Elephants Can Muck Up Relationships

“Elephants” are just unresolved issues that can easily be solved when they are in their infancy and  not ignored. Here is my take on dealing with these rascals, in what I call, “Relationship 101”.   I think this lesson can be used for all stages in life, for any age group, and at any time, because truth never changes.  Having tools to handle the Elephants that sneak into our lives can help us  have a happier and more rewarding experience  in our journey called life.elephants4

A young friend came to me asking for advice this week.  She and her significant other had gotten in the habit of arguing about little stuff, and she wanted to figure out how to improve their relationship.  I asked her to give me an example. One word in her description told me what was going on.  They had an elephant in their relationship. Her boyfriend had asked her for help with a problem, and her response had triggered the elephant.  She had said, “Oh that is easy to solve.”  He felt silly, stupid, and was hurt by the word “easy”, because it clearly did not seem easy to him, but he pretended he was not hurt.  She sensed something was wrong, and when she asked what was amiss, he said “Nothing”. Their interactions were then negatively affected.  The elephant had colored his “lens”.  He was seeing and reacting to everything through hurt.

The solution I suggested was  for them to sit down and discuss ways of being more honest with each other about their feelings, and not to cover up “hurt”, because  it could affect their relationship.  Unresolved feelings never go away.  They fester, finally go underground, and get so buried that they are hard to uncover and solve. I suggested that they come up with a way to deal with hurt feeling that would honor both of them. Sometimes hurt can be so deep that some time needs to pass before it can be talked about.  Postponement is a great option when a cooling off period is needed, as long as the problem is acknowledged, and a time is set to address the issue. I call this, “Putting the back burner to good use”.

Another option, which I personally love, is writing down thoughts and feelings, in an honest manner, then share with one another.  The reason I like writing is because it takes some thought.    I alway picture God looking over my shoulder when I write, so for that reason, I don’t want to write baloney or garbage.  When I say “Writing” I am not talking about texting, or doing it on a computer.  Hand writing connects to the brain in a way no other option does.  I think it reaches the heart of the matter, and many sides of a problem surface, and become more clear.

Next I shared a story about how a counselor helped a couple, with deep-seated resentments in their relationship, reconnect.  The couple was living with so many elephants in their lives. They couldn’t even remember when  the critters snuck in, or even identify the problems that let the animals invade their relationship. This gifted counselor  told them  to spend a week writing down everything they disliked about one another and bring the list to their next couples appointment.  Their session began with them taking turns reading their list out loud, one entry at a time, until all dislikes had been read by both.   When all had been shared the counselor brought out a HUGE PAIR OF SCISSORS.  The couple took turns cutting their list into shreds over a metal garbage can.  The councilor then asked if they were willing to let the “dislikes” go?  When they both said yes the councilor struck a match and dropped it into the metal trash can, and all three watched their “dislikes” disintegrate.  I explained to my young friend that the couple in my story had gotten to that point by not addressing the elephant/problems when they happened.  They had allowed  baby elephants to grow into giants.

Another concept I threw out was a model that has a powerful visual. I asked her to picture herself driving along and  coming to a fork in the road.  One choice would take her to her destination,  (solving the problem), the other would take her back to the begging of the fork in the road, (still having the unresolved issue). The point of this story was that there are choices in life, and if you take the path of solving a problem you can get on with life and your relationship.  The wrong choice creates a useless attempt to get past a hurdle that needs a resolution and will probably reappear in the future creating an endless loop effect.  The right path offers growth and in-site,  the second is a cop-out, so to speak.

Resentments are like weeds found  in a pristine garden. If left unattended the weeds can take over.  Relationships are like gardens that need that same attention.  One quick way to weed, that I think is a powerful tool for getting rid of hiccups in relationships, or solving other problems that bounce around in one’s mind,  is what I call, “The toilet bowl solution”.  Write down the concern or issue on a big piece of paper. Think about the outcome you want.  Do you want to work on it,  or make it go away and out of your life? It could be a feeling, emotion, or thought.  ANYTHING. Then tear it up in as many pieces as possible, then toss the  pieces in the bowl and flush.  Bingo,  a visual that helps get rid of flack.

My young friend liked my ideas and suggestions.  I told her they were thoughts to ponder, and that there were many more options floating around in the universe, but these were my favorites.  Life is full of trials and tribulations. I think tools for solving problems are needed along the way to help our journey go more smoothly in this trip of a life time. I hope I conveyed the idea, with my stories, that the sooner a problem is addresses the easier it is to solve.  That was my intent. If this couple uses my ideas, or come up with their own fine tuned fixes that fit their needs, they will have a bright future.  I wish them God speed.

About Martha (Marty) Dickson Patterson

Marty: Retired from sales and management near Seattle, Washington.
This entry was posted in Cause & Effect, emotions, Friendship, Problem Solving, Therapy writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Elephants Can Muck Up Relationships

  1. ahuelon says:

    Thanks for your kind words. I knew this one would not capture your heart but you would give me high marks for writing well. The reason I like to throw in a piece on ways to improve communication now and then is to offer tools for improvement. The only way to stop spitting out snowflakes is for the concept of family to change. Parents need to reconnect with their purpose and teach their kids a strong foundation of values by example. I think people all across the spectrum have lost their way in communicating and yelling has replaced healthy debate. When society tries to screw their kids up they need tools to debate that don’t turn their rebellious children off. Also kids are damaged when they grow up in a family full of turmoil (Elephants in the room). Kids learn what they see and live opposed to what they hear. Parents are the first domino in the long line that kids will experience and healthy communications lead to healthy relationships and are one of the biggest tools a parent can have. Words sometimes lead to both positive and negative actions so maybe they are as important as actions because they are closely linked.


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