Asking questions means you are trying to understand. It’s a humble approach. Questions like, ‘When people who respect you at work talk to you, how does it make you feel?’ and follow with another question, ‘I really want to make you feel more respected, do you have some suggestions for me?’ and then ‘Thanks, that helps, can I do something to make our conversations less stressful and frustrating for you?’ And on like this as the Holy Spirit gives you wisdom.
Questions like these will draw your man out and help him give you insightful answers. Once you learn what approach sets him at ease, you can start building on it. Eventually you will get to ask more and more intimate questions that let you into his heart. Once this starts happening he will most likely reciprocate. Don’t be in a hurry though – use the question approach for a looooong time. Go too fast and the whole thing is likely to backfire.
The Disconnected Man: If you are a disconnected man reading this and wish to ‘draw’ first (humble yourself and attempt to connect) – get ready to be shot down a few times before your humility is recognized. Why? Because you’ve most likely deeply hurt the person who has been trying to connect with you. Their first response is to protect themselves and that means shooting first so you don’t get a chance to. You see, all they’ve ever experienced was getting shot down or disappointed by you so they are going to be very quick on the defense – don’t blame them. Be patient with them.
Be ready to admit your past sins and ask for forgiveness a lot. They will come up over and over and you’ll have to apologize over and over – without reacting. It’s ok, eventually you’ll both get past bringing up the past. Having an attitude of repentance for past hurts is being humble. Remaining humble is the only way to start to connect.
Once you’ve attempted a few times and absorbed the anger and continued to humble yourself, you may get a chance to ask some questions. The advice is the same here as it was for the connected person. You must approach the person with a focus on her desires, her needs. And you have to truly attempt to learn what those are.
Then you have to ask her to teach you how to meet them. You have to admit that you have no idea how to reach down inside yourself to give her what she needs, but you really want to learn – and you’d love it if she would help you. And then you have to wait for her to be willing AND to endure the rough things she will probably say. This is her old pain talking and you will have to listen without responding with anything but an apology. Let this last as long as it needs to.
Then just learn. That is, if she is willing to teach you. If she isn’t, find another man or a couple to teach you and wait for her to trust you again. But do everything you can to learn how to emotionally and relationally connect.
I think that’s enough for now. Pray about this advice and remember ‘A soft answer turns away wrath’ Proverb 15:1 and I think a soft question prevents wrath from exploding. Think about this approach and pray much about it before you attempt it. God will give you the wisdom you need to make a start.