Relationship Tips

By Clarissa Worley Sproul

Photo by Dreamstime

When a friend of mine asked me how on planet earth (this is no Heaven) we can find and nurture healthy relationships, a list flashed into my mind. It’s a list I’ve been making over the last fifteen years of my life. At first I thought I’d call the list “ways to build great relationships” but then I realized my list is not just made up of how-to-do-it’s. There are some very basic principles a person must grasp in order to make friendships right here in the middle of all our brokenness. Here’s a few of my faves:

1. You will ultimately treat people how you treat yourself. If you want to nurture great relationships, start with you. How do you talk to yourself? Treat yourself when you’re wrong? Are you allowed to be who you really are all the time? Are you allowed to be honest and unique? Do you value yourself? I have met so many people as a public speaker, who come across as very harsh, and then they want to know why they have trouble making friendships. Ask yourself this question: Would I long to be friends with someone like me? If the answer is no, great, now you’ve found your problem. It is probably because you have never learned to respect and love yourself as you deserve (according to the teachings of Jesus) and are therefore not at all ready to try love and respect on anyone else. If you hate yourself, it’s just a matter of time before you hate those near you.

2. Great friendships happen when we’re engaged in life. There is no such thing as building a life on someone else—even if they are your spouse. Understand this and rest assured that friendships will “save” us and make things good again. Sure it will bring joy, but I like to call it “added joy.”  In other words, if you have no life and think a friendship will save the day for you, it’s probably time someone called you a flea. I once saw a book on marriage. It was called “Two Fleas and No Dog!” Fleas suck blood and they need big, giving bodies to suck life from. Is that what you want, someone to suck the life from? (The scaring thing is that fleas usually attract fleas.)  Be honest with yourself, do you have something to offer? Are you living out life to its fullest? Will friendship be a bonus, or are you looking for a lifeline? (If you’re looking for a lifeline, that just means a good next step is a support group or a counselor.)

3. All great relationships ultimately must go through awkward times of testing and healing. Most people looking for relationships (at least the one’s I’ve met) are usually already in relationships, ones they aren’t interested in working on. This is sad because the present state of their relationships is a herald of things to come. When pressed on this topic most of these people point out that they’ve moved on when things get a bit confusing or sticky. What this means is that both parties have chosen not to grow, but instead have cast off maturing opportunities for new horizons. But there’s nothing new about new horizons. Things will all end the same. We are part of the confusion we create, and until we’re willing to stay near and work through stuff, we will recreate it wherever we go. Those who I have appreciated most in my life are people I’ve had struggles with. What we have is real mainly because we stuck it out to find our boundaries with each other and heal from our skirmishes. This is part of the price of a good relationship. We cannot grow unless we are in relationship, autonomy may make us look good, but that’s just because we don’t need any relational skills for such a life. Embrace the mess! Work through things whenever you can.

4. Be picky: There are four things I will not fudge on in friendship, thanks to a boatload of experiences.  
 

1) Honesty—I will not “try” to be close to someone with whom I cannot be candid, it’s hopeless. 

2) Kindness—life is too short to build relationships with those who are mean and will cause unnecessary pain. Sure we all act out our pain from time to time, but a kind person will minimize the damage.

3) Passion—the last thing I want to be is a life-giver to someone with no life, that would be exhausting, not to mention weird and unhealthy. I have found that people who are passionate about living are usually the people that have something to give. This means our chances of a balanced relationship are great!

4) Humility—this trait is sometimes hard for me—like just the fact that I had to admit it was hard! I can easily think of myself as far better off than I am. I don’t need encouragement. Because of this I seek out people who are real and humble because then I’ll be inspired to stay that way. And because I’m committed to this value already, it’s not hard to find such people—after all, we do not attract those we like, but those who we are like!

5). The best friendships I’ve had have always “happened” to me after I got back in sync with God. When I’ve felt needy, I’ve often repelled people. Then I can look back to the seasons in my life where I’ve had great relationships and they seem to all have come in the wake of good times with God. I believe in God. I know he is real. I also believe that if I’m in a season of few friends, either I’ve lost track of God and thus myself, or it’s a time where I need to grow in dependence on God. When lonely I usually pursue God, and when I’m full of him and the life he gives, bam! There are the lovely people I can now share my journey with. What exactly am I saying? Focus on your relationship with God, life and yourself, and deal with the issues that surface. Friendships will come. And if they don’t for a season, consider it growing time and reach out to God, learning greater dependence on him.