Greetings and welcome to my blog post. My intention for this blog space is talk about how we do relationships. How do you relate to people? What are your thoughts, feelings, attitudes, approach or even avoidance when it comes to how you relate to people? Whether the person in your life is a spouse, sibling, friend, child, parent, or co-worker, etc, it does not matter, to live life is to face the reality of dealing with people.

In my last four-part blog post series, I invited you to consider what ingredients you are not willing to put into building healthy relationships. (If you have not read this series, I would invite you to read this). In this new four part series, I want to invite you to consider some necessary healthy relationship ingredients that I know will greatly improve your relationships. Just like the song states: “Just A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down” is also true when it comes to participating in these four ‘healthy spoonfuls’ to help make your relationships work. The first three ingredients that I am asking you and imploring you to pursue are Reliability, Availability and Responsiveness. The last ingredient that I know will help your relationships grow is Clarification.


Think about a recent conversation you had with someone important in your life. When you walked away from this conversation, did you feel understood by this person? Did you feel that this person got you and understood where you were coming from? Did you feel this person wanted, desired and intentionally pursued you for the purpose of wanting to know and understand your words and feeling in what you were trying to say?

Clarification is so important to our communication. To communicate means that one person is communicate to be heard and the other person does desire to hear and listen. But it is so easy to hear words as noise. If in your most important relationships all you hear is noise when someone is talking, then you really are not trying to listen and desire to understand and clarify where someone is coming from and what someone is feeling or thinking.

For example, let’s consider Tom and Mary. Tom looks over at Mary and senses that she has a look on her face or he senses from her silence that something is wrong. He reaches over to grab her hand but she is cold. Tom recognizes there is a problem. Tom asks, “Are you okay?” Mary replies, “I can’t believe you.” Tom asks, “Are you mad at me again? What’s the matter?” Mary answers with a cold angry tone “Well, what do you think!” Tom asks again, “Did I do something again to upset you?” Mary replies, “Can you just drop it? I just don’t want to talk about it.” Tom responds with anger this time, “Fine, if you want to be in a bad mood, go ahead. You are so moody. So unpredictable! I just don’t know why you get so angry all the time. Help me understand why I irritate you so much or what does push your angry button?”

Tom is seeking clarification. He is wanting to find out what is it about his wife that causes her to be so angry. He is wondering and seeking clarification concerning why she is angry and wondering if there was anything he had done to contribute to her feeling angry. Tom knows that initially he is reacting with defensiveness and anger himself. He feels attacked as well and he is angry that she is angry. These are the moments in which there is time right now to seek clarification. In these early moments of an argument, if one person does not seek clarification, then resentment and silence will ensure. Now is the time to pursue clarification.

You see, when we clarify we are doing all three of the healthy ingredients that I had mentioned in this 4-part series: Reliability, Availability and Responsiveness. As we all participate in these areas, we are seeking to clarify because we are wanting to know and understand one another. To clarify is to find a way to reconcile and restore a broken or disconnected relationship. As we all do this, then the intensity of the hurtful relationship can be restored so as to quickly get back to a connection.

So now is the time for Tom and Mary to figure out a way to resolve this conflict. Sure Mary is mad about something. And as a spouse, Tom is wanting to reach out to her and deescalate any anger or hostility on her part. On one hand, he does not like his wife to be angry and on the other hand he does not want his wife and her anger to attack him or accuse him.

He goes into proactive mode to clarify what is going on with her rather than defensive mood to move away from her. Tom is wanting to find out what is wrong with her, not for sake of fixing her, but asking for the sake of clarifying. It is up to Mary to decide if she wants to seek honesty or defensiveness.

So, Mary tries something different: She turns to honesty and wants to talk about the problem, and not attack Tom. So she says, “I am sorry, Tom. I am not mad at you. I am sorry that whenever I get angry, you seem to assume that you have done something wrong. But that is not the truth. I am angry at your mother as she made some hurtful comments to me today. But I can see why you would get upset when I get angry given that I have attacked you in the past. So, I want to clarify, it is not you. It is my hurt regarding a comment from your mom.” Tom quickly realizes that it is not about him nor is she out to get him. So he does the wise thing: he replies with empathy and understanding. “I’m sorry about what my mom said to you. I didn’t know you two had talked today and she had hurt you with her comment.”

As a result of this communication, both Tom and Mary are seeking to clarify so the two of them can get back to a connection. Because they both are doing this, they are seeking more information in order to make it an opportunity to exchange perspectives and to consider each other’s concern. By doing this, each spouse is clarify for the sake of caring so that each person is feeling comforted in knowing that each person is wanting a connection.

So seek clarification in your most important relationships. As best you can, do it face to face and as quickly as possible. Try to avoid doing this through a twitter message or an E Mail. A phone call is okay but face to face is best. Because doing this face to face is a chance to spend the most amount of time attempting to understand each other and respond with care and understanding so that each person can get into each other’s world and provide the love and support each partner is needing.

Phil Kiehl, LMFT, M.Div.
Licensed Therapist

P.S. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what ingredients you would put into building a healthy relationship. Share your comments and share this article with others. Thanks.