How Relationships Work Part Three

Interpersonal relationships are among our most precious life experiences. And they DO work. However, it is also common for people to mess up their relationships. There are two main causes for damage to relationships. One cause is simple ignorance. Some people are selfish, inconsiderate, foolish, naïve or irresponsible, and they blunder on, damaging the things God has given them.

Another cause is more sinister, when a person acts selfishly on purpose. They may know better, but are simply determined to be the centre of their universe. Among this category are the argumentative, the users and abusers and the self-centred fools.

This series on how relationships work is starting out as an educative source for those who are sensible enough to learn and lift their game. Before the series is out I will add some straight talk, as I have done elsewhere, about the matters of sheer determined selfishness.

Interpersonal Ignorance

The problem in many relationships is often simple interpersonal ignorance. When people do not understand relationship, or understand themselves and others, they may enter into tensions in complete ignorance of how they are part of the problem. Selfishness is one of the worst diseases to bring into any relationship. And ignorance of its existence and impact will cost dearly.

A few simple ‘home truths’ about people and how they relate, combined with a few simple ‘common sense’ strategies will go a long way to helping people reduce their interpersonal tensions. Add to that some personal healing, humility, wisdom and submission to godly claims on their life and pain filled relationships can become joyful and fulfilling again.

Reactions are a big problem. Making demands is a serious issue. Disengaging authority is really dangerous. So let me take you through some of these issues.

Buttons on Your Dashboard

Don’t be a ‘reaction’. Each of us has a set of buttons on the dashboard of our life. There are certain ways in which people can rub us up the wrong way, offend us, awaken our areas of pain and weakness, touch our raw nerve and press our buttons.

The issue is that of our reactions. In an ideal situation each of us should be so whole and complete on the inside that we never need to react to anything. By ‘react’ I mean to be trapped in an involuntary and predictable response impulse which interrupts other things we could or should be focused on.

My son, Christopher, was in a high speed motorcycle filming sequence recently when a large insect flew at his face mask. He did not need to react to that, since the mask would deflect the insect. But he instinctively reacted, pulling his head to the side. The head movement threw his motorbike off course as he entered a corner at high speed. Consequently he and his bike ran off the road, became airborne and crashed into a ditch, leaving him unconscious and the bike and camera written off.

The buttons on the dash have a similar effect. They cause us to fly into response mode. The consequences can be very serious. So it is important to be so resolved in our own inner life that we simply do not need to react to accusation, offence, hurts, words, shame, or any such thing.

Removing Buttons

For people who react it is as if there is a set of buttons on the dashboard of their life. When someone presses one of those buttons the response can be instant, significant and relied upon to happen.

If a man’s ego is challenged or if a woman is insulted we often see the person react. This is typical of the “button on the dash” problem.

Those buttons on our dashboard need to be deactivated and the whole panel removed from our life. This takes the ministry of the Holy Spirit, instruction from the Word of God and application of the Grace of God to deactivate the programmed responses and sinful, selfish commitments we have set up in our lives.

We need to be open to the Lord’s rebuke. We need to open our hearts to the Lord’s instruction. We need to expand our understanding of truths and principles which may be missing in our lives. We need to learn godly disciplines and gain control over our own spirit. We need to put our pride to death, along with the lusts which drive us. We need to forgive those who offended us and trust God to be our shield and exceeding great reward. We need to look to Him, and not to our own energies, to establish our security for the future.

Yielding Rights

Part of dealing with the buttons in our life is yielding our rights. This is the process of dying to self and making ourselves of no reputation, as Jesus did. It is the process of putting other people first.

Most westerners have been raised to think that their existence is all about themselves. Their hopes, wants, feelings, demands, needs, urges and impulses rule them. Yielding rights is part of the process of dying to self and putting God and others ahead of ourselves. If your life motto proves to be “It’s all about ME!” then you will have serious relationship issues through the years.

Yielding rights involves you making the commitment that “It’s not all about me, but it’s about me serving and glorifying God and blessing others”. When you get yourself out of the way you will be much more able to sustain successful interpersonal relationships.

Zone and Mouth Disease

In part one of this series I introduced you to the Zombie Zone. In part two I discussed how many people need to be affirmed by input from or interaction with others. A mismatch between these two inclinations leads to tensions and upsets.

Let’s consider the couple who have ‘zone and mouth disease’. One of them is in their private relaxation zone – maybe watching TV, reading a book or driving the car. The other feels the need to speak and be noticed in some way.

When the person in their private zone is disrupted they can selfishly be offended, or they can happily pull their self out of their private musings and attend to the matter raised. They can decide to bless the other with their attentive listening and helpful contribution to the discussion.

When the person who feels the need to speak sees the other person zoned out, or does not get the response they want from the person who is otherwise turned off to some degree, they can selfishly be offended, or they can happily leave that person to some peace and quiet. They can decide to bless the other person by taming their urge to speak or be acknowledged.


One problem that develops in relationships is that the parties become intolerant of the other person’s habitual actions. It can be that one spouse will turn off to the other and that other will be given to pressing their claim on the spouse who is not listening. Both spouses become intolerant of the other’s treatment of them. This intolerance factor becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of frustration.

“He (or she) switches off!” “Yes, but she (or he) won’t leave me alone!”

To make that worse, some people press themselves on their spouse for bad reasons. They may be insecure, controlling, resentful, agitated, anxious or the like. They find it impossible to let their spouse have peace and quiet. If they feel unresolved they feel compelled to inflict their feelings onto their spouse. They become intolerant of the spouse’s freedom from their own frustrations.

At the same time, some spouses disengage and will not accept responsibility for their actions, words or duties. They may be lazy, careless, fed-up, selfish, irresponsible, incompetent, or the like, and resent all pressure to change, even if it is valid. They quickly become intolerant of the demands being made upon them.

Aim for Relationship

Remember that relationship is built on two people ‘relating’. How can they walk together unless they are agreed?

When disagreement has sprung up the two will not be able to ‘relate’, so the relationship will be damaged. What you need to do is aim for relationship, not your selfish wishes.

When you put yourself ahead of the relationship, even if you think the other person has been wrong, you are doing damage to that relationship. Self is an alternative to the relationship, not a means of helping the relationship.

Relationships work when people put the relationship first and their selfish demands second. So, no matter what has been happening in your marriage or family, aim for Relationship!

The Relationships Series of Articles ….
Part One:
Part Two:
Part Three:
Part Four:

Tags: , , , , , , ,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *