Have you ever stopped and asked yourself, Why do my relationships bring me more stress than joy? Why do I keep repeating the same unhealthy relational patterns?
Paying attention to your relationship to relationships can be difficult. But this is simply about seeing the way your relationships affect your emotional well-being. Healthy relationships are marked by interdependence with your loved ones—you can share yourself without losing yourself, and you can mutually depend on one another. Unhealthy relationships, on the other hand, can look like codependency, isolation, a lack of vulnerability, oversharing, or overidentifying.
Here are some signs of an unhealthy emotional relationship with relationships:
You fear conflict, so you keep everything at surface level.
You put your entire worth and value in your friendships, dating relationship, marriage, or children.
You struggle to trust anyone other than yourself.
You rely too much on others to regulate your emotions and meet your needs.
You fear vulnerability and hide your emotions.
You use relationships to cope with the stresses of life.
You don’t experience sexual intimacy with your partner.
You feel your child’s emotions too deeply.
You’re quick to blame others instead of taking ownership in your relationships.
You overshare, vent, and complain about private matters of your life.
You never have a preference when people ask where you want to go or what you want to do.
You keep dating emotionally unhealthy people.
You explode in anger at those closest to you.
You don’t have any deep relationships.
If you see yourself in the list above, chances are that false scripts are to blame for your unhealthy relationships.
In our work with people who are struggling in their relationships, we’ve identified some of the most common false scripts:
Being in a dating relationship will make you happy.
Having your sexual needs met will make you happy.
You don’t need anyone else to be happy.
All you need is your family to be happy.
Raising your kids is the ultimate form of happiness.
Once you’re married, you’ll live happily ever after.
Being conflict free in your relationships equals happiness.
If we were to map these false scripts on a spectrum, on the left side would be scripts that say relationships are everything for happiness and success. If you buy into these scripts, you overidentify in your relationships. Overidentifying might mean relying on relationships to feel better about yourself or a situation. It also might mean engaging in people-pleasing or doing anything to keep the peace. The fear of being abandoned or disappointed results in a lack of boundaries and compromised self-care.
If you buy into the scripts on the right side of this spectrum, you undervalue the role of relationships. You exaggerate your independence and underidentify in your relationships. Underidentifying might mean not leaning on others when you need them and instead trying to take care of everything yourself. You may not believe other people can be trusted, especially if you’ve been hurt in the past. You may push people away or shut them down when they try to get too close.
When we swing to either extreme, relationships become our greatest stressors and disappointments. But there’s a way to get back to the healthy middle—to a place where our relationships resonate with joy and flood our lives with happiness.
There are three foundational truths that confront the most common false scripts around relationships. Whether your false scripts lead you to stay guarded, put your hopes and dreams in others, or keep everything surface level, these truths will help you find a healthy balance in your relationships.
1. Relationships are worth the risk.
Good relationships make us happier and healthier. We need people in our lives—not just work colleagues or immediate family, but an engaged community of people who really know us.
While many of us know this, we hit roadblocks along the way. Relational trauma, Western society’s value of independence, and our own pride can lead us to reject help from others when we’re in need. We feel apathetic about engaging in community, or we become convinced that having close relationships will only invite hurt and betrayal.
God created us with an innate desire to belong.1 Research proves that our need for connection is a powerful motivation that’s woven into the fabric of our being.2 The more we lean into this intentional design, the happier and healthier we are.3 Good relationships matter, and when you find the right people, they’re worth the risk. But when you’ve been betrayed, hurt, abandoned, or shamed in relationships, none of this research matters. The only thing that seems clear is that the safest approach is to avoid investing too much in relationships. We self-protect by resisting attachments and not letting others into our lives.
There’s a reason God gave us the desire to be in community with people. In her book Love Sense, Dr. Sue Johnson writes, “Emotional connection is a sign of mental health. It is emotional isolation that is the killer.”5 It’s through emotional connection and healthy relationships that we cure loneliness, achieve happiness, and cultivate health.
2. Relationships can’t fully satisfy you.
When we talk about relationships, it’s important to realize that not every need can be met by someone else. This is where Disney messed us up. We’ve been sold the fairy-tale scenario that all we need is a prince (or a princess) to solve our problems, and then we’ll live happily ever after. But human relationships are built to disappoint.
Think about it: when God created human beings, he acknowledged, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”6 But he didn’t just create a couple and stop there. He created each person to be in a relationship with him first and to glorify him.7 As we image God, who is three in one, we reflect his relational nature—not just with one another, but with him.
God designed us to need a variety of relationships, calling us to love him first and then our neighbor as ourselves. We need to learn how to love all three: God, others, and the beautiful self he made. If we put unrealistic expectations on others, whether it’s a spouse, a child, or a friend, we’ll doom our relationships. We need to be proactive in building communities, support systems, and our own self-care habits so our needs can be met from multiple relationships instead of putting the burden on one individual.
3. Failure is necessary; repair is everything.
In an attempt to keep the peace in our relationships, we might avoid conflict. We also might keep things shallow because we’re afraid to dive into vulnerable territory. But all this does is create superficial relationships. Conflict doesn’t make relationships weaker; the opposite is true. Failing is part of relationships—it’s the way we come back from failure that can make us stronger.
We will all fail in our relationships. It’s inevitable, because none of us are perfect. But the way we repair, or come back from conflict, makes the difference between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one.
Repair is a relational skill that can be developed. In doing so, we learn to communicate through tough issues and draw even closer, with a deeper, clearer understanding of the other person.
Instead of putting our energy into avoiding conflict (which ends up hurting relationships), we need to lean into our humanity. We will mess up—conflict is normal. Healthy repair is the way to build strong, lasting relationships.
1. Romans 1:6.
2. R. F. Baumeister and M. R. Leary, “The Need to Belong: Desire for Interpersonal Attachments as a Fundamental Human Motivation,” Psychological Bulletin 117, no. 3 (1995), 497–529, https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.117.3.497.
3. S. Saphire-Bernstein and S. E. Taylor, “Close Relationships and Happiness,” Oxford Handbook of Happiness (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013), https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199557257.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199557257-e-060.
5. Sue Johnson, Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013), 22.
6. Genesis 2:18.
7. Isaiah 43:1-7.
Adapted from Start from Joy: Trade Shame, Guilt, and Fear for Lasting Change, a Lighter Spirit, and a More
Fulfilling Life by Neal Samudre and Carly Samudre, LPC, releasing from Tyndale House Publishers in January 2023
A relationship with Jesus Christ and an identity that flows from who he is and what he has done for us changes everything. It radically transforms the way we work, the way we invest, the way we view money, all of it. How? Here are four ways.
First, the Christian faith gives us a moral compass, an inner GPS, that provides ethical guidance that takes us beyond merely the legal aspects or requirements in any situation. A Christian on the board of a major financial institution—recently publicly embarrassed by revelations of corruption—told me about a closed-door meeting there between top executives. Someone said, “We have to restore moral values.” Immediately someone asked, “Whose values? Who gets to define what is moral?” And there’s our problem.
There once was a perception of broadly felt moral intuitions that governed much behavior in our society. It went well beyond the legal. Much of the ruthlessness, lack of transparency, and lack of integrity that characterizes Wall Street, the marketplace, and many other professions today comes because consensus on those moral intuitions has collapsed. However, Christians working in those worlds do have solid ethical guidance and could address through personal example the values vacuum that has now been recognized by so many.
Second, your Christian faith gives you a new spiritual power, an inner gyroscope, that keeps you from being overthrown by either success, failure, or boredom. Regarding success and failure, the gospel helps Christians find our deepest identity not in accomplishments but in who we are in Christ. This keeps our egos from inflating too much during seasons of prosperity, and it prevents bitterness and despondency during times of adversity. While some jobs seduce us into overwork and anxiety, others tempt us to surrender to drudgery, only “working for the weekend,” doing just what is necessary to get by when someone is watching. Paul calls that “eye-service” (Colossians 3:22-24, ESV) and charges us to think of every job as working for God, who sees everything and loves us. That makes high-pressure jobs bearable and even the most modest work meaningful.
Third, the Christian faith gives us a new conception of work as one of the ways God loves and cares for his world—through us. Look at the places in the Bible that say God gives every person their food. How does God do that? It is through human work—from the farmhand milking the cows, to the truck driver bringing produce, to the local grocer. God could feed us directly, but he chooses to do it through human work.
There are three important implications of this. First, it means all work, even the most menial task, has great dignity. In our work we are God’s hands and fingers, sustaining and caring for his world. Further, it means one of the main ways to please God in our work is simply to do work well. This includes the farmhand we just mentioned and the green, fresh-out-of-college kid who’s grinding away on Excel spreadsheets. Some have called this “the ministry of competence.” What passengers need first from an airline pilot is not that she speaks to them about Jesus but that she is a great, skillful pilot. Finally, this means that Christians can and must have deep appreciation for the work of those who work skillfully but do not share our beliefs.
Fourth, the Christian faith gives us a new world-and-life view that shapes the character of our work. All well-done work that serves the good of human beings pleases God. But what exactly is “the common good”? There are many work tasks that do not require us to reflect too much on that question. All human beings need to eat, so raising and providing food serves people well. But what if you are an elementary school teacher or a playwright? What is good education (i.e., what should you be teaching children)? What kinds of plays should you write (i.e., what kinds of stories do people need)? The answers to these questions will depend largely on how you answer more fundamental questions: What is the purpose of human life? What is life about? What does a good human life look like? It is unavoidable that many jobs will be shaped by our conscious or semiconscious beliefs about those issues. So Christians must think out how their faith will distinctly shape their work.
How wonderful that the gospel works on every aspect of us—mind, will, and feelings—and enables us to both deeply appreciate the work of nonbelievers and yet aspire to work in unique ways as believers. Putting these four aspects together, we see that being a Christian leads us to see our work not as merely a way to earn money, nor as primarily a means of personal advancement, but as truly a calling—to serve God and love our neighbor.
In Luke 10:17-20, Jesus sends his disciples out to heal and to cast out demons. When they return, Jesus inquires how it went. They respond, “Wow, Lord, even the demons are subject to us!” (In other words, “We had a very successful investment year!”) “It was unbelievable. We cast out demons. We trampled on serpents. We did all these things, and it was great!”
What does Jesus say to them in response? “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (verse 20, ESV). That is certainly an interesting response. Surely, he doesn’t mean not to be happy that they have changed people’s lives. Why wouldn’t they be happy?
Rather, Jesus is saying to them, “You’re rejoicing about the wrong things. You’re making these works into your identity.” Similarly, there is that famous parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16. Ironically, the rich man is never given a name. He is just “the rich man.” Why? Well, that’s who he was. His identity was in being a rich man. If your identity is in your riches (or in your children or in anything else other than Jesus), you actually don’t have a name at all. You’re just a “rich man.”
What Jesus is reminding us here is that we must deliberately keep our hearts from resting in our self-created identities, in our success. The real success, Jesus says, is that because of what he has done, our names are already written in heaven. We will be received there. There is real success, real power, real riches, and it is guaranteed. Nonetheless, it takes years to get this into our hearts.
Why do you pray? Why do you worship? Why do you take the Lord’s Supper? Why do you do devotions? Because you’re working this identity more and more into yourself. It’s not all the way in there—and it will never be in this life—but keep it up, because it is your true freedom.
Rejoice, not that you’ve had a great year with profitable investments, nor that you’ve made the Midas List and were mentioned in the Financial Times, but that your name is written in heaven. This is the beginning. This is the foundation upon which you can build your investment strategy, your business practice, and your life. Start now.
Adapted from Faith Driven Investing by Henry Kaestner, Timothy Keller, Andy Crouch, Cathie Wood, et al. Copyright © 2023. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.
Timothy Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, which he started in 1989 with his wife, Kathy, and three young sons. He is also the chairman and cofounder of Redeemer City to City (CTC), which starts new churches in New York and other global cities, and publishes books and resources for ministries in an urban environment.
Note from Team LO: We are SO excited to bring you this month’s post from our LO sister member + ambassador, Darcy Clark! If you want to be a part of this incredible community, you can join today! Find out more about this online sisterhood HERE. And for more info about what LO sister is all about, visit our Instagram Page!
Now, enjoy today’s post from Darcy 🙂
Jesus is after our heart’s affection, not our religious acts.
This past week it weighed heavy on me how so many of us fall into this mindset that if the bible is not the first thing our eyes see in the morning or what our mind spends time with it’s a bad day, or even the extremities of how our minds wonder to placing us on this scale that doesn’t even exist deeming us a “bad christian” because we missed one day or a week in His word.
There is no score keeping, leadership board for the religious acts you do or the culture of christianity you play apart in. What matters is your heart.
The enemy wants to convince you are a “bad christian”, isolate you, and keep you in this nest of swarming thoughts about not being good enough.
..Okay now that we know what the enemy tries to do can you accept the grace from Jesus you have full access to and remind yourself you are apart of the winning team, the team that already won, and release whatever lie about yourself you are hanging on to.
The reality is you are going to get tired, you are going to hit an off week, your heart and soul are going to get tired — faith is not easy!
Spiritual disciplines like bible reading, quiet times, praying are a few of the best ways I know to grow in my relationship with my Heavenly Father —— but seriously what good is it to beat myself up every time I fall short of putting these things into practice.
There is a difference between guilt and conviction. guilt and shame for falling short are not from God, His arms are wide open ready to embrace you and wanting you to keep on. Conviction is that check engine light feeling, keeping us in lockstep with Jesus and away from things that destroy us by the Holy Spirit within us.
“The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.” Romans 8:11
The SAME Spirit of God, lives in YOU. Lean on God always, in your strongest seasons and your weakest seasons.
Keep on. Shake up the routine when you grow numb to it. Read a verse a day — start somewhere.
When we feel that our religious acts have outweighed our affections for Jesus — reevaluate. Let that be your check engine light!
You are loved by God. You have access to a relationship with Him that isn’t rigid.
Please don’t wear the weight of having to be perfect inside of your relationship with your Maker, it will exhaust you.
Darcy Clark is a member of Team LO! She is a Jesus follower and friend to many. She enjoys coffee sipping, exploring, and writing. She is an aspiring author, current dreamer. Darcy attended Texas A&M University and has since moved to Louisiana to be a part of Team LO.