By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
While doing right leads to healthy relationships, the Bible also promotes the opposite: healthy relationships lead to doing right. Healthy relationships start between human and the divine, and then between humans. Here’s an example of the importance of relationships: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
What are some ways to maintain healthy relationships? These approaches can work when addressing difficult subjects. A positive start, humility, listening and understanding teamed with honesty is summed up by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
Whatever is a good place to start? “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). Starting on a negative note can automatically trigger resistance and defensiveness – a product of the “fight or flight response”. Paul said, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Eph. 4:29). Avoiding such negativity will mean overlooking some offenses. “Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs” (Proverbs 19:11). “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). Other times a negative cycle must be stopped. “Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14).
Next, comes the humble part. People are more receptive to hearing about their “human side” if they see a willingness to admit weaknesses. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. ‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5). One who thinks he has done nothing wrong may have trouble accepting the human side. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). “For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin” (Psalms 36:2).
Listening to others conveys that one understands and cares, regardless of agreement. On that basis of respect, a foundation allows a connection to be built. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions” (Proverbs 17:27, 18:2). Once the other feels understood, one has an ability to connect.
Speaking the truth about one’s own interests balanced by another’s forges the relationship. A one-sided relationship is lop-sided. “In humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Creatively looking for options breathes life into a relationship as opposed to one side flourishing at the expense of another.
God finds a way to confront us with truth but not without grace. Holding in the truth can result in passivity and resentment. But expressing the truth aggressively can leave you with the same feelings. “Picking your battles,” a positive or understanding start, quick admittance to your own faults, and leaving the other feeling understood, connecting before correcting can bolster any relationship. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:29-32).