How to Build Strong Relationships

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What do you want? What do I want from you? Why do we wear the label "Christian?" If we read the Bible from cover to cover, we would easily conclude that the Bible is a book that talks about two major relationships - God and man and man and man.

One of the major aspects of being alive is that we are able to enter into friendships that are fun, exciting, and warm. Christians are to become "good" friends with God and each other.

Getting to know you and others is what life is all about. In order to know you, you must "open up" and feel comfortable in doing it. I must do the same. Unfortunately, if you do not understand and appreciate yourself you will not accept and appreciate me. There are two extremes to avoid in relationships, thinking someone is more wonderful than we are or that they are the worst sinners.

Relationships grow rapidly during their initial stages, probably because there is a certain excitement about creating new friendships. Most of us value highly friendships that where we can be honest and open. However, opening up does not mean we have go into "gory" details of our past. It means letting others know what we think about current situations.

David and Jonathan walking
David and Jonathan walking

The more open and self-disclosing we are in our conversations with others, the more likely others will like us. Self-disclosure should be honest, genuine, and unaffected. It needs reciprocating in kind or there will be a tendency to feel vulnerable, exposed, and not open up any further.

To be sure, there is a certain amount of risk involved in opening up to others. How we respond to the others' self-disclosure can either build or destroy the relationship. This is where Christians need to be very careful. Many of us can be extremely judgmental, damning, and condemning.

Acceptance, understanding, and warmth build a relationship. Try to avoid strong disagreements. Damning and condemning expressed in statements like, "How could you do that?" tend to help their recipients think they have committed the unpardonable sin.

Trust is important

The development of trust is important because it is foundational. Relationships are not enjoyable if there is a lack of trust. They become uncomfortable. Abraham was a good friend of God. "I know my servant Abraham that he will do all that I ask him." Trust is essentially the knowledge that we will respond to the other person in a positive manner. To build strong friendships people need to know we will accept them.

For us to love each other we must trust each. The most effective means of communicating trust is through the expression of affection for another. Telling people we like them, smiling, sharing experiences, and hugging create trust. Silence is not "golden" in relationships. It tends to come across as indifference at best and rejection at worst. If we do not communicate with people to the extent they to communicate with us, they will not trust us.

What should we expect?

Each person brings to a friendship certain expectations. These expectations can be simple or complex. Unfortunately, most of us are only vaguely aware of these expectations. Nevertheless, when people meet our expectations, we generally tend to appraise them highly. We like people that do the things that we want them to do.

When people stop doing the things we want, we change our appraisal towards the negative. The friendship becomes less enjoyable. We will talk more about some of these expectations later in this article.

We can think of friendship as a bank account into which people make deposits and withdraws. If we make the mistake of only taking from the account, there will be nothing for the other person. The account becomes unbalanced. The relationship is then in trouble. Put simply, friendships deteriorate because people do not get what they want from them.

If we want to make a relationship last, we had better determine what our friend wants from the friendship and try to give what he wants. For a balanced friendship, both people must get a significant amount of what they want from it. Therefore, it is important both partners keep a watchful eye on the "balance."

Suppose a friend treats you to lunch several times. He is depositing into the friendship account. Naturally, you feel warm and good because it is nice to have someone buy you lunch. Perhaps you would not go to lunch because you could not afford it if you were not treated. Your friend pays because he may want your company.

However, if your friend perceives that you have the money but are simply too "tight" to reciprocate, your friendship account will soon be out of balance. Continue to take without giving and you will find your friend negatively responding to you or avoiding you.

Just as a farmer does not plant seeds without expecting to get something in return, people do not give and give without expecting something in return. We keep a mental record of our transactions with others. Too many withdrawals from the friendship account without deposits and the friendship will be in trouble. That is reality!

Basic Wants

People want some basic things from friendships such as honesty and integrity. Nothing unbalances a friendship quicker than lies. Keep your word if you possibly can. If you have to break a promise, let your friend know. Most people understand enough to know that we cannot always do what we say. Another requirement for good friendship is time spent together. Spreading yourself to thin makes you everybody's friend and nobody's friend.

Anger has no place in friendships. We can say some nasty things when we are heated. Anger is one of the best ways to wipe out a friendship account. If you have a problem with anger, work on it. Leave it out of your friendships. It is more effective to calmly disagree and discuss a subject than to display anger. Replace anger with "appropriate concern."

Understanding and Acceptance

More than any other characteristic in a relationship people want others to understand and accept them. When a friend has a struggle with something that matters a great deal to him but he has not overcome, behaving in a non-judgmental manner will create more appreciation in our friend than we might imagine.

People often play a game in their mind called "If they knew." They muse, "If they knew 'this' about me, they probably would not be my friend." The person is attempting to determine if the friendship can withstand reality (that people are fallible, flawed creatures). Many friendships end because God has not made people as "perfect" as we think they ought to be. That is something we need to consider.

Encouraging a person to overcome a weakness is fine. Insisting that a friend must overcome a weakness, or turn it into a lifelong obsession, puts stress on a friendship. Disappointment soon follows when our great expectations do not come to fruition!

Essentially, the best type friends to be are those that can stand on their own two feet (male or female). Make an effort to be mentally healthy. The psychologically healthy individual is able to be happy with or without things (as was the Apostle Paul). He or she desires and usually has several good friends or can have a main friend as a marriage partner. As long as friends spend enough time with each other, they do not mind their friends having other interests, which can mean hobbies or other friends.

What makes people stay in a relationship is the balance in their friendship account. Our attitude had better be one of willingness to give value for value or we will not succeed in maintaining a friendship. People divorce people that are snotty, unthoughtful, constantly taking without giving, demanding, mean spirited, and "right!"

If you want to avoid ending a friendship, check your attitude and change it, if it is out of line. Above all, keep your friendship account balanced. The most enjoyable relationships we can have are friendships. If we keep our friendship accounts balanced, they will last a lifetime!

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