Are you good at relationships?
It might depend on the kind of relationship and the people you’re in it with. There are many different kinds of relationships from family members to friends to online communities. You have relationships at work, church, school, in your neighborhood, at the gym. There are partnerships in business with professional relationships, romantic relationships and everything in between. We are engaged in so many relationships that each come with unique challenges, needs and expectations.
To make matters more complicated, there are also different kinds of relationships that we tend to prefer. Tight-knitters tend to maintain a dense social network where everyone is friends with each other and there is a lot of overlapping. Compartmentalizers have multiple cluster groups of friends which are often linked to commonalities like being in the same seasons of life, exercising at the same gym or working together. These groups can also serve different functions, distinguishing between the friends you go to for advice, for deep discussion or for entertainment. Samplers have one-on-one friendships, but steer clear of groups all together.
It’s easy to see that relationships can be complicated and messy but deep down we know that they are also deeply meaningful and satisfying. Relationships determine the direction of our lives.
What if we could get better at relationships?
One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
This proverb points to the reality that there are differences between our relationships. Some are seasonal and some are seasoned, some are safe and some are unsafe.
Seasonal relationships are, by definition, for a season. This is normal and healthy because every relationship has a beginning and an ending. If we think about it, we constantly live in the tension between new beginnings and necessary endings of our relationships.
The trick is to know which ones are seasonal and which are seasoned. Seasonal relationships exist because they are built on where two people are in life or what they do or believe. These are real but conditional relationships because once that commonality ends, the relationship does as well. Seasoned relationships are when two people are committed to each other for who they are as people and are not founded on a temporary commonality. These relationships are deeper but are also much more rare. Both types of relationships are meaningful and healthy to have.
There are also safe and unsafe relationships. You can recognize unsafe relationships by warning signs of unsafe people, such as:
People who have their own agenda and want to get something out of your relationship with them. While it comes from a deep brokenness within them, it often looks or feels like control.
People who love with condition when you do or say what benefits them. These people often use shame and guilt to get you to “earn” their love because they only give it to you if you meet their criteria.
People who always have to win and be right. These are people who think they know what is best for you and lack humility in accepting that they may not know what is best for you. Instead of complementing you, they are always competing with you in some way.
People who refuse to grow and face faults. Similar to people who always have to be right, these relationships also leave you feeling like you are the problem whenever there is an issue because the other person can’t see how their character has areas to improve as well.
People who lie to change you and control the truth. This often looks like gaslighting, where you are made to question and doubt all of your actions and conversations with the other person.
Jesus modeled safe relationships.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
–John 1:14 ESV
Jesus became flesh. He modeled what it looked like to share vulnerability with other people. This requires us to be on the same level, not looking down on people from above them but also not putting ourselves down where we’re constantly needing to prove our worth.
Jesus dwelt among us. He lived a life that other people also experienced. Safe relationships require us to have realistic expectations and for us to communicate those expectations to each other.
Jesus was full of grace. He could extend grace to others because He was confident in who He was. We cannot have safe relationships with people who are not emotionally mature enough to recognize their own need for growth.
Jesus was full of truth. Safe people provide a space for true and honest conversations. Safe relationships courageously risk calling each other up and taking about what’s real. They also require a mutual commitment to each other.
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