Communication key to relationships

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson

My father was a great old story teller. He often kept a street full of us children enthralled by his tales of country life when he was a young man.

How a farmer shot at him, albeit from what he thought was a ‘safe’ distance as the young Billy Harbinson and his mates were ‘fogging’ the apple orchard. Or how when he was a teenager walking home along the road at midnight, he came to a part of the road that was tree lined, and he was afraid, until a big black dog stood beside him and walked with him until he had no longer reason to fear, only to vanish as quickly as it appeared.

He told of a neighbour who had a glass eye, and he would take it out and use it to peep around the corner.

In later life, when my father was pastor of a little church in Belfast, he kept the little congregation riveted, using his stories as vivid illustrations. It seemed to me strange that the only person who didn’t enjoy his story telling was my mother, but then she had heard them all before, only they grew with the telling.

One of his stories came to mind recently when I heard one of Churchill’s sayings: ‘In my life, I have had many problems, most of which never happened.’

An old boy was driving along the road on a dark and miserable winter’s evening. It was late, when suddenly there was a bang, and the car swerved to the left: he’d got a puncture. He hopped out to get the jack and spare wheel, but there was no jack.

Scratching his head, not knowing what to do, he spotted a distant light from a lonely farmhouse. That was his only hope. So he set off at a purposeful pace, but as he drew nearer he began to think, maybe they’ve all gone to bed and forgotten to turn an outside light off. It was in the 1950s and the IRA had still not given up its ‘Border Campaign’. Maybe the farmer will think I’m a terrorist. When I knock on the door he might set his dogs loose.

And his thoughts turn into a series of deep fears, but he had no alternative but to press on. What else could he do?

On the other hand, the farmer might be a kindly man, I mean I’m only asking for the loan of his jack. But what if...?

He knocked the door several times until he could hear movement from inside. Slowly, the door opened, and as an angry face appeared he was gripped by terror, and as he turned to run, perhaps for his life, he heard himself yelling, ‘You know what you can do with your jack!’ and he disappeared into the darkness.

Hilarious at one level, but can’t life a bit like that at times? I know that in my work life, and in my married life too, most relational difficulties are rooted in misunderstandings, or poor communication. I think she is thinking this, and she thinks I am thinking that.

It’s an issue that can be solved quickly and easily when it is confronted and dealt with, but there are times when conflict can last for years, so that even if and when the matter is explained and the misunderstanding laid bare, it’s too late. Relationships are terminally damaged and friendships torn apart. The answer is simple: maintain clear lines of communication – it’s good to talk.