How Relationships Work Part One

Relationship challenges are one of the most common sources of personal frustration and challenge in today’s generation. The pop culture of song, television, books and movies is immersed in the theme of broken hearts, broken relationships, insecurity, temporary joys, frustrations, betrayal and similar relationship issues.

Interpersonal relationships, where two people must live and work together, require wisdom, grace and selflessness. In employment situations or task and process contexts, the assigned roles and overall objectives tend to anchor the relationships. In friendship, family and marriage, however, the people must make the relationships work without external routines and processes to act as guard rails to the relationship.

In this series of articles I will discuss several key insights into how relationships work. I draw the content from my counselling experience and what I have seen go wrong and right with those I have been privileged to assist.

Biblical Foundations

The best foundation to establish for relationships is faith in God, the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and diligent attention to Biblical wisdom. Jesus Christ has given us much wisdom for making relationships work, such as the need to forgive and even to love our enemies.

King Solomon, the wisest man that ever lived, also gives us insights into relationships. So too do the prophets of old. One of the foundational truths given to us by the prophet Amos is that of agreement.

“Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” Amos 3:3

My understanding of what is best for people comes from my reading of the Bible. I encourage you to be a student of the Bible and to not just read it, but live by what it teaches.

Working Together

Couples bring together two personal styles which will often have areas of misalignment.

As Christ and truth works in the relationship there will be need to each person to seek and embrace ministry that sets them free. They will also need to learn graces such as forgiveness and the yielding of rights, to overcome their otherwise inappropriate behaviour. They also need management strategies, to employ during the time period before they have successfully dealt with issues.

Zombie Zone

Each of us has places where we switch into different mindsets. Most people have their favourite resting formula. It may be a comfortable chair in the sunroom, with their knitting, or their favourite chair in front of the TV set. It may be their desk or workbench, the kitchen, or behind the steering wheel. It may be with a magazine in hand, or a drink, or the television remote control.

Those favourite places are where we least like to be interrupted and we don’t like being called away from that repose.

Those places become a Zombie Zone of sorts for us. We switch off, or try to switch off from other claims on our time, energy or thinking, when we are in our favourite resting places. We can even become something like a zombie to our spouse or family members, as we sink into repose and switch off to other demands.

Twilight Zones

The Zombie Zone, described above, is not the only zone that people retreat to. Another popular zone is the Productivity Zone. When people are engaged in certain routine activities they can tend to shut themselves into that routine and exclude, or certainly seek to avoid, interruptions. They get caught up in their routine, desired outcome or automatic process. They don’t want to be interrupted from their operational zone.

Some people can do a task and remain alert to distractions, interruptions, interjections and so on. Others need to lock themselves into the routine and either concentrate on what they are doing, or just switch off during the process. I have seen people switch off into automaton mode when mowing the lawn, cooking, repairing something, talking on the telephone or working on their car. It’s not an uncommon experience.

These various productivity zones become a twilight zone in the person’s life. They tend to slip out of broader circulation and become absorbed in the task, routine or locale, as if somehow mesmerised by it.

When someone interrupts a person who is engaged (or disengaged) by their task the interruption can be resented. It is not uncommon to hear someone angrily say, “Can’t you see I’m busy?” Angry tones can carry such responses as, “What do you want?” “Go and ask your mother!” “Did you interrupt me just to ask me that?”

Place and Pace

The zombie zone and twilight zone are just expressions of our comfort zone. We each have various settled places, processes, speeds of operation, modes of functioning and the like, which we are completely comfortable in. When we are pushed out of that zone, or forced to work to a different paradigm or pace, we become uncomfortable.

When we have our comfort zone disturbed we can become irritable, intolerant of the interruption, and insecure in the new context.

The process of pushing someone outside their comfort zone is sometimes described as “rattling their cage”. The sense of agitation is readily identified. And we have all felt the uneasy, uncomfortable experiences of being pushed outside our preferred place and pace.

While we each have a different shape and different size comfort zone, we all prefer to work within the status quo of what we know and know we can handle. Even our sources of excitement and daring, such as venturing into new things, we prefer to be done in controllable and predictable ways, with safeguards and limitations.

Turning Off

While being in our favourite comfort zone suits us fine it can be a problem for others. Our private retreat, be it the zombie “switch-off” zone, the productivity zone, or our favourite place and pace zone, turns us off to things around us. It locks us away from time and attentiveness toward others.

While we may enjoy turning off to distractions, our retreat can be a real “turn off” to those who wish to engage with us. They may even need us.

Check your zombie mode. You may be rejecting others. You may be turning off to life, just to indulge yourself with your personal preferences. Your life needs to be shared. This is especially true when it comes to relationships. If you retreat or subconsciously turn off, you will freeze out those other people in your life who are meant to be a source of joy, meaning and blessing in your life.


Train yourself to open up your zone to allow others in. If you tend to switch off while you are driving then at least hold your spouse’s hand while you drive. Or if you need to kick people out of the kitchen while you prepare a meal, be sure to go to them as soon as you have finished and reconnect with them.

If you need the kids to be quiet while you make a phone call and you turn off to their needs as you chat with a friend, be sure to hug your kids when you get off the call.

Better still hug your kids while you are on the call. Invite others into your kitchen and get them to help you. Let the kids help you in your yard jobs, even if they mess things up.

Interpersonal relationships need you to connect with others, so beware of your retreat into your zombie zone.


In the next instalment I will open up discussion of a different relationship challenge that is particularly problematic for people who enjoy their zombie zone. While most of us enjoy some degree of Zombie Zone, most of us also fall prey to some degree of “Invade and Pillage”. So that will be our theme next time.

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

Youth Plants and Builds

Today’s pop culture acts as if youth is the time for indulgence, independence and unbridled pursuit of self-fulfilment. That idea is not only a deadly and useless one, it is a modern notion that defies the time-tested ideas of youth as a vital time to plant and build.

Let me take you back to some concepts of youth from yesteryear. Three thousand years ago King Solomon instructed youth to give special attention to God. The fear of God is something Solomon saw as vitally important for youth.

“Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth..” Ecclesiastes 12:1b

Solomon dedicated the book of Proverbs to his son, giving abundant sound advice about the pursuit of wisdom, avoiding fools, keeping away from immorality and so on. The best kind of youth is first established on the fear of God and a desire to go God’s ways and fulfil His plan for our life.

Another concept from yesteryear is that of ‘sowing and reaping’. What you sow is what you reap, according the both Biblical wisdom and human experience.

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows is what he will also reap. For he that sows to his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh; but he that sows to the Spirit will reap life everlasting from the Spirit.” Galatians 6:7,8 (Apostle Paul)

“For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorn bushes, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush.” Luke 6:44 (Jesus Christ)

Trees take time to grow. What starts out as a small plant becomes, in time, a huge tree or a dense bush. When young people plant things in their life they may not see the consequences for a decade or two. Initially there is no evidence that they will have any bad outcome. But if they have planted thorn bushes and brambles, they cannot expect to harvest figs and grapes. What they sow is what they are going to reap.

So take note of this quote from this important eighteenth century American writer, Thomas Paine. Paine wrote many things that were central to bolstering the revolutionary cause and maintaining commitment during the long and wearing struggle for independence.

“Youth is the seed-time of good habits”, Thomas Paine, ‘Common Sense’ 1791.

Youth is a time to plant. In fact, youth is the time when planting happens, whether the youth realise it or not. They are planting character and sowing seeds for harvests to be enjoyed throughout their lives. Time well spent and choice seeds sown in youth will provide much to draw from in later years.

Another historic reference point for the importance of youth is the idea of building things for the future. A notion which was popularised in Christian homes in recent centuries is that of our life being a house which we build when young and have to live in for the rest of our lives.

Just as a young man growing in frontier territory must learn the needed skills to build his own family home from raw materials, so too, he must learn to build his moral character to be strong and independent of outside influences.

This concept is given attention in Ralph Moody’s stories, “Little Britches” and “Man in the Family”. Moody explains, “My goal in writing is to leave a record of the rural way of life in this century, and to point up the values of that era which I feel that we, as a people, are letting slip away from us.” (Quoted in New York Times Book Review Aug 6, 1967). Consider the following quote from “Little Britches”.

“…you have injured your own character. A man’s character is like his house. If he tears boards off his house and burns them to keep himself warm and comfortable, his house soon becomes a ruin. If he tells lies to be able to do the things he shouldn’t do but wants to, his character will soon become a ruin. A man with a ruined character is a shame on the face of the earth.”

In Moody’s short story, “I Meet the Sheriff” a lad must act responsibly, or face his father’s accusation that he is “running away from the law and tearing boards off my character house”.

Youth is a time to plant and build, in the fear of God. Wise youth follow God’s instructions, are attentive to what they allow to take root in their hearts and minds, and they discipline themselves to learn the skills required to build strong character, even when the raw materials are hard to come by.

I exhort each young person to consider your creator and live in the light of His searching gaze. Plant wisely and guard against wild seed being sown in the soil of your life. Build wisely and learn the disciplines that empower you to build and re-build again and again.

God bless you as you do.

Baby Wise – A Good Start

Getting off to a good start with a new baby will make all the difference in the months and years to follow. A contented baby in a good routine will make life so much easier for both mum and dad. If the baby is settled the whole household is able to get on with its various routines. If a baby is distressed and unsettled then the family is under constant pressure to settle the baby. That robs the parents of time they would otherwise apply to the house and family needs.

I recommend the book, Baby Wise, by Gary Ezzo. Having met the Ezzo’s in Australia, and been impressed by their practical application of Biblical wisdom I happily bought their Baby Wise book to share with friends. When my daughter-in-law, Ruth, presented me with my first grand-child I presented her with Baby Wise. She found it wonderfully helpful and has since ensured that her friends have the book to assist them.

I spoke with Ruth today, asking her thoughts about the book, now that she has five children. She advised that each of her friends who have used the book have all been happy with it and found it very helpful. She pointed out, however, that young mums can tend to be insecure. They then take up a principle and turn it into a rigid practice. This may account for some poeple who have not benefited as much from the book.

One of the key principles in the book is that of the Parents, not the Child, setting the tone and program within the home. The baby is welcomed into the parents’ world, rather than the parents becoming servants in the child’s world. The first practical expression of this principle is applied in the feeding routine of the baby. Wise parents set the feeding routine and settle the child into a rhythm that flows with the overall function of the home. As the child adapts and fits in, the first major hurdle in accommodating the baby has been crossed.

For a new-born baby a three-hour feeding pattern is common. Ruth applied the practical guidelines from the book with her first baby, Grace, and all worked well. Her second baby, however, ended up having colic. Upon investigation she discovered, after six weeks of an unhappy baby, that her son, Justus, only needed a feed every four hours. The principle had been confused with the practical guideline. The principle is that of parent-directed feeding. The guideline is that of a three-hour feed, since that is most common. However, in her case the practice of the principle needed to be four-hourly feeds.

Her third baby was also quite happy to operate by a four-hour feeding routine. Ruth by this time was quite relaxed about applying the principle and quickly adapted to the baby’s personal needs, yet maintaining her own overall control of the feeding routine. Her fourth baby was a hungry baby, and the three-hour feeds were back in full-swing again.

There’s an observation to be made there about learning principles, needing practical guidelines, then being able to separate the principle from the guidelines and act in wisdom about how the principle is applied. I might reflect on that further in a few days, since I think it is wise for husbands to help their wife in maintaining an effective distinction between the two – so look out for a post for Husbands some time soon.

So, if you are struggling with a baby, or have a friend or relative who is soon to have a baby, I suggest that you bless them with a copy of Baby Wise, by Gary Ezzo. The rest of the series, Child Wise books, etc, will also assist parents in the maturing challenge.