Relationships are good but hard, and I know it because of personal experience and because of the emails I received throughout 2015 from readers whose requests best can be summed up with one word.
“HELP.” — as in, “Should I break up with her?” and “Why won’t he ask me out?” and “Should I pursue a relationship with her?” and “Is it ok to tell him that I like him?”
It is normal to desire to do relationships well and it is also normal to feel a lot like you have no idea what you are doing.
So as we usher 2015 out and ring in 2016, I offer three relationship resolutions based on themes that showed up in the emails I received this year — resolutions that are of benefit to anyone who hopes for help to do relationships well:
1. Let God be your most significant other.
Can relationships exist, and even last, if the people in them don’t involve God? Of course.
Relationships will not be what they could be — what they were designed to be — if the people in them don’t involve God. Not even close.
To borrow a quote from Fr. Victor Amorose, “the less work we put into that fundamental relationship (with God), the more our other relationships start with a flawed foundation.”
If my relationship with God does not take precedence, I begin to seek from significant others what they are not even equipped to give me: peace, joy, salvation.
We all do. We’re born wanting those things, seeking those things, but we gyp ourselves and each other when we neglect the only relationship in which we will find them.
Tim Keller puts it like this in his book The Meaning of Marriage:
“Christians have learned that the worship of God with the whole heart in the assurance of his love through the work of Jesus Christ is the thing their souls were meant to ‘run on.’ That is what gets all the heart’s cylinders to fire. If this is not understood, then we will not have the resources to be good spouses. If we look to our spouses to fill up our tanks in a way that only God can do, we are demanding an impossibility.”
2. Fire your peanut gallery.
Yes — your peanut gallery. The people who insert themselves into your relationships, who ask for details that you didn’t plan to offer.
The people whose questions cross lines, whose opinions are frankly unimportant (and often unsolicited), whose credentials are nil for providing sound direction in your life. Fire them.
Which is tricky. But setting boundaries for people who don’t want them always is.
Doing so for the peanut gallery requires us to determine which people are part of it. Which requires us to be honest with ourselves — to acknowledge that what makes an opinion important is not whether you think it’ll be what you want to hear, and not whether the person who provides it thinks you have to hear it.
Does this person have authority on the subject? Is this person’s opinion solicited? Is his or her decision to share it rooted in an authentic desire to help you become the person God designed you to be? If not, fire them.
Is helping you in this way actually part of this person’s role in your life? Do you consider help from this specific person to be a necessity? If not, fire them.
You do not owe attention to all the people who are inclined to share their opinions or offer advice. You are not obligated to consider applying others’ opinions — but I encourage you first to consider their sources.
When we don’t, we are potentially bombarded by voices that will affect our decisions but shouldn’t.
Set the boundary and stick to it however you have to — be it by allowing the peanut gallery’s feedback to go in one ear and out the other, or by telling the peanut gallery that you’ll only accept opinions when you ask for them.
3. Take reasonable risks.
Don’t avoid risks — take them. And I get it: that’s hard.
But it is harder when we decline to acknowledge the truth about risk: sometimes risk is necessary, such as in pursuit of a healthy, holy relationship.
So we wind up both with a desire to find a good spouse and a resistance to the risks required to find one. But what does a person actually want who resists the risks? Is it marriage, or is it comfort? Is it God’s will that he or she wants, or is it the promise of unending affective gratification?
Dietrich von Hildebrand wrote in his book called Marriage that “it lies in the nature of conjugal love to be bold, heroic, not to shrink back from taking a risk.”
“He whose life is dominated by the intention of avoiding any possible cross excludes everything that gives human life grandeur and depth. He will never know real abandon — never know real, deep happiness. Remaining in a mediocre self-centeredness, he will never be able to do anything without a certain reserve; he will always provide for a possibility of retreat.”
So, take reasonable risks.
Like a lady but are afraid to ask her out? Ask her anyway.
Like your state but options for quality dates are slim within it? Go long-distance.
Like each other clearly but neither of you has mentioned it? Speak up.
Risky? Yes. But, says von Hildebrand, “all great things on earth are connected with risk.”