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: