In a few weeks I will have opportunity to perform a wedding for my nephew and his bride-to-be. Next week I meet with them for pre-marriage counseling and one of the first things I will emphasize is their relationship. Relationships can live or die. When marriages and friendships go wrong it is because the relationship is either terminally ill or has already expired. Instead of dealing with relationship issues, most often attention is placed upon the people involved rather than the relationship itself.
What is a relationship? The online Merriam-Webster defines it as “the way in which two or more people, groups, countries, etc., talk to, behave toward, and deal with each other.” When prescribed or mutually agreed behavior, or set of behaviors changes, a relationship dies.
Unfortunately, we see the death of all kinds of relationships daily. It may be between friends, between siblings, between parents, or between nations. The idea of permanent or long-lasting relationships seems to be out of fashion, so it may seem human beings are incapable of forming satisfying relationships.
Many things can cause the death of a relationship. One is that the relationship has never been defined and behaviors are assumed that do not exist.
One young bride was upset with her new husband because he did not put the garbage can out on Thursday morning. That had been the weekly task of her father and she assumed all husbands took garbage out on whatever morning it was collected. This expected behavior was never discussed and it caused an early rift in the relationship. This is why pre-marital counseling is so important.
A second cause is failing to realize that people change over time. This means relationships will change as well. The beauty queen may not always be a beauty queen. The star athlete may lose his physical strength. Others may not always hold the person everyone liked in high esteem. Wealth may be lost. Can the relationship be sustained when natural change occurs? Certainly, we bring a lot of baggage to any relationship, but that baggage needs to be put out on the table insofar as we can, to recognize it and deal with it. Over the long haul, can we live with what is being brought to the relationship? Can we deal with the changes our partner(s) and we will experience?
One difficulty in developing good relationships is the polarization of our thinking. People, groups, and nations tend to expect everyone else to think, believe, and act like they do. Surprise, surprise! They don’t.
So relationships are based upon unspoken and unwritten assumptions. Anger and rejection results when we discover the “other” is either not like us and or is not what we assumed him or her to be. Often these feelings are felt because the different behavior injected into the relationship is thought to be an act of betrayal instead of hidden issues that have never been discussed.
A good relationship can be had if a few basic issues are resolved, such as: Why is a relationship wanted? What is expected in the relationship? Who will be involved – friends, family, previous children? How will the relationship be lived out day-by-day? Can I live with the failings of others in the relationship? Can personal freedom be maintained in the relationship?
No commitment is necessary for a one-night stand, but a commitment is necessary in order to have a long-lasting relationship. Perhaps it is the fear of commitment that undermines the start of a relationship.
Maintaining a healthy relationship requires a periodic review to determine what expectations exist, how well those expectations are or are not being fulfilled, and what behavior changes will be made by everyone involved that will help sustain relationship health.
I see the debris left by broken relationships every day. I experience and have experienced my own painful break in relationships. We must value a relationship enough to make it work. My wife and I had a long-lasting relationship. It was stormy at times for we did not do what I have suggested here until late in the marriage. No one helped us see what was involved in a marriage relationship and what it would require. We valued the relationship more than we valued our personal likes and dislikes. We did not always understand or agree with one another, but we learned to accept each other’s warts and differing ideas.
The first time we evaluated the relationship it was a painful experience. I thought I was doing everything right. To my dismay, I was not. Was I willing to make changes necessary for the marriage to last? Yes, but it was not easy.
The biblical word for “love” means to put the needs of another before one’s own need, to sustain and care for that person without considering any return to one’s self. That is the word Jesus used when he said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” A relationship can live and thrive if we love with this kind of love. A relationship can be saved.