Relationships are hard work. Some days it seems impossible to get along and love each other well. There are a lot of reasons why relationships fail. Our communication can tear us apart, but God gives us a means to enhance our speech. There are five distinct reasons why relationships fail and four relational means to enhance and protect.
Signs of Relational Failure
Criticism: We will always have complaints about the person we live with. There is a big difference between a complaint and criticism. A complaint addresses a specific action. A criticism adds something negative about the person’s character or personality.
Complaint: “I’m really angry that you didn’t sweep the kitchen floor last night.”
Criticism: “Why are you so forgetful? I hate having to always sweep the kitchen floor when it’s your turn. You just don’t care.”
A complaint focuses on behavior, a criticism is a character assassination.
Biblical View: Ephesians 4:29, Attack the problem not the person.
Contempt: Types of contempt are sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. This poisons a relationship because it conveys disgust, contempt, and leads to more conflict.
Contempt: “Just look at the difference in our cars and clothes. I think that says a lot for who we are and what we value. I mean, you tease me about washing my truck, and you go and pay somebody to wash your car. We’re paying through the nose for your car, and you can’t be bothered to wash it. I think it is outrageous. That’s probably the most spoiled thing that you do.”
Biblical View: Proverbs 19:13 “A foolish son is destruction to his father, and the contentions of a wife are a constant dripping.” Proverbs 27:15 “A constant dripping on a day of steady rain and a contentious woman are alike.”
Defensiveness: Defensiveness escalates the conflict. It is a way of blaming someone else.
Biblical View: Genesis 3:11, “And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” And the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree and I ate.”
Stonewalling: This behavior disengages from the conversation and turns away to avoid a fight. The negative spiral of conflict becomes overwhelming which causes the person to “check out.”
Rita: “If you would control your drinking at parties.”
Mack: Looks down, avoids eye contact, says nothing. (stonewalling)
Rita: “Because I think (laughs) for the most part, we get alone pretty well (laughs).
Mack: Continues to stonewall by remaining silent, makes no eye contact, head nods.
Rita: “Don’t you think?”
Mack: No response
Rita: “Hello, Mack?”
Flooding: People stonewall as a protection against feeling flooded. Flooding is feeling defenseless against the negative onslaught. The person will do anything to avoid a replay. They can become hypervigilant and look for cues of when the person is going to “blow up” again. All they can think about is protecting themselves, so the only defense is to disengage emotionally from the relationship.
Intimately Familiar: If you don’t know someone can you love them well? Intimacy means knowing each other’s deepest longings, beliefs, and fears. Make it a priority to be familiar with your loved one’s life, know the major events in their history, keep updating the information as the facts and feelings of life change. Get to know their worries, dreams, and hopes.
Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration: Fondness and admiration are two of the most crucial elements in a rewarding and long-lasting romance. Happily married couples may feel driven to distraction by things in their partner’s personality, but they still feel they married a person who is worthy of honor and respect. Fondness and admiration are antidotes for contempt. You behave toward someone as you think about them.
Proverbs 23:7 “For as he thinks within himself, so he is…”. If you maintain a sense of respect for your mate you are less likely to act disgusted with them when you disagree. When you acknowledge and openly discuss positive aspects of your partner your marriage bond is strengthened.
Turn Toward Each Other Not Away: Real life romance is fueled and kept alive each time you let the other know they are valued during the grind of everyday life. Relationship grows in the simple things, as in when the wife says, “Are we out of shampoo?” And the husband says “I don’t know. Let me go get some just in case.” He does not shrug apathetically. It grows when you know your mate is having a bad day at work and you take a few seconds to send an encouraging text. This is two people making a choice to turn toward each other. Philippians 2 sets the example: we are to put the interest of others before ourselves. Couples who move toward each other remain emotionally engaged and stay together.
Let Your Partner Influence You: The happiest and most stable relationships are those where the husband treats his wife with respect, does not resist power sharing, and decision making with her. When they disagree these husbands actively search for common ground rather than insisting on getting their way.
Honoring and loving each other is what accepting influence is all about. May we live as Christ commanded, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” (John 13:34-35).