How to Stop Your Duck Feet from Ruining a Relationship

Two things about ducks—they look calm on the surface while their feet are going crazy. 

We’re like ducks. 

Some time ago Lisa looked at me and said, “We need to talk soon.”  I felt a surge of panic. I looked calm on the surface but my “duck feet” started scrambling. 

Know the feeling? We all have our duck feet.

I was at a local sporting goods store. The guy in the archery department gave me such fantastic service and I wanted to tell the manager. The lady at the checkout called him and said, “A customer wants to talk to you.” When he arrived I could see his face was tight. His voice was stiff. His jaw clenched. He tried to look calm but I’ll bet his duck feet were splashing around until I told him how happy I was with his customer service. 

What gets your duck feet going? For some it’s criticism. For others it’s conflict or anything that makes us feel inadequate. Failure is a big one. For a lot of guys hearing our wives say, “We need to talk,” can get the feet paddling just like it did for me that day. Truth be told, the list of things that can threaten or hurt us is endless. Our insecurities get hooked. We scramble. Our duck feet kick in and paddle so fast we don’t catch what we’re doing or saying till it’s too late. We fight or flee. We defend ourselves, justify ourselves, turn the tables on the person. In the process we hurt people.

Something I’ve realized about my duck feet—they’re all about protecting myself instead of serving the good of others. Worst of all, I’m not remembering God when my feet go crazy. I’m not believing he’s enough to sustain me in those moments of anxiety, hurt or frustration. Thank God for his grace.

Seven Steps to Stopping Your Duck Feet:

1. Acknowledge your emotions and self-talk to yourself in the moment of frustration, threat or hurt. Right now I feel . . . (threatened, angry, hurt, shame, etc.). 

2. Then pray instead of scrambling to look good or to defend yourself. God, I feel threatened, angry, hurt. I ask you to help me remember I’m secure in your love right now. I pray for wisdom to deal with this situation in a way that reflects faith, hope and love instead of unbelief and self-centeredness. 

3. Sometimes we need time to let our emotions cool down so we can listen to God. If that’s true, if you can't slow your emotional duck feet down, say to the person, “I’m struggling with what you're saying. I care about you and I don’t want to react in a way that’s unhelpful. I need a little time to get alone and pray about this. I’ll get back with you soon.”

4. As you pray and reflect on why your duck feet are paddling, ask the Holy Spirit to calm your soul. Read Psalm 131 to help you. What threatens or offends you? What are you needing right now? Believe God is with you and enough to meet that need. Choose to believe that nothing essential to your well-being is at stake in this situation since you are God’s dearly loved child. Reflect on other Bible passages that can help you center your soul in Christ (i.e., Ephesians 4:25–5:1–2 or Romans 12).

5. Research has found that we don’t think clearly when we’re anxious or angry. In fact, our thinking can be quite skewed and we therefore tend to assume the worst about the people who hurt or offend us. This is, in part, because adrenaline and cortisol surge through our bodies, urging us to fight or flee from the person or situation that has offended or threatened us. We are in a survival mode of thinking instead of a redemptive mode. Therefore, we need time to not only let our emotions cool down but we also need to admit that our perspective about the person or situation could be wrong. That kind of humility doesn’t come easy. So say it out loud a few times: “I could be wrong.”

6. Think about the person who got your duck feet going. Remind yourself they are image bearers of God. Like you and me, they, too, are broken. They need grace. They may need truth but truth that’s truly motivated by love. Ask yourself what they may be needing. Could they be hurt, afraid, frustrated or something else? What might they long for from you? How can you be Christ to them in this situation? Pray for wisdom and for grace to forgive.

7. Go. Ask questions to understand them. Allow God to use you to serve the good of that person as you surrender yourself to Him.