Editors Note: This article is written by BCC Counselor, Jerrod Tillotson as part of our series on Relational Health. In this series, our counselors are sharing biblical principles to strengthen and improve all kinds of relationships.
What should you do if you find yourself in a relationship that seems distant or cold, compared to how it used to be? Often times, we can take for granted the connection we once had or not appreciate it by responding poorly in a moment of relational tension.
Jesus taught us a better way by how He interacted with those around Him. Even leading secular relationship experts will affirm the principles that Jesus taught us. He truly modeled for us a new way of life.
Jesus taught us several lessons by the way He lived his life which can help our relationships grow healthier today.
Learning to Value
Jesus teaches us to love one another as He has loved us (John 13:34). How do we love another? Well, there are many ways in which we can and do.
One way is to understand the value of others and who they are as fellow image-bearers. We also show value in many ways, one of which is time and intentional attention, especially when it’s sought.
Jesus consistently gave those around Him His full attention, and He described how much the Father cares and values us by using the sparrow and lily illustrations (Matthew 6:25-34).
When Jesus interacted with people, you can sense He was fully present with them, both in his humanity and divinity. I can’t help but think of the passage that says He empathizes with us (Hebrews 4:15a), and yet at the same time I think of Psalm 8 where the psalmist says of God “what is man that you are mindful of him?” Our Creator knows how to show us the value He gave us when He made us.
Learning to Focus
As created beings, the desire for relational health is built into us. Showing proper attention can be achieved proactively in seeking to love those around you and noticing when others are seeking your time and attention.
Even in small moments, you can have a significant impact on close relationships like family, spousal, friends, as well as those we may not know or be close with (with healthy boundaries).
Jesus withdrew, recharged in rest and prayer, and was purposeful in his time usage (like none other in history, of course). Understandably there are times when it’s difficult to give our focus to someone in a way that communicates value and interest. However, let that be the exception rather than the rule.
Learning to Connect
In healthy close relationships, we will often reach out for emotional connection to one another with a kind word, a question, a smile, or even a hug. The other person will usually turn toward the person to engage and show appreciation, care, and interest.
In unhealthy relationships, someone may turn away and ignore the person perhaps in annoyance and irritation. They may turn against connection and respond with hostility or anger in tone and criticism. When turning away is more common than turning towards, the relationship can and likely will suffer.
A popular secular marital counselor Dr. John Gottman calls these attempts for emotional connection “emotional bids”. We need to be more aware and mutually attentive to one another’s emotional bids. When we are, we will develop closer bonds, friendship, and romance in marriage.
Learning to Support
Let’s look at the story of Job. Job’s wife didn’t support him well when she told him to “curse God and die.” I’m sure he wasn’t in the best spirits himself, and he’s more of an example of suffering mostly well. His friends also did poorly, trying to blame and fix rather than being present and faithful. They could have used a word from Solomon: “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.” (Proverbs 18:2)
If we support others well and show interest in them, we will communicate value and worth. Even if what they are saying is of little interest to us, we can convey to them that they are valued by us.
If someone makes a comment about a movie, a person they just saw, an article they just read (like this one), you can stop for a moment what you are doing and tune in to them by asking about it or commenting back on it in a positive encouraging way.
Suppose your spouse/friend/child makes a comment about a bird they see. You can show interest, ask about it, and even go take a look at it yourself. On the other hand, you can ignore it and say nothing, or even say something critical like, “Why do you waste your time with those things?”
In any relationship, when individuals commit to making small (but consistent) positive changes in how they act, big things can happen. It’s easier to make small changes rather than sudden big ones, so commit to making minor improvements in grace, fondness, and admiration. This is helpful in marriage, parenting, and all kinds of friendships.
Building healthy relationships starts with valuing those around us and includes turning towards others, giving our time and attention.
While none of us can perfectly live out the example of Christ, we should aspire to be more like Him in the way we care for others. I challenge you to focus on one of these strategies to help you move towards relational health.