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TRIBEWORK is about consuming the process of life, the journey, together.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The relationship you have God’s blessing to leave

This may not sound very pastor-ish, but I have seen my fair share of damage in order to authoritatively say this: if you are unsafe in your relationship, leave.
But you know it’s funny; the conditioning we get as Christians, and a triple portion is granted to the pastor; the default is to keep people together.
We’re fighting against what we think is unbiblical—that to end marriages is diabolical. But I truly think it is more unbiblical to do the kind of ministry that keeps people together when there is clear toxicity in the relationship.
I am admonished by the psychology and by my own experience; narcissistic partners have very little hope—dash it, none—of having the awakening they need to bring insight to life. Whoever will not repent, cannot.
Those who don’t have the capacity to be honest
don’t have the insight nor the will to change.
This is where my AA days have come in most useful. 160 meetings in 11 months taught me some valuable life lessons, as did the Twelve Step Program.
It is surprising the value any human being can derive in being in an AA meeting for the first five minutes where the chapter called “how it works” is read out aloud before the throng… if they have insight into themselves.
This chapter, and indeed the whole Big Book, is written not only for the alcoholic, but also for the narcissist:
Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates… They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty… [but, people do recover] if they have the capacity to be honest.” (p. 58)
The very best Christians, indeed the very best people, are the ones who have the capacity to be honest. It is ridiculous for any person, let alone a Christian person, to think they have nothing to learn and to believe others are always at fault.
It is a most heinous thing for any human being to be beyond insight; to believe the problems rest in others and not in themselves. This is essentially narcissism, which is the mark of the beast on a person who cannot see their sin. They are Satan’s instrument. They are damaging individuals to be in a relationship with, and their relationships will resound with toxicity, unless, like birds of a feather, they flock together (in feeding one another’s egos).
When we are in a relationship with someone who presents as charming to outsiders, and when alone are tyrants, who may undermine us to others with their gaslighting, who will be enraged when we ‘press their buttons’, who are always right and never wrong, who constantly leave us confused, and who hardly ever (or never) take responsibility, and who may apologise but never change; we do have the right to leave.
We put the onus on the partner bearing narcissistic tendencies; but if they are truly narcissistic, they won’t change.
Those who do not have the capacity
to be honest cannot recover.
Reading this article may leave you feeling deflated and relieved at the same time. I’m sorry for that, but it is clear to me that there are too many relationships where sensitive, good-hearted people are trapped by the need to stay in a relationship for image-management purposes alone.
But a final word of caution: when we do leave, we can expect for things to get worse before they get better. The narcissist always makes it about how bad, unkind, and sinful you’ve been. It’s very sad.

Photo by Chris Sabor on Unsplash

Sunday, April 28, 2019

2 Boundaries You and Your Relationship Need

A surprisingly wise pattern has developed in my observations of good versus not-so-good coupled relationships. Take it from me that I have tested this in my own life, and have been able to apply it also in counselling situations.
There are two boundaries that are key determinants in whether a relationship is healthy or not. It’s not a case of meeting one or the other. Both are required. And both people in the coupled relationship need to provide this boundary to the other and respect the other as they themselves enforce the same boundary.
Goad (verb):
to provoke or annoy (someone)
so as to stimulate an action or reaction.
This is the twofold, bilateral boundary: a person is neither to goad their partner, nor are they to be goaded. This does require strength-of-person, to hold one’s own in conflict, and indeed to respect the other, especially when we are upset within ourselves by what they may have done.
To neither be goaded nor to goad, we exemplify the character trait of being a safe person. What this means is we actually qualify to be in a coupled relationship. If we are not a safe person we ought not be in a coupled relationship. By a safe person I mean that we are sufficiently humble and self-aware that we’re lowish on the narcissism scale. Narcissists cannot succeed in coupled relationships. They are too full of themselves to give to the other.
Let me prove by way of example what I’m talking about:
There have been times in my marriage where I have, rightly or wrongly, wanted my own way. When my wife has sensed that my motivation or reasoning, or some other driver, is wrong, she will NOT give me my way. At times this has upset me. But she will not be goaded. She won’t allow me to push her into a corner. But neither will she goad me.
In these situations, I am left with a decision. I cannot control my wife, yet neither does she attempt to control me in response. In effect, she leaves me with a decision. She requires me to accept her boundary.
Yet she doesn’t poke away at my boundary. She respects my boundary and doesn’t add fuel to the fire.
She leaves me to reflect and to grow in the moment toward acceptance which is maturity. I’ve been married long enough to my wife to understand that she will not change, and I praise God for that fact. She will not be manipulated or coerced, even though I have attempted it at times.
What my wife’s example shows me is there is a vision for a coupled relationship that provides for safety—for both concerned.
What it also shows me is that the three precious relational dynamics within a coupled relationship can be preserved. These three dynamics involve one in each person in the relationship, together with the dynamic that exists between the two.
When individuals in a couple neither goad their partner in conflict, nor are they goaded, there is a sanctity and preservation of each of these three precious dynamics within the relationship.
This means that each individual is allowed to be a whole person, and they don’t have their personhood swallowed up in some dangerous form of co-dependence.

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

Friday, April 26, 2019

You WILL succeed, you CANNOT fail

God brought a woman and a man to me. One in England, another farthest away in the biggest country in the world. Both connected to me through cyberspace. Both had the same message! Both are victors. Not were or will be, could-be or would-be, but are… for who they are.
Why is this? They just inspired me in God beyond anything I could conceive. They lifted me without me even feeling like I needed it.
These two, though they know nothing of each other, have endured or do endure such brokenness and adversity, that to sit in their presence is to be lifted. They, in their own ways, though they’re extraordinary sinners as we all are, embody the Presence of the risen Lord Jesus.
These two reframe every idea of success. They show me, as many I’ve seen have also shown me, that there is no success in comfort, in material wealth, in prospering health, in appearing to have it all together. There’s no success in that.
There’s only success in overcoming, one minute, one brick, one gritted smile, one step, one surrender at a time. That’s success. That’s the victory. The victory over self, even though self wins still so often.
It’s the idea that we strive to overcome what has not yet beaten us, though it may beat us again. It’s the concept that we refuse to fail, even if there’s a litany of failure in our past. It’s that we’ve bounced back. It’s the smile emblazoned over our face as we stare the enemy down.
As we draw close to the One who can instil us with what we need to get up off the canvas of life’s calamity, even in our mind’s eye our heart is nourished by the sense that we’ve won!
You will succeed. You cannot fail. Oh, you will fail. But it’s in failing that you qualify to actually succeed. It’s God’s riveting paradox that calls the fool up to show the wise who’s truly wise. The one who knows they’re wise is the real fool. Who in their right mind would go there?
When it’s us, the ones that have nothing special to show our covetous world — that world that scorns us savagely for being broken and for having nothing worth admiring — we wonder, “What on earth are you doing, God? How on earth can You be for us like You are?! But You are!”
In being nothing special, we’re never more special. To the One who sees everyone’s special, those who are satisfied just being who they are, are special to the accord of success in God’s eyes.
There is and never was any other way of describing success. There is eternal success or no success at all. 

Photo by kiwi thompson on Unsplash

Monday, April 22, 2019

Do this ONE thing to become more like Jesus

In my morning prayers with God, the Holy Spirit asked me a question: “What is one Jesus-like feature that any human being can do?”
As the question was ushered into my spirit, so too was the answer; like a mighty revelation that comes in an instant without words, but it is a concept, an idea, fully established in the light of God.
Here is the answer to the question: “the one Jesus-like feature in any human being exemplifying their Lord is the taking of their responsibility; not one iota less what’s theirs; not one iota more than other people should; just exactly their own.”
This, for me, is the essence of relational wisdom; to own one’s sin, to take responsibility for it, and yet, at the same time, not to take another person’s responsibility, which is to allow everyone to own their contribution, good and not-so-good within the interpersonal dynamic.
To take responsibility is to repent of the things we’ve done wrong, yet it’s also to hold out to others the same opportunity, so as not to deprive anyone their own repentance.
To take responsibility is to make restitutive justice so relationships can be restored, so that people feel justly treated, that their justice has been respected. When someone sees that we’ve been honest and humble to the degree that we provide for their justice, by telling on ourselves, we give them faith and confidence in the goodness possible in humanity — a goodness only possible through the power of God. If we don’t take our responsibility, and it doesn’t matter if we’re Christian or not, we’re all tempted to deny it, we crush the virtue of justice in the other person. They have one more reason to take justice into their own hands. This is a vice we ought never to provoke. And we do provoke another person’s retributive response when we deny them the justice they would have received if we only took our responsibility for what we could have done better.
See that it is a sin to not take enough of our own responsibility?
To take responsibility is to also allow others to hold and to handle their own messes without stepping in to rescue them. It ensures that we do not take their confidence away from them, which is precisely what we do when we do things for others who should be able to do their things for themselves; with minimal hand-holding. When we take too much responsibility this is what happens; we enable more poor behaviour by sapping the other person of the confidence they could attain for themselves. See how taking too much responsibility for someone betrays them their opportunity to grapple, adapt, improvise, and ultimately overcome.
See that it is a sin to take too much responsibility?
Can it seem cruel to them and us when we gently insist they take their responsibility? Yes, indeed. That’s life in the relational world, I’m afraid. If we take our own responsibility, surely others can take theirs.
Being more Jesus-like is about taking responsibility for all our attitudes and behaviour, while refusing to take responsibility for other people’s attitudes and behaviour.
If more of this taking responsibility for one’s own actions took place there would be far less abuse, discrimination, trauma, mental illness, etc. Jesus wants to grow us all up.

Photo by Joël de Vriend on Unsplash

Friday, April 19, 2019

Thankfulness for special friends at Easter

The best of three younger friends have enriched my life because they have constantly invited me into theirs.
Their friendship encapsulates how God gives abundantly to us who choose to give what God gave at first, not least through the cross, and continues to give through the power of His resurrection.
As one holds the lantern for another,
this other holds a lantern for yet another,
as someone held that lantern for us.
We live and have our being to give Jesus’ life.
… and so, life continues onward
through generations.
One friend is the paragon of humility, always reminding me as I’ve mentored him of anything that I’ve spoken of that is extra-biblical, hence distasteful, as opposed to the fruit of experience he has craved for me to share. He speaks truth and has an eye and a heart for it. It hasn’t always made him popular. And at times, sometimes when life was going against him, his commitment to the truth has lost him ‘friends’. Yet his commitment to truth is unwavering.
His devotion to the truth speaks mainly from his devotion to love; the person who shares truth from their heart loves most. He has loved me and continues to love me. And I love him.
My second friend I had the privilege of counselling years ago. She was vulnerable and gave her situation to me in much vulnerability. It was a holy thing to be trusted to this degree. I revered God more for who He had entrusted to me as she sought my help for the season she was enduring. This counselling relationship wasn’t only for her help, but it was also for my education — God trained me as each of my steps forward were shone, lit just in time.
My third friend came into my life and was open to my friendship and support at a time when life was very hard for me. For such a season, her hope and life and vitality were like life to me, and it was especially a blessing to me that she shared her confidence and joy. I had depth and she had depth, and yet as I gave my support, God gave me strength through being in her life that she would’ve had no idea about.
One thing my three friends have shown me —
no, actually God has shown me through them —
is the message of Easter in their very lives!
I have seen, borne witness, even supported them, through their bearing of their crosses to the death of their dreams. And for each I’ve seen them rise again, resurrected as it were by the power of Christ in them; dreams revived and intact.
This has been personal for me. To witness this in them, as a foretaste of experiencing a very recent iteration of my own resurrection. Only now, this Easter, as I reflect on Christ’s death, entombment and resurrection, in the context of my own, do I see theirs, as a prophetic witness of what God had done in theirs and was already doing in my life — yet I could not see it until now; until the appointed and correct time.
All three of my special friends share the same sporting prowess and they’re all experts in what they do; but their passion is not for the sport that claims their service, but for their devotion to Jesus’ passion.

Photo by Dylan McLeod on Unsplash

Thursday, April 18, 2019

What nobody talks about, but everyone should

I know, I know; ‘should’ is such a supposedly negative, demanding, shaming word. Apparently. No, what is shaming is entirely different.
It’s the victimisation of someone who’s been assaulted, the cannibalisation of a less powerful family member by the family as a whole, the sensationalism of an issue to cover over a real wrong. It’s scapegoatism at its core.
I like the poem, No One Does, by Lori Anne Thompson — no one does but someone should.
One line particularly resonated like the mix of an echo and a chill:
“How the victim is infused with shame
by offender and onlooker alike.”
When anyone’s been victimised, and let’s face it, most of us should care, because most of us have been punished by the shame of such a thing, we should recognise the paradoxical sting of injustice. It taints every joy and smells foul in the room.
The victim is infused like two-week-old tea within their inescapable shame, because the room is filled with their offender and onlookers (everyone else) alike. Isolation is the victim’s passage into a shame that is inevitably theirs; a shame that doesn’t fit and should never have been. And that segregation lingers on the palate of the soul.
The offender works the room with calculating precision. Theirs is a cunning beyond myriad many who what to ‘keep the peace’, never knowing and never understanding that that kind of ‘peace’ is a war waged against God. Division is the offender’s master game. His is the glitz and the glam. He loves it because he’s ballsy enough to kill for the win. He’s worked it before, and he’ll do it again.
And there she is, in the corner of the room, immobile, defenceless, shivering in the cold of the onlooker’s genteel disdain. Any of us who have watched on as an evil occurred and did nothing to stop it; that’s the genteel disdain I speak of. Oh, I’ve been gutless before. I know what it’s like to turn a blind eye.
But no more!
The Holy Spirit says, “it’s right there, let not your conscience rest!”
What nobody talks about, but everyone should.
The way she’s leered at; the licking of his lips; the offender’s shitty remark that engenders a nervous smile in the onlooker; the lazy feet-up attitude; the misogynistic laugh; sex sold on secretive scale; the manipulative guile of a man who behaves like a god. The fool. God will have him in God’s time.
It’s not the victim’s shame that’s the real shame; it’s the shame of the onlooker who did nothing, who pretended ‘nothing to see here!’, who wailed in their silence some cold story of superficiality to blend a little comfort into their guilt.
What nobody talks about, but everyone should: sexual assault, rape, incest, covert bullying, stalking, fakery, manipulation for gain, myriad form of harassment… the list goes on…
And on... And on... And on...
What we must do is the little we can
for the biggest difference that we alone can do.
It’s all we can do and it’s always enough.

Photo by Gage Walker on Unsplash

Sunday, April 14, 2019

God’s Presence and Love Available Only In Grief

When you need it, you need it, and you never know how much you need it until you need it that much you feel you’ll die without it.
How on earth — literally in this innately physical life — can we begin to describe the inhabitation of God’s Presence? But that’s been an ongoing assignment for me. To attempt it. Alas, it is always far from my grasp.
The thing I first experienced over 15 years ago is still so mysterious to me, but back then, and ever since, it was/is never more real. I can only imagine it was like this because I was completely broken back then, day upon discouraged day, and yet somehow, interspersed as fragments of experience within that season was the grace that can only come from God.
The Lord made himself real to me. Even amid the anger, the guilt, the injustice, the shame, the despair, and especially after the bargaining, of loss. It was a constant journey of all these emotions and more; and bargaining with God, though I was often unconscious about it, was a continual refrain. Oh how tired I got from it.
But the series that is despair in loss, the long and tortuous sequence that meanders far too long, is the hotbed for vanquishing hubris, and it is literally a seminary for the soul.
It is so hard to explain to the person who has been knocked down time and time and time again, that they must claw back to God and remain hopeful. The blessed ones know no other way. They cannot survive without the Presence of the Almighty. And what maximal faith it is to believe upon such a thing without having ever experienced it. That person will surely be touched by the mighty hand of the Master.
If they do not give up!
I had Galatians 6:9 as a continual soul-friend during my calamity: “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right [or good], for we will reap at harvest [or the proper] time, if we do not give up.”
I cannot tell you how often that verse and many others got me through when I was sorely tempted to give up; when God seemed absent; when some I wanted to care for me truly did not seem to care.
I had a smattering of experiences way back then, when life was as dark as it could ever be, that have been legacy experiences. They remain possessions I draw upon today. They endure. They’re eternal chattels that the Lord gives those who give their allegiance to him when there are a million other affections we could run to.
The thing we cannot rationalise is just how our incredibly God reconciles our suffering for our goodness and for his glory. Afterwards. Hebrews 12:11. Go there right now:
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time,
but painful.
Later on, however, it produces
a harvest of righteousness and peace
for those who have been trained by it.”
God is surely using the depths of grief as a love of discipline. Because our Lord is insensitive? No! It’s because we’re so beloved. God is taking us into a revenant state for the rest of our lives. Nothing afterwards will ever be the same, and all suffering will then henceforth have intrinsic meaning.
If grief cannot beat us, nothing can. And that’s the hope of Romans chapter 8!

Photo by Arjunsyah on Unsplash

Friday, April 12, 2019

Confessions of a Counsellor

Some time ago I was chastised by a person I had counselled. That sounds harsh. This person spoke the truth in love. It wasn’t hard to hear, because they took great care to preface how they were endeared to the care I’d given them. But something I’d done, a way I chose to orient the counselling relationship, had potentially damaged them. It had made them feel unsafe. It was a potential abuse. And though I could see it in their feedback, I had felt justified at that time. I no longer felt justified, however. I’d tried to prioritise the safety of others and had overcompensated. I’d traded on the relationship I had with the person who was now giving me feedback. It had taken them some time to be able to have this conversation with me.
Even as I heard the words, “I need to give you some feedback, the truth in love,” I had that sinking feeling. I wondered what would come. How on earth had I failed them? I needn’t have been concerned. The feedback was delivered, as I said, with gracious aplomb.
I endeavoured to justify what I’d done, but when the impact of my behaviour was repeated back to me a second time, I had no choice; the Holy Spirit’s conviction was hot in my chest and it impressed upon me the need of what we call a 7 ‘A’ apology (address everyone hurt; avoid if, but, and maybe; admit specifically the wrong; acknowledge the hurt; accept the consequences; alter your behaviour; ask for forgiveness).
An unconditional and sincere apology was all the moment called for. Nothing less.
For the hurt I caused, whether I thought my actions were warranted at the time or not, I needed to say an unreserved sorry. I needed to prove that I could grasp how hurt this person was; how angry and betrayed they’d felt, and how until then I’d had no idea, which I admitted to them. I had to accept that, whilst I sought their forgiveness, that I could not demand it, and I certainly could not demand that they trust me again. I acknowledged, too, that even though they said they had forgiven me, that I accepted the situation that in reality they might still have a process ahead of them to feel I had been restored to them. I didn’t consider myself off the hook. I also suggested that the value of the feedback would inform the way I did counselling ministry from now on, in cases like theirs. They had wished that their feedback might impact me to this extent.
The beauty in the moment was that one person risked their love so much for truth to prevail that they risked enough to call our relationship to an even higher level of trust.
They spoke words that could have been uttered hurtfully but weren’t. They believed so much in my practice of counselling they wanted me to improve. They showed such poise to keep me safe even though I hadn’t always afforded safety to them.
I’m so grateful for this risk that love makes. I’m thankful for this person’s courage. And I’m constantly learning.

Photo by Jay Skyler on Unsplash

Saturday, April 6, 2019

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you

Wisdom is a thing of more worth than gold. Like few things that are valued in this life, it is hard won and not easily lost — so long as we continue to revere the source of it: that’s God.
There are three vitally interconnected components in the biblical wisdom of the Apostle Paul:
“If it is possible,
as far as it depends on you,
live at peace with everyone.”
12:18 (NIV)
If it is possible — sometimes it isn’t possible. Sometimes we’ve exhausted all our avenues of love and understanding and patience. Sometimes we can’t do any more. Sometimes we have to leave situations to our prayers. Yet there is still kindness. There is still grace. And as we give our kindness and grace, God grows us in kindness and grace.
Have you ever noticed that? We grow only in accordance with the sacrifices we make that are uncomfortable for us; those that demand a choice to love. Those where others get right of way.
We may have decided that a person or a situation no longer is extended our trust. The power in that decision is they no longer have power over how we choose to treat them.
… as far as it depends on you… this stresses the importance of exhausting every opportunity, because, let’s face it, we’re quicker to cut ties with someone who hurts us than we want others to when we hurt them. And we all engage in ways that hurt others. All of us. There is always a ‘when’.
Have we gone to the fullest extent we can to reach out toward them? Here’s where the wisdom comes in. There are times when we think we have, and we haven’t. There are times when we think we haven’t, and we have. Wisdom discerns correctly. Wisdom both endures and does not prolong pain.
… live at peace with everyone… if only everyone did or could. But not everyone does. And none of us really do it with any consistency without God’s Spirit reminding us. We all need to be reminded to come back to a way of living that requires us to sacrifice for the good of others, where there’s no direct benefit to ourselves.
When we live at peace with everyone,
God does a work of peace in us.
Or, is it the other way around? Like the chicken and the egg, it’s an interdependent relationship. Want ‘inner peace’? It’s as easy as having interpersonal peace, because everyone’s hope and joy relies at least to some extent on how they’re treated.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Be weak and make your relationships strong

I say sorry a lot. Many times, daily. Perhaps too much for some. For some, I appear weak. I know some just don’t get me. Yet I know many more do understand. I have found it’s the key to not only restoring breaking relationships, but to building them too.
Many more understand because they reflect what the psychological science (Responsibility Exchange Theory) knows is true; the science indicates that what appears weak lends itself to great strength.
Think about the humble apology. Think about even the term “humble apology.” We don’t receive enough humble apologies, do we? And apologies that aren’t humble are never received as apologies.
They were wasted breath.
They were an excuse to continue the blame game.
They never restored anything.
A humble apology — one that could be perceived as ‘weak’ — is often the only way to an effective apology. This is the kind of apology that casts us on the mercy of the other person to forgive us or not. We can think it’s a risk that we’ll be perceived as weak, but truly being weak, and giving a humble, sincere apology is the masterstroke of relational wisdom, and it is true strength of character that worships God in spirit and in truth.
But let’s turn to the secular science, which purports biblical truths nested for thousands of years:
Quoting David O. Saenz, PhD, “a genuine, believable, effective apology comes at a cost for the apologizer in order for the recipient of an apology to give it any worth. Failure to show gratitude, give thanks or apologize, can severely undermine and even devastate any relationship, even ending it.”
Here is a great paradox; perhaps the epitome of paradoxes:
To show such weakness
as to take personal responsibility for our wrongdoing
is an incredible strength.
Within a relationship
taking personal responsibility is truth telling,
which honours and respects other people and ourselves.
It is the great salve to the dignity
of our common relational humanity.
To be weak is to be strong!
In a world that foolishly thinks influence can be gained through the misuse of power, the weak people of God turn the tables in a way that the devil stupidly cannot counter.
In being truthfully magnanimous in our wrong, for we are sinners who do wrong most of the moments of our lives, we loan the strength of our honesty to the relationship — the strength we should have given it in the first place — and that investment draws remarkably consistent dividends, with interest!
Such a thing as a genuine apology takes maximal character strength; to face what we did wrong, the hurt we caused, the consequences that will come, and everyone we harmed.
Such an apology says, “I’m willing to pay the cost that restoring the relationship requires. I love you (or care for you) and our relationship too much for it to remain torn. I love (or care for) the truth too much for lies to prevail or for hurt to be prolonged. And I’m humble enough to recognise that everything I or we do is done before the watching eye of God!”
From such a context of thinking, genuine and heartfelt apology is an absolute no brainer. We waste not one calorie of energy in executing justice for the other against ourselves. Indeed, such ‘loss’ as being weak is complete and utter gain.
See how being weak is being strong?
See how being weak is wise?
See how being weak is right?
And see how being weak is redemptive?
Many decry the lack of miracles in our modern day. The best miracles are not of people being healed of their illnesses without explanation. The best miracles of our day — and of any day — is in the redemption of relationship. This, in sum, is the Gospel message. When Jesus became weak so that we might become strong. When the Sinless One came to do what sinners could never do.
In situations of narcissistic or abusive relationships: there are situations where your apologies are forever unrequited. Generally, I say, do not trust someone who cannot or will not genuinely apologise. This doesn’t mean we need to be nasty. We can still be kind and respectful, but with boundaries. With some people, healthy, vibrant, giving relationships are impossible because of who they are.

Photo by Lina Trochez on Unsplash

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

What Busts in Relationship Breakdown?

Relationship conflict is like a Jenga Tower.
As insult is added to injury, as hurts polarise us more and more into the corner of resentment, in being embittered, we continue to remove ‘pieces’ making the structure of the relationship less and less stable.
Sooner or later, it collapses. Divorce. Division. Derision. Desecration. Dereliction. Diminution. Dissolution. Dismay. And several other ‘D’ words, among many other words.
It takes one person to remove one piece from the tower, before the other person obliges.
It’s a fun game that builds to a crescendo. As more pieces are taken, players become emboldened.
There is an adrenalin rush when a risky piece is slid out of the pile. The pressure goes onto the opponent. They must prove they can make an equally thrilling move.
Spectators move in and give players their support. Everyone anticipates that the tower will fall at some point soon. But when?
And then… finally, it does.
It topples and the pieces lay strewn over the floor. So many relationships end like this.
Relationships that endure conflict bear these features.
Sometimes we’re not even aware we’re taking out precious pieces of the relationship’s scaffold even as we do it. But as soon as we pull our first piece out from the relational Jenga Tower, the onus is on the other person who has been infracted.
“Payback is sweet,” isn’t that what they say? At its most insidious, we’re not even aware we’re acting out of hurt.
Giving back to people what they gave us becomes our human norm, and we may not identify it’s wrong and that the right thing to do is to act in peace. The more we’re hurt by someone, the less we trust them, and the more we expect them to betray us further.
The more pieces that are taken out against us, the more these actions are telling about how they feel about us; the more aggressively we pull our pieces out — force comes with confidence attained in conflict. And when force is observed in the other person it’s the perfect excuse to up the ante.
It begins to consume our heart and our thoughts. We walk around fuming about their last move or our next move. And, of course, we do involve others; spectators are bountiful when conflict turns ugly. And gossip is like fuel on an already raging inferno.
All it takes to halt the collapse of the tower is peace.
What busts in relationship breakdowns? Peace. If it were a balloon, conflict would overinflate it beyond its design capacity.
But as peace in a relationship is a solid square tower, instability brings it to the brink of disaster.
We must reconcile that all our relationships are fraught with the Jenga Tower analogy.
Trust can be eroded slowly over time, as we allow small hurts to be denied and never addressed. Pieces are taken out of the relational tower and both parties ought to be able to see what’s going to happen next. Denial or a lack of care simply doesn’t cut it.
Someone, anyone, must make the decision to call a truce, to lay down the guns, to take a moment to look the other in the eye and say, “You mean more to me than to win [whatever it is you’re fighting over] … this is getting us nowhere.”
Peace is the maturity of one saying to another, “There’s bigger stakes here than what we’re fighting over.”
Peace is also, at times, recognising that some people cannot deal in peace. It brings much grief when we decide to kick the dust off our feet. All relationships have the right to the hope of reconciliation.
Acknowledgement to PeaceWise’s Heart of Peacemaking 102 course.