When Relationships Crumble

Finding your strength when relationships turn messy.

Psalm 11:3 (NASB)

“If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?"

Before we begin, let’s talk a little about what to expect in this series.

  1. We’ll be talking about principles that help us in relationships, principles which apply to all relationships, not just marriage.
  2. Grace takes us where we are, never showers regret on where we’ve been.
  3. We all speak as learners, not masters.

Definition: A healthy relationship is when two individuals relate to one another in a healthy manner.

  1. The word relate means “to narrate.”

    A relationship at its core is “the narration of one’s story.” When you know how someone feels, what someone thinks, where someone struggles, and love like Jesus loves, there’s a healthy relationship. Narration is telling one’s story to a willing listener and listening to one’s story by a transparent teller.

  2. A relationship crumbles because the foundations of that relationship are destroyed.

    In Psalm 11 David is surrounded by the enemy. He is “tempted” to “flee like a bird to my mountain.” But “in the Lord I will take refuge” for “when the foundations are destroyed, what can I do?” (v. 3). What is the mountain of your creation that causes you to leave relationships (shut down; cease to relate to, turn your back on, or reject another person)? Disconnection is the death of relationship.

    When I want you to only focus on me and the narration of my story, I am disconnecting from you. When all I care about is my story, I don’t relate well to you. I can say I am listening, but am I really hearing? If I’m only concerned that I’m heard, the foundation of my relationship begins to crumble. People full of love are connected people. People who love are more interested in another’s story. The root of a real relationship is being present with another person and intentionally creating a safe environment where one can take risks and reveal thoughts, feelings, and dreams without rejection.

  3. There are reasons why I become disengaged and my relationships begin to crumble.

    There are always two foundations in any relationship, two stories. Am I very interested in your story? Let’s identify a few odorous toxins that eat away at the foundations of our relationships with others.

    • My Fantasies – I always had an image of what the other person should be and I am disappointed.
    • My Fears – I can’t handle the pain of reality, so I’ll flee to a hiding place of my own creation.
    • My Faults – There’s no way I can risk being seen as imperfect, and I can’t accept your weaknesses.
    • My Faith – is not in Christ and His performance, it’s in my and another person’s performance.

  4. Relating to Jesus well is the primary source for relating well with others.

    It’s no accident that in the 10 Commandments, the first four are vertical, and the last six horizontal. You and I will never relate well with one another until we relate well with the One who created us. Throughout this series we’ll point you to the God of all grace: For graced people live gracious lives. We encourage us all to move from fantasy land to reality. Any healthy relationship requires work.

Philippians 4:19 (NASB)

“My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory"

In our first lesson, we focused on the root word of relationship (“relate”) which means “to narrate.” The major point was “healthy relationships occur when people are willing listeners for each other’s story.” When I want others to focus on only “the narration of my story,” there’s a disconnection in relationship.

In this lesson, Rachelle and I will show you a principle that - when applied - will transform a relationship.

Jesus is our Creator, Source, Sustainer, our Everything. He meets every need you and I have in this life. We say Amen to this, so why do we live as if another person is our source and solution for what ails us? The most difficult journey in life is the 18 inches trip from the head to the heart; from thinking to feeling.

Rachelle and I have come up with an exercise that helps us in our relationships, and should help you too. When we find ourselves in relational pain or distress, we say fifteen words to ourselves and each other.

“You are neither the source nor the solution for the problem or pain within me.”

  1. This statement admits to others I’m struggling.
  2. This statement takes the blame off of you for my struggles within.
  3. This statement helps me see what the real issues are.
  4. This statement turns me to Jesus Christ as my Source in life.

I first wrote these 15 Words on a website I operate called Istoria Ministries, and people reacted angrily.

We are so accustomed to blaming, shaming and gaming others we don’t like taking responsibility.

It’s difficult for someone in the dark to understand how these 15 Words actually heal relationships. But when you walk into a dark room you don't understand how electricity works, but that doesn't keep you from flipping the switch. One doesn’t have to understand how light works to enjoy its effects. So too, these words are a panacea for broken relationships. You may not understand how they work, but don't let it stop you from saying them. Most relationships spiral downward because one person points the finger at the other person. "You’re the problem!" "If you would only..." "You never..." "You...you...you."

In relationships built on covenant and commitment, this principle is absolutely essential.

Acquaintances and surface friendships are built on enjoyment. Real connection and relationship is built on love. If you ever want to know the difference between enjoyment and love, look at I Corinthians 13.

There's no doubt that the actions of the one you love can be hurtful or painful; but the Apostle Paul said, "I have learned to be content (i.e. "self-sufficient") in who I am" (Philippians 4:11). Many English translations wrongly translate Philippians 4:11 as "I have learned to be content in whatever state (or circumstances) I am", but the words "state" or "circumstances" are not in the original. Paul learned to be self-satisfied in who he was in Christ. The early Christians sang while being burned at the stake. Why? They had learned how to find self-satisfaction and contentment regardless of their circumstances.

Philippians 4:11 (NASB)
I Corinthians 15:10 (NASB)

“I’ve learned in who I am to be content”

“I am who I am by the grace of God”

By way of review – Relationship is where two people narrate their lives (relate) with one another. That is, I willingly listen to someone speak freely about what they think, feel, believe, fear, hope, and desire. When two people “disconnect” and a relationship crumbles, it’s because the foundation of Christ “as my source” has been destroyed, and one other than God has become my idol, albeit my fallen, faulty idol.

To always hit “reset” when I’m in a relationship that’s gone south, I must learn to say to the one I’m in relationship: “You are neither the source nor the solution for the trouble or pain within me,” and be willing to lovingly say: “I am neither the source nor the solution for the trouble or pain within you.” When we have those two foundational principles present in relationship, then we are ready to move on to a third principle that becomes the source of meaningful personal relationship with another person.

  1. Intimacy is to relationship what milk is to butter; you really don’t have one without the other.
    “Into-me-you-see” – transparency, letting your partner/friend see you as you really are – the good, bad, and the ugly, the freedom to share what is within you. The opposite of intimacy is pretension. Pretension is simply “into me you cannot see.” “Pretend” or “pre”–“tension” simply means that there is a tight wall before me that prevents someone from seeing in me. It is hiding what is really “in me.” A pretender never says what he really thinks, really feels, really desires, or really wants out of fear of the possible reaction of the one he loves. There are several things that inhibit intimacy:
    1. Fear that I will not be loved or accepted if I were truly known.
      This fear begins to disappear when I understand the significance of my relationship with God.
    2. Expectations that I place on the other person which go unmet.
      Why do I struggle with expectations? Because I believe we will be happier if our spouse is a certain way. It is a form of control and it leads to the very opposite of intimacy. When I expect or demand another person to be a certain way, I squelch intimacy in relationship.
    3. Past hurts or painful experiences that cause me to be reserved.

  2. Pretension is natural, but intimacy is supernatural, so there’s a taste of heaven in intimacy.
    Intimacy occurs by God’s grace by knowing who I am and throwing away all expectations.
    1. Unmet expectations cause anger; a red flag that expectations have not been met.
    2. Expectations cause your significant other to lie and hide.
    3. Expectations hinder a spirit of freedom and spontaneity.
      Intimacy is a gift reserved for covenant relationships or those with whom I wish to spend time. Jesus had 12. Paul had his Timothy. We have our spouses, and hopefully other significant friends.

  3. Though intimacy is a gift, it takes practice to develop the joy of intimacy.
    How can you develop intimacy in a relationship with a significant other?
    1. Keep your sharing focused on your own thoughts and feelings. (I feel; I think; I believe).
    2. Each person is free to express his or her feelings without interruptions (feelings are amoral).
    3. Learn to support one another, not “fix” one another; affirmation, acceptance, approbation.
    4. Anonymity and confidentiality are basic requirements in establishing intimacy.
    5. Offensive language has no place in a Christ-centered relationship (hurt people, hurt people).

James 4:1-3 (NASB)

“I’ve learned in who I am to be content”

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive blessing because you ask with wrong motives.

REVIEW: Relationship is where two people narrate their lives (relate). “You are neither the source nor the solution for the trouble or pain within me.” Also, “I am neither the source nor the solution for the trouble or pain within you.” When our Source is Christ, then we develop “into-me-you-see.” The ability to truthfully express what you feel, think and believe establishes the best boundaries for real relationships.

"A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11), but “Harsh words are like sword thrusts” (Proverbs 12:18). The Hebrew word translated "apples" is the word jewelry. Speech that is well thought through, patient in delivery, and designed for the purpose of the other person's ultimate good is like a piece of gold jewelry encased in silver. It's valuable, beautiful, and memorable. Notice the contrast the Bible makes between "harsh words" and "aptly spoken words." When emotions take over, I should pull back, assess my Source (15 Words), and then speak an intimate, apt word.

Communicate appropriate words with CARE:

Consider the other person

The essence of Kingdom living is selfless living. The only person who can be a giver in relationship is the one whose heart is already full. A lack of emotional control (panic, fear, worry, anger, anxiety) is, in reality, a lack of resting in Jesus as your Source of acceptance, provision, security, identity, and purpose. Express yourself freely, but avoid absolute second person language (“you never” or “you always”).

Accept the other person

The reason emotions run high in relationship is because we want something from that other person and we are not getting it. I have a saying to help people struggling in relationship: “That which you think needs to change in the other person usually only changes when God knows you don’t need it changed.” You may desire change for the good of another, but you will be okay whether change comes or not.

Remind the other person

There is nothing wrong with reminding the other person about his or her responsibilities and what you think is best. However, learn to accept the fact that your significant other may not fulfill his or her responsibilities (ex. “to forgive”) the way you do. Feel free to discuss and offer suggestions on how the other person might be able to fulfill the responsibility. Feel free to express your frustrations and emotions freely, but acknowledge them as a problem taking place within yourself, and you’ll be okay.

Encourage the other person

By being a listener who values the feelings, expressions, emotions, and activities of others! One who looks the other person in the eye, communicates with CARE, and throws out expectations of response, but takes responsibility for his or her own thoughts, feelings, and desires, is learning the language of relationships. If another can’t communicate like this– model it. Some things are caught, not taught.

Review: We have examined over the last four weeks some key relationship principles:

  1. Relational grace moves toward others in connection.
    To relate with someone else is to transparently narrate your life to them and to warmly and lovingly receive the narration of their life to you (thoughts, feelings, desires, etc.).
  2. Relational grace stops blaming others for problems within.
    Disconnection occurs when there is both inner pain and self-absorption, so to “reset” a relationship, you say, “You are neither the source or solution for the pain or trouble in me,” as well as “I am neither the source or solution for the pain or trouble in you.”
  3. Relational grace looks to Christ as the Source of real life.
    When there is contentment with Jesus as one’s Source of life, in-to-me-you-see (intimacy) becomes the characteristic of real, healthy relationships with appropriate boundaries.
  4. Relational grace communicates with care to others.
    When emotions take over, and the reset button is hit, you learn to communicate with care. In essence, “the other person” in your relationship becomes your focus, in that you always do what is right and best for “the other person” (I Corinthians 13).

Some might be saying, “But what about forgiveness?” I can’t move forward in relationship until I can forgive the other person for what they’ve done to me. Consider something: When God forgives you, is it because you’ve “hurt him?” No. You’ve crossed a boundary that He’s established for your good. God freely forgives when there’s repentance for crossing His boundary because He’s already satisfied within Himself!

We’ll conclude this morning by examining the fifth and final principle of relating well with one another. “We love Him because He first loved us” (I John 4:19). “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

This principle is called “The Power of One.”

In a curse-filled relationship, two people fight for the fulfillment they are seeking.
In a grace-filled relationship, two people give freedom from the fulfillment they possess.

In a curse-filled relationship, two people determine to dominate for the sake of lust.
In a grace-filled relationship, two people strive to serve for the sake of love.

In a curse-filled relationship, two people with disappointment in each other leave a relationship.
In a grace-filled relationship, two people with enjoyment independent of each other stay in relationship.

How does a relationship become grace-filled? It takes the power of real, genuine love in just one person. “We love Him because He first loved us” (I John 4:19).

The Bible declares and we believe and teach that God's love in Christ is so captivating, so alluring, so charming, so dazzling, so enthralling, so mesmerizing, so spellbinding ("good spell"), so magnetizing, so enrapturing, so gripping, so compelling, so hypnotizing, and so fully and absolutely "sweep me off my feet" enamoring that I could not, would not and must not refuse relationship with God. That’s love. And if you and I ever grasp that Jesus calls us to love others like He loves us, we begin to experience the Power of One. By Gods’ grace let’s make the choice to trust Christ’s love, set relational boundaries, and really live!

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