Building healthy relationships

What makes some relationships thrive and stand the tests of time, while others falter and fail?

paula white 88 298 (photo credit: )
paula white 88 298
(photo credit: )
Each of us lives out our life through a series of relationships. From our parents to childhood friends to our first love, our major milestones are framed by memories of relationships along the way. We remember those who were present or influential at each stage of our lives, as well as those who were absent. What makes some relationships thrive and stand the tests of time, while others falter and fail? I believe the keys to building and sustaining healthy relationships are to have a firm foundation in God and to learn to communicate. Wanting is not enough One powerful example of a faltering relationship is found in I and II Samuel - the story of David and his wife Michal. While the story offers an example of marital relations, the basic principles remain the same across a wide spectrum of relationships. In this story, we see the deep love of two people toward one another. Michal is the first love of David mentioned in the Bible. Yet for this couple, the erosion of their relationship occurred over a long period of time. Small things can eat away at relationships and cause serious rifts if not caught early. In I Samuel 18:20, we see that Michal was given to David as a great reward. But although it was an arranged marriage, she loved David greatly, and he loved her. We further see that David was supposed to present a dowry of the foreskins of 100 Philistines to King Saul for Michal's hand. Yet David brought 200, because he loved her so much. Once the couple are married, Michal risks much because of her love for David. She betrays her father by telling David to get out of the city or he will be killed. So David becomes a fugitive, hiding out in caves as King Saul makes repeated attempts on his life. Because David is on the run, Michal does not hear from him for long stints of time. Remember, there was no quick communication back then - no cell phones, no Blackberrys, no text messaging. Nothing. Can you imagine her thinking: "Does he still love me? Is he still alive?" As the story progresses, Saul dies and David is finally ready to ascend the throne. However, he will not show his face until someone brings him Michal. For 16 years, David has focused on the call of God without compromise, and yet he is willing to give it all up for Michal. Everything he fought for, everything he risked his life for was on the line for her. So we see how very deeply David loved Michal, and we are never given any reason to doubt her love for him. Their love had withstood years of stress, anxiety and separation. One would think that this marriage could not fail, right? Not so! Even the strongest relationships can fall prey to insecurities and doubt if communication breaks down, and if God is no longer the center. In II Samuel 6, Michal decides to distance herself from the presence of the Lord (the Ark of the Covenant). This shakes the very core of their relationship. Even after all those years of limited communication, Michal and David still wanted desperately to be with each other. Yet as soon as one of them chose to move away from God, all they had worked for was in jeopardy. The story goes on to describe how Michal witnessed David rejoicing before the Lord, and mistook his praise as "showing off for the ladies." Had she still been in her earlier relationship with God, she would have easily understood her husband's actions. It was as if Michal was searching for a reason to doubt David. Compound that with her new distance from God, and the relationship began to slide! Agreeing to disagree Another major issue in relationships is differences of opinion. I have seen life-long relationships end over one person's inability to accept the other's view. We think there is only one way to see things, one way to act, and one way to respond. Yet this ignores the uniqueness with which God endowed each individual. A God-centered perspective is not self-centered, and respects the uniqueness of others. Learning to listen It is no secret that the key to effective relationships is good communication. Are you an effective listener? Research suggests that even immediately after a conversation, most people remember only half of what they heard. This is not because the listener had no time; most people are cable of comprehending at a rate three to four times faster than normal conversation. The challenge is in how the listener uses their extra thinking time. Are we listening attentively, or are we just waiting for our next opportunity to talk? Two basic issues are the ability to listen to the words and feelings of others and then communicate your words and feelings effectively. We tend to care only about unloading what we are feeling, without being sensitive to the feelings of others. From the heart The real issue begins in the heart. II Corinthians 7 admonishes us to "purge yourself of all filthiness of your flesh and spirit perfecting holiness." You can clean up on the outside while filth still exists in your spirit. God wants to do a deep work in us even before He strengthens our relationships. Relationships do not fall apart due merely to differences of opinion, if God is the foundation. You must however, learn to communicate effectively, whether dealing with a spouse, friends, family members, mentors, neighbors or co-workers. What can help mend old wounds and nurture healthy relationships in our life? The Bible has much to say about how to communicate with each other: 1. Be a good, ready listener. Proverbs 18:13 says that "he who answers before hearing all the facts brings folly and shame upon himself." 2. Be slow to speak. Think first. "A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth, and a word spoken in due season - how good is it!" Proverbs 15:23 3. Don't go to bed angry; clear the offenses of each day before that day ends. "Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor. For we are members one of another. Be ye angry, and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath." Ephesians 4:25-26 4. If you are hesitant to talk about a particular issue right away, set a time when you will be ready to discuss the matter. "The heart of the righteous studieth to answer, but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things." Proverbs 15:28. 5. It is possible to disagree without quarreling. "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice." Ephesians 4:31. 6. Give a kind, calm response. "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers." Ephesians 4:29 7. When you are wrong, admit it, ask forgiveness and be open to change. "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise." Proverbs 12:15 8. When someone confesses a wrong, forgive them. "Take heed to yourselves; If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him." Luke 17:3-4 9. Avoid fault finding. "In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin, but he that refraineth his lips is wise." Proverbs 10:19 10. Honor the boundaries of communication. "He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends." Proverbs 17:9 11. When someone attacks you verbally, do not respond the same way. "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:21 12. Try to understand the other person's opinion. "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; in lowliness of mind let each esteem the other as better than themself." Philippians 2:1-3 Remaining centered on God and applying these simple tools for effective communication can help you restore broken relationships and begin healthy new ones today. Make a conscious decision to open your heart to those around you, and to see them as God sees you. (From the May 2006 edition)