Three Steps for Cultivating Healthy Relationships
Is it really possible to eliminate the unhealthy relationships dominating our lives? Can we concentrate our time and emotional investment on relationships that are life-giving?
Yes. And no.
Speaking from the perspective of a life coach as well as one who has experienced her fair share of toxic relationships, I can attest to the fact that it is worth our time to consider all of our relationships with the eliminate and concentrate mindset (Did you know there's a whole chapter this eliminate and concentrate principle in Meet the New You?).
Most of our toxic relationships became that way over time or are the result of family dysfunction passed down from one generation to the next. Those connections can’t be fixed overnight, but by the grace of God and with the right counsel, it is possible to pursue emotional and spiritual health in our relationships with family members and friends as well as coworkers.
Great relationships don’t just happen.
They are the result of an intentionality and sacrifice. It's the choice to leave a task undone in order to engage in a meaningful phone call or chat together over a cup of tea. It’s a sacrifice to let go of personal convenience so you can meet a need that a friend has in that moment. . . not later on. It's the decision to forgive through trusting God with the outcome. It's the decision to exercise boundaries even when it feels uncomfortable.
As moms, the great motivator for us comes through envision how a new legacy of emotionally healthy relationships will impact their lives.
Step 1. Evaluate Your Relationships
Set aside an hour or so to think prayerfully about all your relationships. Categorize them accordingly:
- immediate family
- extended family
- long-term friends
- long-distance friends
- close friends
- church friends
- community friends
Go back to your list and next to each name, put one of the following marks:
- + (plus sign) = for those that are life-giving
- – (minus sign) = for those that are life-draining
- 0 (zero) = for those that are neither here nor there
As the final evaluation step, highlight or underline the names of the people you have to stay connected to because of proximity, family relations, or various work/ministry commitments.
Step 2. Consider the Beauty of Boundaries
Now that you’ve evaluated your relationships, what can you actually do to change them? Pray! Ask God to show you what you can change and what is beyond your “jurisdiction.” For example:
- Are there conversations or topics that you should not bring up with certain people because they automatically lead to conflict long after the initial “agree-to-disagree” conversation?
- Do you have unhealthy habits with certain folks when it comes to how you spend time together or interact? Can you avoid that habit altogether or create a new one?
- Are there certain people you are not obligated to spend time with that you need to stop interacting with because of the toxicity of the relationships?
- Are there certain relationships in which you need to have an honest conversation about the hurt you’ve experienced in order to heal and move forward?
- Are there people you need to forgive?
- Do you need to seek forgiveness?
You might recall the thoughts I shared here about helping our tweens and teens cultivating healthy relationships and wise boundaries? Well the same principles apply to us as moms.
We also should think of ourselves as a house. Inside our house represents our private lives and there are only a few select people who get to hang out there because the Lord calls us to guard this sacred space (Proverbs 4:23). Our “heart-dwellers” are the few select people we trust wholeheartedly.
Outside of our house is our yard, marked off by a pretty white picket fence. This is the space for the majority of our friends and extended family members to hang out. They are the people we know well and care about, but are not “our heart dwellers” for a variety of reasons. We might lack common values or beliefs, we may not see each other much, or maybe there has been a break or hurt in our relationship.
Beyond the fence is the road, where we wave at all the people passing by. These are our acquaintances as well as folks we might see on a regular basis or have known for a long time, but we’re not necessarily close friends. There may come a time when I invite these folks into our yard, but there is no obligation to do so.
Step 3. Choose to Concentrate Your Efforts
Who are the life-givers in your family, community, workplace, or church? These are the type of people you should seek to surround yourself with and be willing to give up time to connect with on a regular basis. These should be "your people" because they are good for you, both emotionally and spiritually. These life-giving relationships are worth investing in and shouldn’t be pursued only for your gain. It’s a two-way relationship where you get to be a life-giver, too.
Relationships are prone to be messy, but God can make them beautiful.
I’ve lived through many relationship challenges with family members and friends, some of which were so difficult that I went to counseling for support and guidance. I’ve lived through estrangement from family members and endured the hardest of conversations. I’ve forgiven before the restoration process was even a possibility, and have had to learn how to continually forgive hurt. I have experienced the fruit of boundaries, the restorative work of forgiveness, and the grace of God sustaining me in difficult situations.
Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
Romans 12:18 NLT
I pray that as you bring your relationships before the Lord, He’ll give you fresh hope and fill you with an overflowing measure of grace for those you are called to love.
Becoming more like Him with you,
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