Healthy relationship skills are foundational for successful and healthy leadership. Over the past months, we have experienced a progressive relaxation of social restrictions. We have begun to breathe more serenely. Many of us had been confined to mostly relating with those living under our roofs. Unfortunately, this isolation revealed some unhealthy relationship patterns.
Although social studies indicate that happiness is closely connected to the quality of our relationships, many of us have failed to establish close enough relationships to reap the wellbeing or happiness we so much desire.
God created humans to desire to love and be loved. Christian psychologists Hemfelt, Minirth and Mier tell us this legitimate need is innate in every newborn infant and that it must be met from cradle to grave. "When children are deprived of love, they will bear the scars for life."1 Some of these scars are often seen in the unwise and often destructive decisions we make as we attempt to acquire significance, respect and admiration from others.
This emotional deprivation can occur in many ways. The most common come from well-intended and distracted parents with personal or work concerns. It can come from parents who didn’t know how important it was to engage and connect emotionally with their children to support their emotional development.
I remember the day when one of my sons asked me if I remembered when he used to play with his toys on the hallway floor outside my home office while I worked on my doctoral dissertation. I asked him why he would play there. It was obvious I had no memory of having seen him playing there. He answered, “because I wanted to be close to you.” Ouch … Luckily, my dissertation didn’t take me years; otherwise, I am afraid my relationship with my son would have been adversely affected.
How can we know if our relationships are healthy or unhealthy? The comprehensive list is long, but I will share five fundamental characteristics that define healthy relationships:
Respect: Healthy relationships are founded on mutual respect. When there is mutual appreciation for each other, respect for personal values, avoidance of evil speaking, and respect for emotional and physical limits, mutual respect deepens and nurtures a relationship.
Safety: When you enjoy a healthy relationship, you will not feel intimidated or afraid. Knowing that the person next to you is going to protect your experiences, your life, your emotions, even your reputation, will give you a sense of overall well-being.
Transparent communication: Transparency is an emotional and psychological ability. Emotionally challenged individuals will have difficulty saying what they mean and meaning what they say. Everyone should feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings without their partner becoming angry or blocking their communication. Everyone has the right to talk and feel heard and respected.
Fair Negotiation: Disagreements are a part of all relationships. That is why it’s vital that there be the ability to negotiate a solution that respects both parties. If the same person always gets his or her way, this can create bitterness or resentment. Everyone wins in relationships when just compromises are made that will foment harmony and peace. Fair negotiations demand that both hearts are at peace and feeling blessed in the relationship.
Support and comfort: Life is full of challenges. There will always be situations that will require someone else's support. Having a partner or friend who is willing and able to tune in and provide compassionate support when you need it is extremely valuable. Healthy relationships are meant to end the feeling of loneliness and disconnection. When you experience support and comfort in a relationship it fosters a spirit of community and connection.
In his book The Safest Place on Earth, Larry Crabb says, “… creatures whose capacity for personal, self-conscious joy means they also are cursed with the capability of experiencing misery of the worst kind, loneliness, self -hatred, and aimlessness.” He continues, “The overriding focus in a spiritual conversation is not on sin or our psychological damage but on the Spirit’s movement. What’s good? Where is the goodness? We know it’s there, perhaps hidden but it’s always present. What evidence can we find of the Spirit’s creative involvement in each other’s life? That’s the focus of the spiritual community.”2
As members of our spiritual communities, we must daily acknowledge we are all broken and it is easy to hurt each other, but are cognizant of this reality and seek for divine grace and empowerment to do otherwise.
The Bible tells us, "And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work" (2 Chron. 9:8 NKJV). The Message version says, “God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done …”.
Through the power of God in our lives, we can have more than enough grace to do all the good work and create healthier relationships worthy of modeling for our children and the rest of our community. We can make the decision to make the behavioral changes through the empowerment of the Spirit to create healthier relationships.
1. Hemfelt, Minirth & Mier, Love is a Choice, p. 34
2. Larry Crabb, The Safest Place on Earth, p. 96.