By Rob Furlong
“I just don’t understand why she left me!” Joe, not his real name, sat in my office, shoulders slumped and with despair written all over his face — he was genuinely bewildered at why his marriage had suddenly collapsed. Having spoken to his wife only a few hours earlier I did understand — for years Joe had taken his wife for granted, verbally abused her and stripped her of any self worth she may have laid claim to.
It is safe to say that Joe had developed a string of bad habits in his relationships with people that had their roots in his family of origin but the day of reckoning had finally come when the person closest to him had the courage to say, “Enough!” The saddest part of this story is that Joe could not see his relational problems, like many others in our community.
As I look over the landscape of my own family of origin I see that it is littered with a history of doing relationships poorly. I see a lack of forgiveness toward others, broken marriages, infidelity, anger often expressed in unhealthy ways and an unwillingness to properly confront relational problems. My journey to being more relationally healthy has meant confronting these same bad habits in my own life and then incorporate new, healthier ways of handling my relationships with people.
The truth is that we all know that a habit is difficult to break! In fact, some psychologists will tell you that the habits you have formed before the age of 21 are basically impossible to break after 21 — this is not encouraging news! But that does not factor in the power of God to work in your life combined with your willingness to work with Him to make these changes a reality. Some of the things that have helped me over the years are:
|Identify the patterns: what do you see in your family history that has been a pattern over a few generations and has contributed to poor relationships? Perhaps it is silence, freezing people out when there is a problem or not communicating directly with a person, always relying on a third party to do the job for you. Where do you see the same patterns emerging through you in your relationships? And if you are unsure, ask your husband or wife!|
|Respond positively when God confronts you: If you are in relationship with God then you can be sure that He will regularly confront you with your poor relational skills. My advice is that you listen to what He says. I remember well the day I heard God’s still small voice say to me, “You know, you are behaving just like your Dad in this situation!” I could have fought the suggestion and stayed in my rut or I could face the painful truth, acknowledge that He was right and that I also needed to change. I chose the latter and it set me firmly on the path toward relational health.|
|Work with God as He brings about change in you: The most effective way that I know to do this is to simply say to God, “I cannot do this! I want to change but I recognise that this bad habit is deeply ingrained in me and that it is my default position when these situations arise. So I am yielding myself to you again and asking you to produce (whatever it is) in me!” And I will also thank Him for giving me an opportunity for His character to be developed in me. We call this working with God in the process of change.|
I do not want to imply that there is a simple three step formula to relational health — relationships are far more complex than that — but if you do apply the principles mentioned above you may well avoid becoming another “Joe”.