Over the passage of the non-Christian and Christian portions of my life, and through reflection on lots of experiences of relationship success and failure, through the looking glass of peacemaking, there is one sure way of sowing well and reaping peace in all our relationships.
But first, we need to get into where it doesn’t work so well.
OKAY, LET’S TALK RELATIONSHIP BREAKDOWN
Although I’ve had some tremendous relationships, I’ve also been part of relationships that went horrendously wrong. Some of these relationship breakdowns proved so painful to one or the both of us that it caused untellable and untold grief.
In every single one of these situations, the idea I’m giving in this article would have helped, and it could have even averted disaster.
I say this from the hindsight that suggests that, for every broken relationship I’ve been part of, there were contributions to the breakage on both sides, not just theirs or mine.
Relationship breakdown is hurtful, humbling, humiliating at times, and it’s always heartbreaking.
And yet, I suspect that just about all of us go through it, and, as I like to think, for some good purpose.
THE BIG IDEA – KEEP SHORT ACCOUNTS WITH EVERYONE
The idea is this: relationships have their best chance of succeeding when we have the courage to keep short account with the others we relate with. This requires us to keep short account with ourselves. This means not ignoring the things that irritate or concern us.
It means having the courage to speak up. It also means trusting the relationship can endure conflict. Finally, it also means praising people for the good things they do — immediately, and as often as they do praiseworthy things.
We may perceive that bringing up matters of conflict in some relationships may cause fracture. We may not feel safe enough, or we may feel the other person won’t appreciate what we’re bringing up.
If they don’t, we certainly have a problem, because good relationships are about doing conflict well, for what close relationship doesn’t have regular conflict?
TRUST – THE BIG ISSUE – ALWAYS HAS BEEN, ALWAYS WILL BE
Trust is THE big relationship issue. If we keep short accounts on what bothers us, and the other person is able to keep short accounts with us, we share the elements of a robust relationship with the other person. This requires both of us committing to be honest.
Transparency is the most important thing between those in close and working relationships.
We cannot expect to hold someone to a short account and not allow them the same courtesy.
This means that we need not only to speak the truth in love all the time with them, we also need to expect and allow them to speak the truth in love all the time to us.
If we both have permission to speak the truth in love, we both also have the option of overlooking the occasional offence — not sweating the small stuff. Overlooking versus talking is about discernment. If it bugs us, we ought to talk about it. If it doesn’t bug us and we can easily forgive a matter, we might as well overlook it.
Trust between two people helps them both communicate their needs of the relationship plainly.
GETTING IT WRONG AS IMPETUS TO GETTING IT RIGHT
I can think of working relationships I have had in organisational environments — with those I reported to — where neither they nor I kept short accounts, and both times it happened it ended in disaster.
We didn’t keep short accounts because there was insufficient trust.
It hurts parties when they find out through a third party that there are issues in the relationship.
It feels like betrayal — like, “Why didn’t he/she come to me and trust me enough to be straight with me?” If only people can take the risk to communicate with the other person, it builds trust, but if we perceive the other person as a narcissist, we won’t trust them not to blow up and make a vendetta out of it.
Having experienced relationship brokenness through either the inability to do conflict well, or because conflict was avoided through not keeping short account, was impetus to do better next time.
Too often we can be lulled into thinking the truth is too hard to accept, and we shrink from just being gently and kindly honest. It doesn’t serve the relationship at all well when one or both parties hold back or even pretend to overlook significant issues.
Getting it right is about attending to issues early, and while we’re still there, even a little troubled, we go to them and have a sincere, kind conversation about what we think or how we feel.
If they listen, the relationship gets stronger. If they don’t, their reticence reveals something important to us early on. The former is a good sign. The latter is a real worry.
Empowering our partner or manager or significant other or good friend to keep us to short account is also important. How we receive their feedback will tell them to continue trusting us to keep us to short account, or they will find it hard and think us disingenuous.
Most of all, we must recognise that good people value faithfulness in relationships.