What To Do When There are Companionship Problems
Almost all full-time missionaries will have trouble getting along with at least one companion during their mission. Of course, the requirement to be together 24/7 makes it especially difficult when this happens. Prayer is an important part of dealing effectively with these kinds of situations; but also consider the following six suggestions:
1. See this as an opportunity, not an impossible situation. As silly as this might sound, try to look forward to the next time your companion does something particularly galling. Why? Because you will then have a great opportunity to learn to be more forgiving, to develop that celestial quality required of all disciples. After all, isn't that one of the important reasons we are here in this imperfect world? This kind of growth is especially likely if you are patient and forgiving even when your companion doesn’t deserve your forgiveness and/or keeps offending you in spite of your pleas to stop.
2. Don’t try to fix your companion. This will add to your frustration and negative emotional involvement; and also make things worse for your companion. You are responsible for how you think about and treat your companion. You are not responsible to fix the oh-so-obvious problems that your companion has. Just look for your partner's strengths; which may be hard to see; but are likely there if you keep looking long enough. You can also do nice things for him or her—whether your kind treatment is deserved or not. All of this can be greatly assisted if you pray for the gift to see your companion as your Heavenly Father does.
3. If your Mission President or others remind you that you need to love your companion, assume that they mean that you should be kind and loving in your treatment of him or her; not necessarily that you should have warm-fuzzy feelings for the person who keeps offending you. Having warm, positive feelings might not be possible in the situation; and those feelings aren't necessary—assuming that you treat your companion in a loving way. Scriptures such as D&C 121:41 do talk about the need to have "love unfeigned"; however, that can happen anytime we willing offer others our forgiveness and kind treatment; even when we don't particularly like the other person or enjoy their companionship. "In fact, isn't that what it means when we are instructed to "love our enemies" (Matthew 5:44)?
4. Use “I” messages to voice your concerns; not a “you” message: e.g., “I am having a problem with (be specific) and I need your help”; not “You have a problem and you had better fix it.” In Section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants it is suggested that when we have a problem with someone else we handle the problem by "Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy" (Verse 43). "Sharpness" in this scripture probably means with clarity and sharp focus; not biting or demeaning language. Let your companion know the specific kinds of things that bother you; not just general complaints. For example, share an instance when something important you say is disregarded; not a general "you never listen to me". "Betimes" in Section 121 is a term not used much any more; but means "quickly". It helps if you give examples of offense as close in time to an instance of the problem as emotions and the situation will allow. Also, it means to be quick in describing your complaint. Long-winded explanations and/or lectures will make everything worse. Lastly, "only when moved upon by the Holy Ghost" suggests the need to be selective and prayerful regarding when to complain to a companion. Oh, and of course, don't forget that last part of the quoted verse. Make sure you "show forth afterwards and increase of love".
5. Don’t insist that justice be served or the situation be fair. Forgive no matter what. Requiring justice will almost always block our ability to forgive. (See the blog entry on forgiveness on this site for more detail.)
6. Keep reminding yourself, over and over, that this situation is temporary. This will make an interesting chapter in your mission experience; but assuming that you handle it well, it will have zero negative impact on your eternal future. In fact, it won't need to be an issue in your life at all, ever again, after the few weeks until your next transfer.
7. When it feels like you are at the limit of your ability to handle the situation, it makes sense to discuss it with your Mission President and/or another mission leader that you trust. However, don't make it a gripe session about your companion. Try to focus on getting ideas that will help you cope. Of course, all of this assumes that you have been sharing the problem with your ultimate Mission Leader through prayer all along.
With the right perspective and the help of the Lord, you can do this. Except for advice on how to handle your part of the companionship problem, involve mission leaders only if inspired to do so. And when you are finally assigned to a different companion, no shunning or “bad-mouthing” your old one. Taking the high road is seldom the easiest, but always the best option.
Dr. Gary G. Taylor