No one is born with a relationship manual with shows us how to build good and healthy, marriages, friendships, romantic or church relationships. It is not something we know inherently. We need to learn what makes them work and what weakens them, and that’s okay. 

We all want relationships that make us feel safe and secure. As humans, we feel better if we have a friend who will help us out no matter what we do. We all want a romantic relationship that is truly fulfilling. So why does no one talk about what makes them work and what weakens them?

I mean, we’ve all heard the cliches like ‘Treat ‘em mean keep ‘em keen’, ‘A true friend accepts you for who you are’, ‘In a marriage, never go to bed angry’.  But these throw away lines, which may be good or may be unhelpful, are sometimes all we get. People seem to assume that we are born with the skills we need to maintain good relationships.

We never get the ‘Romance lesson’ from Dr.Love, or the ‘Friendship lesson’, from Buddy the Professor.

We’re expected to learn information and facts so that we get through school. We need to pass a test before we can drive. We are told that if we want to be good at a sport, dance, musical instrument, or a hobby, we need to practice lots and get advice from experts. Yet relationships are never really discussed. We never get the ‘Romance lesson’ from Dr.Love, or the ‘Friendship lesson’, from Buddy the Professor.

We want relationships to last, but we leave it to chance. In the busy-ness of studying, work, self improvement, exercise, we prioritise other things. We want relationships to last, but we put them last. We never leave our house, our car or our computer to it and never check them. We fix it if there’s a problem and learn to look after it. Yet we don’t make sure our relationships are working and not weakening. We want them to last but we often put them last, and focus on other things.

Real stories of success and hurt

I had a friend who wanted to move churches. When he told the leader of the church that leader was very gracious, really gentle and encouraged him to move to a church that would really allow him to thrive.

Yet I know a girl who wanted to leave a different church, and even though she had been very involved and helped for nearly six years, that leader never said thank you or goodbye.  He held a grudge and discouraged others in the church to talk to her or say goodbye. Why were these relationships and outcomes different? Why did one work and another get weak?

Recently, someone who was 70 plus and about to retire from leadership at a local church gave a speech about his time there. He said a lot of things, but he mentioned that  his biggest regret is that he didn’t spend more time with his kids, but was constantly out trying to ‘save the day’ when people needed help.

I also  distinctly remember a prominent speaker many years ago saying that at the start of the year he would strike out every other weekend in his diary, because he released he had been spending too much time away from his young children and wanted to make sure he was home more. Why were these relationships and outcomes different? Why did one work and another get weak?

I know a guy who went out with a girl but constantly prioritised work, did not invest in the relationship at all and was quite selfish. A few years after she left he was filled with regret, realising that she was a great person and he should have treated her differently.

I think relationships are too important to leave up to chance

Yet one of my friends, who I helped think through why all of her ex-boyfriends were treating her badly, and what she could do differently, recently got married. She was able to build something with someone like minded who treated her well and vice versa. Why were these relationships and outcomes different? Why did one work and another get weak?

I think relationships are too important to leave up to chance. I think learning what makes them work is important if we want to thrive, and help others do the same.

I think the first thing we need to do is realise that good relationship skills are learnt, good relationships don’t just happen by chance. And that’s okay. It’s okay to realise we are not born with a ‘relationship manual’.  If we think they will sort themselves out, they will always be weak. (Read Reflecting God’s Image Is Found In Plurality‘)

If you could only say one thing, what would you say makes relationships work? What makes them weak?