Barb and I have been friends for over twenty-five years. She can ask me the hard questions and expect an honest answer. I can do the same with her. But I’ve had my share of relationships that have not turned out so well. Some have been difficult; others painfully destructive.
As a Christian counselor, I see up close the devastating consequences of destructive relationships. Families are torn apart, churches split and friendships fracture. There is nothing more important to God than authentic relationship, both with him and with others. He wants us to learn how to love well, how to forgive, how to forbear with one another’s weaknesses and, when necessary, how to speak the truth in love. This month I want to look at what healthy relationships look like and the essential ingredients that are absolutely necessary for them to flourish.
If any one of these components are not present or practiced by both people (not necessarily equally all of the time), your relationship with that person will deteriorate. If left unaddressed, it may even become destructive. In this blog, I want to talk about the necessity of mutuality for a healthy relationship.
1. Mutual caring
This may seem obvious but we may find ourselves in a relationship with someone where we are usually the giver and the other person is the taker. I’m not talking about keeping score, but in healthy adult relationships, there is a mutual caring for one another’s needs, feelings, thoughts, and/ or interests.
Even a professional relationship such as a doctor/patient there is an expectation of mutual caring. If you are sick and need an immediate appointment, you would hope that your doctor would care about that and see you as soon as possible. And your doctor hopes that you care enough about his needs to get to your appointment on time and pay your bill in a mutually agreeable way.
If you are the one always doing the giving and the other person is disrespectful or indifferent to your needs or feelings, understand that it is not a healthy relationship. Ministry is often one sided and helping others who need our care is part of God’s plan. However, these kinds of relationships rarely lead to deep friendships unless they become more mutual.
2. Mutual honesty
Not all relationships require you to take off your emotional clothes so to speak unless the relationship is an intimate one. However, all relationships thrive on authenticity so that someone gets to know the real you. Lying, pretending, twisting or manipulating words or events to make something appear one way when it is really another is dishonest. All types of deceit erode the foundation of trust necessary for any relationship to deepen.
If you are in a relationship where you can’t speak honestly about whom you are, how you feel or think, or what you want, then you, or the relationship (or both), are not healthy. Ask yourself why can’t you be honest?
Women have often silenced themselves because they’re afraid that they will cause conflict if they truthfully say how they feel. I’m not advocating that we blurt out our ugly feelings at the moment of their greatest intensity just to be honest. That’s a lot like vomit. It feels better getting it out, but vomit belongs in the toilet and not on your spouse or friend.
Instead, ask God for the right words to share what’s wrong or to confess something you’ve done. Being open and authentic builds trust and joy, knowing that you are loved for who you really are, not who you’re pretending to be.
3. Mutual respect
Like love, respect is a gift given to someone, not something he or she earns or always deserves. Each person is created in God’s image and, for that reason alone, we should show respect toward them whether or not we like them or agree with their values or behaviors. For a relationship to flourish, however, respect must go both ways.
When hard words need to be spoken, they need not be harsh. Speaking the truth in love is respectful, constructive (versus blaming, shaming or critical), well-timed, and open to listening to another person’s perspective, feelings, or opinions without criticism or indifference. Honoring another person’s boundaries, limits, and allowing differences to be freely expressed also demonstrates respect.
If you cannot safely disagree and have a constructive conflict with someone you feel close to, the relationship is not healthy.
If you recognize some of your relationships are unhealthy or even destructive, don’t give up. Do your part to turn them around by inviting and initiating healthy change. Barb and I have worked hard over the years to be transparent and honest, care for each other lovingly, and respect each other’s differences. Share your concerns and work together to change. If mutually done, you will reap the rewards of a great relationship.