Assalamu ‘alaikum sisters! We are fast approaching Hajj, and if you have completed the Hajj already, one thing that may have stuck in your mind is the diversity of Allah’s creation. We have our differences, yet we stand there, in the house of our Lord, united in seeking His pleasure and forgiveness. Alhamdulillah. We may find it easy to accept the diversity we see there, but is it the same in our own households and with those we love? Often, we may find ourselves struggling to find common ground with the people we love. Recall the last time you had a real challenge convincing a loved one of your point of view on something. How did you handle the situation? Did it end with a satisfactory result for both? Or was one of you disappointed, or just gave in?
The conflicts we face amongst our families and loved ones are often the result of a lack of acceptance of the differences between us. So let’s look at some ways through which we can begin to appreciate the differences we have, with the purpose of creating more fulfilling relationships.
Remember your uniqueness
The first and most important thing to remember is that each and every human being is unique. Look at your own family for a moment and think about your siblings (or children). You have been raised (or are raising your children) in the exact same way, yet each of you is different. Notice your distinct personalities for a moment. What are the distinct differences among you? What are some of the similarities?
What makes each person unique is that each individual filters his or her life experiences through a unique lens. A person has an experience, then immediately has thoughts or feelings about it. Over time, combinations of our thoughts and feelings form our own view of the world. This is how two people can read the same book and have very different reactions to it.
The next time you are facing a conflict with someone you love, remember that they are experiencing the exact situation in a different way than you are. Do not expect them to see the situation in the same way as you do, or to understand your point of view immediately. After you become aware that you both are seeing this differently, ask the other person about their experience of what’s happening. This will be a starting point for a dialogue, insha Allah.
Complement each other
One quality of families that work well together is that they utilise the skills that each member has to offer. By learning to divide tasks and delegating, we can figure out ways through which we can utilise our differences for the benefit of all. Families are about teamwork aren’t they? One way of beginning to develop a strong team is to sit down and actually divide up the tasks. It may seem odd in the beginning if you haven’t done this before, but give it a try. Many families have a natural division of tasks, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that each person’s skills are being utilised for the most benefit. If you are finding yourself in such a situation, then it may be a good opportunity to speak up. If there’s something you really don’t enjoy or aren’t good at, perhaps your spouse can take that over, and you can take on something else. Begin by making a list of your strengths. Ask other family members to do the same. Then have a meeting and discover what you can come up with together.
Think big picture!
Conflicts with loved ones can inhibit our thinking in several ways. One very detrimental impact of conflicts is that our ability to see the big picture completely disappears. Stress or conflicts result in the fight/flight system being activated, the aim of which is to ensure our survival in the moment. Have you ever found yourself wanting to prove your point of view in the middle of an argument? Arguments can often become about us being right and proving the other person wrong. Let’s say that the other person is indeed wrong, but will proving them so give us any benefits in the long run? Probably not! Instead, the other person will feel distant – perhaps hurt and angry – for a long period of time. In order to avoid conflicts over differences in opinion, we need to develop the ability to think about the big picture. Take a moment to reflect on any relationship in your life that’s a little strained at the moment. What would you really, really want to have happen in this relationship in the long term? Picture yourself with this person, and notice how you would like your relationship to be now, and perhaps 15 or even 20 years down the line. This is your big picture. There are a couple of useful behaviours that big picture thinkers develop, one being tolerance and the other is the ability to listen.
First habit: Practice tolerance!
On a scale of 1 to 10, how tolerant do you think you are? Now that you’ve given yourself a number, ask someone close to you about how tolerant they think you are. You may find a surprise there. We may not see it at times, but we may not be as tolerant as we think we are. Recall the last time you got upset about the way something was done in your home. Perhaps things were changed when you weren’t around, or they weren’t done how you would have liked. How did you react? Big picture thinkers practice tolerance and acceptance for the little differences in attitudes of loved ones. They keep the vision for the relationship in mind and let things go. Perhaps it’s little jokes, or the socks constantly on the floor – letting things go at times helps us keep our own sanity as well as build understanding in relationships. That being said, there may be times when something can’t be let go of. Those times require a stand, so then go ahead and do so. Tolerance isn’t about accepting bad behaviour; it’s about standing up for what’s important while accepting the humanity (and differences) in other people.
Second habit: Listen!
Think back to a time when a loved one wanted to give you feedback that you just didn’t want to accept. Why was it difficult? It is human to want to justify our behaviour, especially when someone else disagrees with something we did. However, when we do this, it only upsets the other person because they feel that that their viewpoint isn’t important. Big picture thinkers are able to listen to feedback and process it in a useful way. Listening means that we truly hear what the other is saying and are able to respond with appropriate action. Listening isn’t just about being quiet; it’s about validating what the other person is expressing. For example, if your spouse doesn’t like something you keep doing, then hear him out and stop the behaviour. If you disagree with their opinion, listening and accepting what they said could be validation enough. Big picture thinkers are able to adapt to situations appropriately, keeping the value of the relationship in mind. Again, keep in mind that this isn’t about walking over things that are value or principle based. It is not about giving up your own needs all the time, which will only cause resentment. Instead it is about choosing what to do after truly hearing a different point of view. At certain points, it may be appropriate to disagree. Big picture thinkers are able to make choices according to their own values while keeping the importance of the relationship in mind as well.
I hope that these strategies have provided useful food for thought. Shifting our behaviours begins with raising our awareness. Once we discover what doesn’t work, changing it can be easier than we may first believe. I hope that these tips will be useful in building more meaningful relationships, insha Allah.
Sayeda Habib coaches sisters to help them overcome relationship issues and build more lasting and loving relationships. To get in touch with Sayeda log on to www.makelifehappen.com or email Sayeda@makelifehappen.com