Anyone who has been in a relationship has been there before. Here’s the scene:
You are having a fantastic day, enjoying life and love and happiness. But there’s that thing…that small thing that he/she did yesterday that really got under your skin. Something tells you that if you don’t talk about it, it will come up again…but you don’t want to ruin a great day or start a fight. So you withhold it.
But you were right–it most certainly does come up again. And when it does, there aren’t lovely little birds chirping in the background; it’s ugly.
Recently a friend shared with me an issue with one of his leaders. This leader had exhibited some passive aggressive behavior, and my friend wanted to know if he should dig into it, or just let it go. Everything screams at us to be the better person, to act mature, to let it go. But everything in me was screaming, no way! This is not the last you’ll hear of that issue…even if it seems silly and small, the way forward is to share withholds.
So what in the world is a withhold? I learned about this several years ago as I taught through some premarital counseling curriculum. The idea is that for very innocuous reasons we often withhold information or feelings, good and bad, that we should share. These gurus suggest that married couples share withholds weekly: 2 good, and 1 bad. As you can guess, I think this not only applies to couples, but people in any kind of close personal or work relationship.
An example of a good withhold might be, “You have picked up so much slack lately in my department. I haven’t mentioned it because of all my family stuff, but I have noticed, and I appreciate it.”
An example of a bad withhold might be, “I usually love your sense of humor, but I’m not a huge fan of when you introduce me as John’s trophy wife. I know it seems funny to you, but I would appreciate it if you didn’t.”
Now, you may look at those statements and think, what a bunch of sissies. Why do we need to make a big deal out of everything? But it’s not everything–just the things that stick, that will come up again. And as leaders, we need to provide safe and honest spaces for our leaders to communicate withholds–providing intentional times for them to share those really awesome things that we all notice but are often too busy to mention, and also guiding them in discussing issues that are simmering under the surface–in a controlled, encouraging atmosphere.
It will be uncomfortable, believe me. But it needs to happen to keep those not-so-warm-and-fuzzy thoughts from blowing up in the middle of a prayer meeting or when you’re passing out the order of service. And don’t forget that folks are receiving 2 affirming words, which can really grease the wheels so that the high challenge stuff is more well-received.
I think it is essential for leaders to provide intentionality for this kind of safe sharing to take place on their teams. Or you know, I suppose you could always be the better person and just get used to being called the trophy wife.