I’ve heard couples struggling in their marriage say, “Things have gone too far; we just can’t put it back together,” when asked why they were thinking of splitting up. Now, they were having more than what we’d call minor disagreements. But at some point they got tired of doing what it takes to help relationships grow and mature. At some point in the relationship, a fracture occurred. In time, things were said and done that turned the fracture into a canyon, and the couple wasn’t interested in one another enough to fix what was broken. There was the fatalistic “all the kings horses and all the kings men…” kind of attitude, as if that children’s rhyme was more determinative than the transforming power of God. He is, after all, a King who does have the means and motive to put things back together again.
So how do we keep from getting to the point where we and our spouse (or parent, or coworker, or friend) are on opposite sides of a mile-wide divide? Well, there aren’t any magic words to say–despite what some self-help books advise. There aren’t any cookie cutter approaches that you can use that are guaranteed to reshape and revitalize your relationships, but that doesn’t mean that you’re helpless. But even if you feel powerless to put things back together, there is still hope.
God is still active in our lives today, and He is never without the power needed to change lives. God gives us some insight into how to improve and sustain our relationships. Through the Bible, God teaches us a number of helpful techniques, if you will, that strengthen relationships and that can even help to heal relationships that we’ve broken. Again, they aren’t necessarily quick fixes or easy paths to take, but they are given to us by the wisdom of God.
- Nothing is harder on a relationship than selfishness and false superiority. Even though most relationships involve partners or coworkers with different roles, this does not imply superiority of one person over another. Our culture doesn’t believe this, but we are all created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), and that puts us all on an equal footing. If we maintain this foundation built upon the equal worth and importance of all people in God’s sight, then we have a chance to build strong relationships that can last our whole lives.
- Relationships often fail when the people in them do not communicate. This is true of romantic, familial, and workplace relationships. Those who find themselves in roles that require leadership must initiate transparency and open communication. If the communication is expected to flow only in one direction, then the relationship is already out of balance. At this point, we’ve forgotten our foundation of equality, and it will be hard to maintain reciprocal respect and trust. The answer, then, is to love each other enough to make ourselves vulnerable. That doesn’t sound easy or pleasant, I know. But what we find is that this does not diminish the power we may want in the relationship; rather, it increases our standing in the eyes of our spouse, family member, or coworker.
- The desire for power over others is narcissistic. Especially those who are biblically called to lead in relationships must exercise self-restraint and humility. Whether relationship dysfunction involves issues of husbands and wives, children and parents, or workers and supervisors, a primary route out of dysfunction involves humility and self-sacrifice. If we believe—and I do—that Jesus was the greatest leader of all time, then we should wonder why more contemporary leaders don’t follow His example. Jesus had power, but it wasn’t because He pursued it. God gave Him power, because He was obedient to God and put the needs of others before His own. Jesus did many miraculous things, but living with humility and superior concern for others requires no miraculous ability whatsoever. It does, however, require a pure heart.
- Mature relationships do not require perfect people. Sometimes people expect too much of one another. It’s okay to have high expectations, as long as we start by pointing those expectations at ourselves. That helps us realize that we all have a long way to go before we are as gracious, loving, and humble as Jesus. Also, we might remember that there is only one Jesus. Nobody else will be perfect in this life. Our spouse, parents, friends, and coworkers are all flawed like we are. So we learn to forgive. We learn to be patient. We learn to encourage more than we rebuke. We learn to lift up rather than knock down. We do these things because they are reflective of the gracious way God deals with us.
I don’t mean to give the impression that I think these four things are fully descriptive of relationship problems or fully prescriptive for relationship success. But these are important things to consider, because they are based on the wisdom of God as found in Scripture, especially in the life and ministry of Jesus. Much more could be said on this issue, because the Bible gives much more information about relationship health and reconciliation than the allusions I’ve given. If you have questions about any of this material, I’ll be happy to talk about it with you. And remember, God can put things back together, even if we think it is impossible! We just need to give Him the opportunity.
Please feel free to leave a comment here or contact me privately via my contact information on the “Welcome” page.