Happy Valentine’s Day!
On this day about love, I want to share how to make your love stronger through conflict. Sounds strange, right?
Over the last few months, I have been blessed to go through the Relational Skills in the Bible book with some friends as a Bible Study. This time has been such a gift of fellowship, skill practice and diving deeper into God’s Word. In our final lesson last week we explored a passage in the book of Revelation and discussed how Jesus used “Envelope Conversations” or “Relational Sandwiches” to address some difficult issues with the churches. We then practiced this interactive relationship life preserver in our small groups.
So you might be wondering, “What is an Envelope Conversation, and what does this have to do with love?” You also might be asking yourself, “What can she possibly mean by using conflict to draw us closer to the people we care about?”
In answer to the first question, Envelope Conversations are a concept introduced in RARE Leadership (also called “Relational Sandwiches” in the book, Joy Starts Here). They are a way of helping us approach a problem with a loved one in a way that will maximize the chances for a positive outcome. Envelope Conversations also help us remain in a relational mode in the midst of potentially difficult conversations.
An Envelope Conversation or Relational Sandwich has three parts (from Joy Starts Here, page 173):
- Importance of relationship (historic)
- Current event (problem)
- Importance of relationship (relational outcome)
This flow helps us start and end with the relationship and put the problem in the middle. We begin by acknowledging how important the relationship has been and continues to be to us, then discuss the issue, and finally end with our expectation of an even better future. By starting and ending with the relationship, we can better keep our relational circuits online and better help the person we are talking to stay in relational mode.
Even though this tool has been around for some years, I confess it is a resource I have under-utilized. I simply forget to use it! So, after having a refresher in our group, I decided I was going to be intentional about using this pattern in my interactions when I needed to talk about problems. I began to look for opportunities to put Envelope Conversations into practice over the weekend.
Before the night was out, I found my first opportunity to talk with my husband, Chris about a problem I observed. He recently returned from a long and busy trip, and in his fatigue, I noticed he was interacting with the kids in a way that was not increasing his joy. While it felt a little clumsy at first, I stumbled through, and I felt pleased with the outcome.
Here is how this Envelope Conversation looked. I will break it into separate pieces so you can see how they fit, but when I shared these with my hubby, it was a continuous conversation:
- “My love, I appreciate what a loving husband and father you are, and how you delight in spending time with the boys and hanging out together.”
- “I noticed tonight that you repeatedly asked them to calm down and to quiet, but you forgot to follow through when they did not settle down as you had hoped. The boys continued being loud and rambunctious, and now you are frustrated.”
- “I look forward to seeing how you creatively handle these moments in the future in a way that strengthens your connection with the boys.”
The next day another opportunity presented itself with my husband, and this time it concerned a moment he had inadvertently hurt my feelings. This interaction felt very satisfying for both of us, and because of the relational tone of the conversation, I was able to share what robbed my joy (this was my hurt). I noticed Chris remained open and receptive to me throughout the discussion. I felt understood. By the end of the conversation, we both felt closer together. We felt seen, valued and understood:
- “Dear, I am so thankful for your love for our sons and me. You are a loving and devoted husband, a father who desires to have meaningful connections with us all.”
- “I know you have been missing the boys because of your busy traveling schedule. You really want to connect with them before you leave again later this week. My feelings were hurt that you decided to change our date today into a family day so you could connect with the boys. I am feeling unimportant to you because you have not given me an alternative time to reschedule our Valentine’s Day date. This makes me feel like I am not a priority to you.”
- “I look forward to working this out with you and seeing how God uses this moment to draw us even closer together.”
While a good outcome is not a guaranteed result of using an Envelope Conversation to address a problem, this resource ensures you and the person you are talking with have the best chances of staying in relational mode.
Although both of these examples are with my husband, I have also used Envelope Conversations with friends, co-workers and other family members in the past. One of my favorite things about this method is how it makes me think through what I appreciate about the person and remember what I value about the relationship.
Let’s be honest. When we are navigating pain and problems, it can be all-too-easy to forget what is important. Reflecting on this appreciation also helps my brain’s relational circuits come back online if they have dropped off in the face of my frustration or anger about the issue. This is a great way to “keep the relationship bigger than the problem” while still addressing the problem. Another benefit of starting with what you value about the person and the relationship is that it can help the listener maintain their relational circuits during the discussion as well.
When we remain in a relational mode as we interact about a conflict or a problem with those we love, we are likely to feel closer to them because both of us feel seen and understood and can see that what is important to us is also valued by the other person.
Who can you start using Envelope Conversations with to address a problem or conflict that is robbing your joy? What do you value and appreciate about the relationship with that person? What would you like to see the future of the relationship look like? Here is your chance to give a loving invitation for deeper fellowship.
For practice with this incredible tool, I encourage you to check out the new resource, Relational Skills in the Bible. Our group loved it so much we decided to go through a second time!