Mutual affirmation. That’s one of the essential skills for open communication and conflict resolution we learned about in week two of the Northview Spiritual Growth Campaign #relationshipgoals.

In our life group that week, we talked about which area we needed to work on most in our relationships with our spouses and others. I chose this one: mutual affirmation. It’s when you work to identify the good points that your spouse is making during a disagreement and elaborate them with genuine acceptance and appreciation. We’re all really good at arguing our own case, but when it comes to really understanding what other people think and feel, not so much.

In the weekly video, Dr. John Van Epp went so far as to challenge us to think about “defending our spouse’s position, like a defense attorney.” He suggested we not just restate it to be clear we understood but to try to see things from their perspective as passionately as they do.

This principle has a much larger application than just marriages though. It’s good for all relationships, even the way we treat each other in civil discourse and public debate. Choose any week to scroll through social media and you’ll find people taking sides and yelling at each other over the latest controversy and offense. But what could we really accomplish by taking time to hear and affirm how other people feel and think? Not just trying to understand them but actually affirming their position and walking around in their shoes for a while?

In the book of James, we find all kinds of wisdom to support this idea of mutual affirmation, along with the other communication skills discussed in week two. James says we are to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19 ESV). He tells us the tongue is capable of both blessing and cursing, and “these things ought not to be so” (James 3:10 ESV). James goes on to talk about quarrels and conflicts and speaking against one another. But he also talks about confessing sins to one another and praying for each other and, maybe most importantly, humbling ourselves before the Lord and others.

Each week during the #relationshipgoals series, Lead Pastor Steve Poe has said, “Healthy relationships are the key to a relationship with God.” That doesn’t mean relationships are easy. The best relationships can require a lot of hard work in part because of what they are accomplishing in us: self-awareness, growth, maturity and humility.

And we’re going to need a good dose of that last one if we ever want to able to make our way toward authentic mutual affirmation.

Maybe it begins with this simple reminder: The next time I get to the end of my latest rant against politicians or the lady in the line in front of me or even my husband, I’m going to tell myself to try again. This time from the other person’s shoes.

Originally published on the Northview Church blog on October 12, 2017.