How Relationships Work Part Four

Marriage relationships are strained by choices which people make or situations which people allow to operate to the harm of the union. In part three of this series we looked at how a person’s automatic ‘reactions’ are a big problem.

When someone presses our buttons we can shift into automatic mode and say and do things which are not good for the relationship, because we cannot control our reactions.

Making Demands

Relationships are also strained by the demands made by one or both of the spouses. Demands can be made overtly or almost subliminally, but still bring great pressure onto a marriage relationship.

When people don’t fit in with our hopes or expectations, or our perceived needs and wishes, we can easily look for ways to make demands on that person. I have seen it done very openly and boldly at times, to the point of public argument and putting on a ‘scene’ (as we call it). Yet I have had others seek help to deal with the insidious demands made on them by a manipulating spouse, even though no-one would ever suspect.

Making demands on our spouse is potentially a form of abuse. This is especially true if the demands spring from selfishness and wilfulness, rather than from a genuine concern for the good of others.

Idol or Idolater

Some people make demands on their spouse because they actually have an idol in their heart.

They may have thought at some time in the past that having a husband or wife would solve some of their personal pain and inner needs. By coming to that conclusion they have made their spouse into an idol.

When a person has made their spouse into an idol, expecting them to bring important blessing into their life, then they are likely to make extra demands on their spouse. They will have heightened expectations and be hurt and disappointed if the spouse does not fulfil their hopes.

Being an idol to your spouse is a tough role, since you are not God and will certainly fail them. Making an idol of your spouse sets you up for bitter disappointment, because they are just as human as you are and they will never be able to do in your life what you need God to do for you.

Disengaging Authority

It is possible in a marriage for a couple to disengage the correct authority structure which God has given them. When this happens the relationship gets tangled up and the couple are unable to resolve some of the tensions and problems which are created.

Authority is a divine mandate, so when it is violated in a relationship the union is damaged.

When a wife takes matters into her own hands she is violating her place of submission to her husband. When a husband turns off to the problems and needs he is violating his place of responsibility for his wife and family.

Authority in the home is clearly prescribed in the Bible and it does not work as well any other way. While there are many dysfunctional homes in which the authority structure is totally mangled, there is still no better way to run a home than according to God’s authority hierarchy. That hierarchy puts God at the top, Christ next, then the husband, then the wife, and then the children. Parents have authority over their children. Husbands have authority over their wife. Men must be under God’s authority.

Often in today’s Western relationships there is an agreement to share responsibility. This comes from the feminisation of our culture. Men have become ‘snags’ (sensitive new-age guys) and women have become assertive. But today’s Western preference does not discharge reality. Do not disengage the authority which God established in the home.

Diffusion Strategies

When a couple or family is given to arguments and upsets they need effective strategies to diffuse the tensions that otherwise emerge.

A key to effective diffusion strategies is to acknowledge godly authority in the home. God requires the husband to be the head of his wife and the children to submit to their parents. A wise and godly husband should recognise when tensions are developing, even if he created them, and he should employ godly diffusion strategies to protect the marriage and family.

A simple strategy is to acknowledge that tensions are mounting and feelings have become aroused. He can then insist that the matter be stopped immediately. If the issue is important, such as someone being offended, or some similar issue needing to be resolved, the father needs to determine the time and place when the matter can be followed up, without the current elevated emotions. He may dictate, “We will all have a fair say on this matter after dinner tonight, but I don’t want to hear another word about it until then”. Note, he must follow through on such arrangements, or he will be despised in his home.

He might diffuse a situation by referring the matter to God. “We’ve all had our say and we all know where we stand on this matter. I can’t see any happy way to resolve our differences, so we are going to all pray together about this and give the problem to God. We will then expect Him to bring us His wisdom in the coming week.”

Diffusion strategies are not designed to remove the problems or to bring the much needed healing. What they achieve is putting the brakes on run-away emotions and escalated tensions which will only lead to argument and further hurts.

Working Relationship

In a working relationship each person is a mature, responsible person, living in the fear of God. They are human so they will make mistakes, tend to selfishness and create problems in their relationships. However, they will be humble enough to admit that something is wrong, identify and rectify their fault, take appropriate responsibility for themselves and others and work proactively and constructively toward a godly solution.

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

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:

How Relationships Work Part Two

Since relationships are often our happiest and most painful experiences it is important to understand how relationships work. Most people are brainwashed by pop-culture into thinking that relationships succeed by luck and that pain is to be expected and taken for granted.

The Bible reveals that relationships can work wonderfully, for the whole of our lives. They were built to last; as long as people live the way God wants them to, and not in the destructive, selfish way they are taught to live by western culture.

This series opens up observations about how relationships work best and what things you need to be aware of and even avoid in order to succeed in your relationships.

Zombies and Comfort

The first article introduced the idea of our comfort zone, or zombie zone, where people tend to switch off to those around them. This can be because they are relaxing or unwinding, or it could be because they are focused on some task, process or outcome.

People who retreat into their comfort zone may inadvertently project rejection or neglect to those they relate to, since it is easy to react negatively to disturbances or interruptions when we are in our comfortable zone.

However, that is only part of the picture. While most of us enjoy our comfortable places, we also desire to have others give us attention. One person’s desire to be in their comfort zone and another’s desire to be noticed can create an immediate clash.

Invade and Pillage

People like to be valued, noticed, appreciated, listened to, and to be valuable to others. This simple desire can prompt some people to become commandos, attacking, invading and pillaging the time, attention, emotions and energies of others.

Most people don’t set out to be a marauding invader and many people whose input is resented would be offended at the suggestion that they have anything but noble and worthy intentions. However, this is a reality, by whatever name it is given, and so I am bringing it up early in this study of how relationships work.

Need to Speak

The process of invading other people’s space and pillaging their time, attention and emotions starts as a fairly innocent process. It is felt by most people simply as the need to speak.

Many people find a spontaneous urge to know something or to get a specific response from others. In reality this can actually be a need to be heard, a need to be reassured, a need to control, or similar urge, rather than a real need for information. It causes us to impose ourselves on others in some way or other. The fact that we have a question or otherwise have a justifiable excuse for speaking covers the fact that we might have a deeper motivation.

When travelling in a car, some children feel a keen need to ask, “How much longer now?” This question may come from their boredom, from their need to be noticed by their parents, from a need to hear their own voice, or some similar motivation. Some people are bothered by silence and need to chatter away.

Imposing and Dominating

Speech is a means of imposing ourselves on others and dominating them. Some people have a need to feel in control and so they impose themselves by their chatter, questions, explanations, micro-management, interference and so on.

We have all met people who variously insist on dominating conversations, or controlling the topics discussed, having the last word, persistently pushing their point of view, interrogating others, nagging on a issue, or even whining, complaining or similarly making their voice heard as an imposition onto others. Some impose themselves from a position of strength and assertiveness, while others do it by a more wheedling, pity-poor-me approach. Whichever way it is done, the urge and impact are much the same. It is a need to impose ourselves upon others and impact them in some way.

Commandeering and Abducting

At its worst, the need to impose and dominate becomes a full-on onslaught against others. Some people invade the lives of those around them and commandeer their time, demand their attention, abduct them from their activities, family and commitments, and make them slaves to the will and emotional needs of the invader.

Wives can do this to husbands, making the man into the wife’s “hormone hostage”, as it is jokingly identified. People who feel desperate, lonely, neglected and hurting can make these onslaughts into other people’s lives in an attempt to quell their inner feelings.

Assertive people can similarly invade and commandeer other people’s lives. Rather than doing it for emotional needs they may abduct other people for their own selfish ends. They may do it to gratify their personal need to feel powerful and important. They may recruit people to serve their goals. They may simply be addicted to control and domination and resent other people having freedom of choice, or even happiness independently of them.


People like to be valued, noticed, appreciated, and listened to by others. This causes people to seek contact and communication with others.

In situations where one person has entered their zombie/comfort zone and the other person needs to be affirmed or to speak, there can be a sorry mismatch. The zombie may ignore the speaker, or the speaker may insist on invading the zombie’s zone. Either way one has imposed on the other and both will probably be unhappy.

“He switches off and she won’t let him go!”

Such a mismatch often leads to reactions which are less than helpful. Reactions then take over and tensions escalate. A major relationship problem can spring from such small beginnings.

Accusations may be made, such as, “You never listen to me!” or “Why are you always doing this to me?” Feelings become hurt, past hurts resurface, unkind words are spoken, exasperation, rejection and other unhappy feelings come to the surface and there is little room to manoeuvre successfully.

Relationships Work

Despite these challenges of mismatch and upset which do easily occur in relationships I need to stress that relationships work. These challenges are not the end of the world. They are issues which need to be dealt with and they can most effectively be dealt with when people understand them and know what they are dealing with.

Don’t think that mismatch or personal needs and hurts that lead to upsets in any way signals an irreparable relationship. In the future parts of this series I’ll point out to you how to resolve many of the issues which are being put on the table now.

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

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:

Marriage Counselling

When I give Marriage Counselling advice to couples or Marriage Counsellors there are a few basics which I always cover. Let me share them with you.

Marriage brings two different people together to establish a working relationship. When the marriage relationship breaks down, people feel hurt, betrayed, unloved, insecure, fearful, angry, bitter, or a range of other emotions. Those emotions not only challenge the marriage but they also tap issues from the background of the couple. Having a sense for this interplay empowers marriage counseling to be more effective.

The Individual

Marriage brings two individuals together for a mutually rewarding relationship. Who they each are, as individuals, affects what they can achieve as a couple. An unstable person will hardly be able to build a stable relationship. A fearful person will not be able to build a trusting relationship. An angry person will not be able to build a loving relationship.

So, before a marriage counselor becomes too distracted with the relationship issues they are wise to consider the individual qualities of the husband and wife. The weaknesses, attitudes, past experience and personal skills of each spouse will impede or assist the building of a strong relationship.

Individual Complexity

People are complex, so the range of personal issues they carry could be quite extensive. A wise counsellor seeks to uncover those things which are most relevant to the person’s ability to enter into and maintain a strong marriage relationship. Issues of trust, forgiveness, correct view of marriage and relationship, willingness to change, flexibility, selfishness and fear might be among the relevant matters to uncover.

People’s behaviour is often crafted by their reactions to past experience. For example, a person who has suffered injustice will tend to be very sensitive about justice issues. A person who has been denied loving acceptance may idolise the input of their spouse and feel let down when the spouse does not meet their idealised expectations. A person who has been spoiled may find it hard to give up their will to fit in with their spouse. I refer to this individual complexity as the “baggage” which the couple brings along on their honeymoon and into their marriage. Most often the person does not know their own baggage, since it seems normal to them. Their spouse is most likely completely oblivious to this baggage.

In time this baggage will trip up the marriage relationship. These hidden things will become obvious, over time, and they will prompt a new set of problems as each spouse reacts to the issues for better or for worse. The joke goes, “Love is blind, but Marriage is an Eye-Opener!” And that’s true. Relationship brings to light the hidden things. How skilled the couple are in dealing with those revelations will impact where their marriage goes.

Relationship Skills

Because marriage is a relationship it is vital that each person has good relationship skills. If one has good skills they can save the marriage from much trouble, but it is better if both work together than that one exploit the strengths of the other.

Relationship skills are not so much ‘skills’ as attitudes. Selfish attitudes are contrary to the spirit of relationship. Inflexibility makes demands on the other party in a relationship. Unforgiveness is a cruelty which violates relationship. Independence is contrary to relationship. Stubbornness is a road-block to relationship. Self assertiveness violates others. Pride is an offence to others. Self-determination is contrary to the spirit of cooperation.

People with the wrong attitudes have the wrong skills. Yet some people need to be trained in the practical expression of good relationship skills. Listening, caring, cooperating, sharing, committing time for each other, fitting in with the other’s plans, negotiating equitably, repenting, forgiving, adapting, standing firm on moral principles and being consistent are practices which may have to be learned and practiced by today’s dysfunctional society.

Proper Modelling

When a couple does not know what they are trying to build they will have less success than they could otherwise have. A clear understanding of the godly model for marriage, as I present in my books, Marriage Horizons and Mending Marriages, empowers a couple to build the most stable and effective kind of relationship. A good counsellor is attentive to the concept of marriage the couple are working with. If it is flawed then the couple needs to be instructed and directed toward the model of marriage that actually works and works most effectively.

God’s Grace

Humans are limited creatures and they don’t have the ability to save themselves. Even the best possible help from the most skilled Marriage Counsellor is not enough. Each person and each couple needs to have the grace of God released into their lives and relationships.

Good Marriage Counseling releases God’s grace into each individual spouse. That’s why Christian Marriage Counselling is so very important in the lives of couples who need help. Secular assistance can give good advice and sound wisdom, but it cannot release God’s divine touch into the lives of the couple.

If a couple cannot access Christian Marriage Counselling then they should find a Bible-believing church where they can get prayer and ministry to release God’s grace into their personal lives and into their marriage relationship.