The Best of You: Boundaries and The Spectrum of Toxicity

The Best of You: Boundaries and The Spectrum of Toxicity

As you consider your relationships, recognize that healthy behavior and toxicity exist on a spectrum. Very few people are totally toxic, and no one is entirely healthy. This means that expressing your voice requires nuance and dexterity.

You don’t want to come down with a hammer when a flyswatter is needed. You also don’t want to let someone who is using toxic strategies twist your best efforts.

There’s no one-size-fits-all response when it comes to using your voice and setting healthy boundaries in your relationships. As you consider the many ways to respond to others, consider the example of Jesus.

Jesus navigated through complex relationships with unbelievable skill. Sometimes he left people in order to nourish his own soul. Sometimes he headed straight into hard conversations. Jesus was full of compassion, and he also held people responsible for their behavior. Jesus stood up to bullies, even as he ached for them. He didn’t shy away from calling out people who were hurting others. Jesus even got annoyed with his friends, and he let them know when they’d let him down.

Sometimes Jesus expressed grace. Sometimes he expressed anger. But most of all, Jesus spoke up on behalf of those who were hurting. And you, dear reader, may be the one who is hurting. Sometimes a kind word is needed. Grace will mend the hurt. Other times you will need to advocate for yourself and speak firmly. Finally, there will be times when it’s wisest to walk away entirely. In these situations, the best way to use your voice is to show what you mean through your actions.

How do you gauge what response is required? First, assess where your particular situation falls on the following spectrum.

People who are healthy fall on the right side of this spectrum. These are people with whom communication is possible. You can discuss conflicts or ruptures that occur within your relationship. They’re aware of their blind spots and have a strong sense of self. There is room for conversation and negotiation of boundary lines. In fact, the ability to communicate constructively on behalf of what you need is what makes a relationship healthy. You might not see eye to eye on every single thing. You might even disagree or experience disappointment. For the most part, though, you can arrive at a place of harmony as you negotiate the boundaries of the relationship.

Next, let’s look at the middle of the spectrum. These are the folks who consistently commit boundary fouls but who also have good qualities. For example, you may have a mother-in- law who genuinely cares about your children. At the same time, she won’t respect the boundaries you’ve set when she interacts with them. She’s not toxic, and you want her in your life. But you may have to constantly remind her of certain boundaries or develop workaround solutions to manage behaviors that just won’t change. Likewise, you may have a dad who only talks about himself, or a friend who likes to gossip. They’re not toxic and you can find ways to be together, but your ability to go deep may be limited.

Next, there are folks who show up on the left side of the spectrum. Sadly, these individuals are living out of the worst of who they are. Their choices in response to their painful stories have gotten the better of them, making it impossible to engage with them in healthy ways. As a result, they may demonstrate toxic behaviors toward you that cause great harm. For example, they might attempt to belittle or criticize you, manipulate your decisions, or guilt-trip you. They don’t want what’s best for you. They are worried only about themselves.

Finally, there’s the extreme left side of the toxicity spectrum, which represents those who are abusive. Such people may intentionally try to harm you physically, damage you with words, or gaslight you to make you feel crazy. Folks who are spiritually abusive will try to get you to think God is on their side. These actions on the left side of the spectrum are major boundary violations. Their behavior cannot and should not be tolerated.

Here are some examples of strategies someone might use to gaslight, control, or manipulate you.

GASLIGHTING

  • “I didn’t borrow your phone. Why are you always blaming me?” (In fact, they did borrow the phone.)
  • “I’m not drinking! You have trust issues.” (In fact, they have started drinking again.)
  • “I never said those things. You must have misheard me.” (In fact, they did say those things.)
  • “I’m not mistreating you. You have an issue with authority. You need to pray and ask God to change your heart.” (In fact, they are mistreating you.)

MANIPULATION/GUILT-TRIPPING

  • “You don’t really care about me.”
  • “I know how busy you are; I guess you don’t have time for me.” • “If you really loved me you’d . . .”
  • “If you really loved God, you’d . . .”

CONTROLLING

  • “I forbid you to see that therapist/friend/family member anymore.”
  • “If you break up with me, I’ll tell everyone who you really are.”
  • “You can’t survive without me. I own the finances.
  • “God has given me authority over you.”

Make no mistake, these are big red warning lights. You can’t change the other person. So, you must learn to protect yourself. When it comes to toxic behaviors—words won’t work. With toxic behaviors, very word you say is going to get stuck in a web of confusion. In these cases, actions speak louder than words ever will.

To learn more about how to break free from painful patterns, mend your past, and discover the healthy relationships you crave, check out my new book, The Best of You.

For over two decades, psychologist and author Dr. Alison Cook has earned the trust of thousands of women through her practical, wise, and compassionate approach to becoming a whole person. Her most recent book is The Best of You: Break Free from Painful Patterns, Mend Your Past, and Discover Your True Self in God (Thomas Nelson).

Originally from Wyoming, Alison studied at Dartmouth College, Denver Seminary (MA), and the University of Denver (PhD), where she specialized in the integration of theology and psychology. She and her husband, Joe, are the parents of two young adult children, and are currently based in Boston.

A Content Heart Starts in Singleness

A Content Heart Starts in Singleness

For the majority of college, I was single. And I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t always patient during singleness. I was the one in the friend group that was consumed with dating and obsessed with finding a boyfriend. I struggled with being single. I don’t really like to even say struggle because it sounds like it was a burden to be single. The only reason it was hard for me is because I made singleness hard. I didn’t like being single, therefore I didn’t like the Lord putting me in a season of singleness. I wanted a boyfriend because the whole world told me that a boyfriend gives you security, love, acceptance and companionship. I wanted a boyfriend because I didn’t want to be lonely, insecure or isolated. All my friends were in serious relationships and it seemed that their lives were much better than mine because they had boyfriends. For two years, I lived in this belief that a boyfriend would solve all these problems. Two years of obsessing over the hope of having a boyfriend one day. I was mentally exhausted from the constant search and need for someone else to give me the security and love I so desperately wanted. 

I vividly remember sitting at the counter of my college house reading and journaling when I had this thought, or rather God planted this thought in my mind. 

I was so tired of feeling sorry for myself for not being in a relationship. I knew that a relationship wouldn’t fill me, but I was acting like I was depleted and deprived because I wasn’t in a relationship. My beliefs were not lining up with my actions. God so lovingly showed me my inconsistencies. I was wasting my thoughts by being overwhelmed with desire for a relationship, so much so it decreased my quality of life. I decided to change my thoughts. I wanted to live everyday like it was my last day of being single. I was going to enjoy it even if somedays I had to force myself to see it as good. One day I would hopefully be in a relationship that would turn into marriage and I would never be single again. I wanted to make myself proud of the way I lived in it and didn’t want to waste what the Lord had me in. If you really stop and think about each day, we have no idea what it holds. It could be the day that changes your life. But instead of waiting on the day that changes everything, I want to live my life freely and confidently not waiting on a day to come. 

As I looked to the positives of singleness, contentment grew within me. I learned how to spend time with Jesus. Not just read my Bible, pray a little, and move on, but ACTUALLY spend time with him and enjoy it! I looked forward to being in His presence every day. I received all the security, acceptance, and love I needed from Him. My heart was slowly aware that the things I desperately wanted, I had in Jesus all along.

As I became more content with my season, the Lord gave me more peace in my heart about the unknowns of my future. He removed the way I idolized a future husband and provided me with deep satisfaction in Him. 

The day I started dating my now husband, I had peace leaving my season of singleness. I knew I had been obedient in learning all the Lord wanted me to grow in. 

I am grateful for my season of singleness because it taught me to be content in every season.

It created a heart posture within me to be satisfied in the Lord rather than my circumstances. Rushing from one season to the next is harmful. It steals the lessons of love, satisfaction, and being fully present with the Lord that He wanted to teach me. 

Being fulfilled by the Lord’s presence then produced satisfaction in the season I’m in now. 

Being single is wonderful, dating is wonderful, engagement and marriage are wonderful! But if you ignore contentment in singleness you will be dissatisfied in dating. You’ll want engagement, and in engagement you’ll want marriage. In marriage you’ll want kids, then you’ll want to be empty nesters. It’s an endless cycle of always wanting the next thing. 

It’s a trap that we can so easily fall into if we do not posture our hearts to be content in our current season.

It can be dangerous to view singleness as a season of waiting because of what it does to our hearts when we label it that way. Waiting can imply that your life is missing something and you are looking to that thing hopeful it will fill whatever is missing in your life. “I’m waiting for God to move in my life.” “I’m waiting for Him to give me an answer on what He wants me to do.” “I’m waiting on Him to give me a boyfriend.” When we “wait” on God to act, move, or provide and it doesn’t happen on our timeline, we view it as a punishment. In reality, we were never actually waiting on God, we were wanting God to move when we say so. 

Sure, you might feel like you are waiting for a boyfriend. But what are you wanting a boyfriend to fix in you? Fix in your life? If you never had a boyfriend, never got married, would you be content with your relationship with the Lord to fill you? 

Instead of waiting on God to give you a boyfriend, be with God in your singleness. There’s so much more at stake than your desire for a relationship. The Lord is forming in you contentment, satisfaction, and a sole desire for His presence to fill. I believe these lessons are best taught in singleness and that’s why the enemy wants us to rush out of it. If we never learn how to be content and satisfied in the Lord we will always look to something or someone else to fill us. This is why singleness is so valuable! You cannot learn that only God can fill you until he is all you have to fill you.

There will be a last day of singleness for you. So, make yourself proud of the way you lived it out! 

Focus your purpose in singleness to be closer to God, to soak in his presence, and learn how to be satisfied where he has placed you.

I promise that when you allow your heart to be satisfied in Jesus, you will lack nothing. The longing for a husband won’t change, but you will be content in where the Lord has you. Your heart’s ability to be content now will cultivate a heart of contentment for every season to come.

So, to my friend that is single today, wondering when and if her husband will ever come into her life: focus on your heart posture. Learn to be satisfied with God in your singleness, its so much more important than having a boyfriend.

Freddie is a recent grad from Auburn University with her masters in clinical mental health counseling and is on staff with LO as a counselor. She loves long walks, spending time with friends and family, and helping people find their confidence in who God made them to be!Follow Freddie on Instagram: @yourfriend_Freddie 

Our Best Advice: Relationships, Community & Marriage

Our Best Advice: Relationships, Community & Marriage

As we recently shared the first Sisters and Friends episode of the year, I figured it was only fitting to share it with you here on the blog! My mom and I sat down to talk about all things relationships, community and marriage. Here’s how it went!

I wanted to talk to mom about the things that she walked through and learned in her college years because I know many of you are college students navigating that season of life. But even if you’re not a college student, we unpack so much more in this episode to tune in for. 

First off, we dove into discussing mom’s relationship with my dad. They began dating at a young age and quickly decided they were going to get married. However, right before they took the next step, they broke up and soon after, mom went off to college. Mom went into college with a lot going on, such as the breakup, a new city, meeting new people, etc. So, I asked Mom to describe what that was like as she began a new journey with all those emotions. 

Mom mentioned how crazy it is that it’s been 32 years since she and my dad began dating. She was 17 years old at the time and they both instantly knew they were in it for the long haul. They’d been in youth group together and had basically grown up together since third or fourth grade. Because of this, marriage was talked about within the first couple months of their relationship. They decided to get married the following summer, and when they mentioned it to Mom’s parents, it was clear that they didn’t see it as the best idea. After all, Mom and Dad had no plan and no money. They were genuinely living on love. Plus, mom DID have a scholarship for college to Harding University, where her parents had gone. So, her parents had a point. Looking back, mom sees the wisdom in the things they were saying. But at the time it was really difficult. At the end of that summer, mom chose to go to college. Well, Dad had decided that if Mom went, they were going to break up. So, they did, and mom was devastated. She cried all the way to Harding and one of her friends came and stayed with her in her dorm for a few days to console her. 

I love that her friend came and stayed with her because in those moments it is so important to bring community in. And often those are the times that we push community out because we don’t want anyone to see us in a vulnerable state. Mom talked about how vital it was for her to have someone she could truly open up to during that time and help her through a season of major transition.

I asked Mom to talk about the process of her and Dad getting back together. She said that two weeks after the breakup, Dad called her dorm room and said he’d had a change of heart and that maybe long distance wouldn’t be so bad after all. He basically poured out his heart saying he wanted to get back together. Mom said it was a really great regrouping time for them as a couple for her to say “I love you, but there are things that need to change in our relationship.” She used that to encourage anyone who might be in a similar situation. She mentioned that it’s not always the answer to breakup. Sometimes it takes just sitting back and admitting there are some things that just need to be restructured. Well, Mom and Dad ended up getting back together, but Mom did let Dad sit in it for about an hour before she gave a final answer to him. 

The truth is, you need people like Mom’s friend who you can confide in, knowing that they love you and your partner equally and want what’s best for both of you. You need friends who will trust you enough to believe that your partner is a good person, and it might just be a bad moment.

A couple months ago, Christian and I were walking through a really difficult time. A lot had been going on and it was just chaotic. We needed to get back on track, so I suggested that we start taking communion in our house. Well, at the time, we’d been ignoring and not wanting to address many of the things we were walking through. So, our first communion in our house was when everything we had been feeling came out. It was certainly a hard conversation, but I find it beautiful that when we came to Jesus, truth came out. Although it wasn’t necessarily pretty, it’s what needed to happen. I love that because this scripture speaks to the situation so well:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his faultbetween you and him aloneIf he listens to youyou have gained your brother.” (Matthew 18:15)

Next, we dove into the topic of roommates. Mom’s freshman year of college, she had a roommate she’d never met before, which is extremely common. Many people either move into an apartment or college dorm with someone they’ve never met. Sometimes it clicks and it works, but sometimes it’s difficult. Eventually, mom became really close with her roommate, even though they were a lot different. She actually ended up being a bridesmaid in Mom’s wedding. I asked Mom to talk a bit about what that was like. She only had one semester with a roommate before she married my dad. But she said even that one semester helped her so much because when my brother Will went to college, he’d been planning to room with one of his friends for years. Initially, when he found out he was going to have a third roommate, he was not thrilled. But mom was able to share her experience with him encouraging him to have a positive mindset about the situation! Mom reminded us that in situations like these, you have to trust that through others, God is going to teach you something. Oftentimes, people try to get out of these situations before God has time to work in them. Mom encouraged everyone to give it a full year in college for God to do something, whether it be the roommate, the major, or whatever else you may be having difficulties with. And then if you still don’t think you’re where you need to be, make a move.

You have to give it time for your roots to grow. When I was little, I would take apple seeds and plant them outside my house. But I never marked where they were, so I could never properly water them. I think about how I was throwing seeds in all different places, and I gave none of them time to nurture and grow. I think a lot of us do that. We are unwilling to stay in one place and water that soil and see what beauty grows from it. Because we get frustrated by the process, we just go to the next place and plant new seeds. But you’ll never get the tree unless you stay and water that ground. There’s a process to growing where you’re at. There’s a process to community. There’s a process for most things. Mom talked about how difficult it was when my sister Rebecca moved here from Taiwan. Her first semester was incredibly difficult because she had broken English, wasn’t making friends easily, and was struggling to stay in contact with her family because of the time difference. If she’d been given the option after the first semester, she probably would’ve chosen to go home. But the second semester rolled around and she was thriving. She was making friends, going to prom, and having a great experience. Now, she’s been here for 16+ years and is married with two kids!

Back to the roommate situation, I wanted to mention that not everyone is going to be your best friend. This is something I’ve had to learn as I’ve gotten older. Some people might be a great friend. You can still laugh and have fun with them, and even cry with them. But they don’t necessarily have be your best friend. And then some people will be your best friend, and often when that happens, it just comes naturally. For instance, my friend Laney will always be one of my best friends, and it came naturally. All of this to say, you don’t have to put pressure on any of your friendships to be your very best one. You have to be content and confident in the relationship you do have with your friend. 

I wanted to circle back around to my mom and dad’s relationship. Once they got back together, they got married the following January. So, by Mom’s second semester in college, she and Dad were married and Dad was beginning his first semester in college. The following summer, they actually went to Hawaii with Mom’s parents as their honeymoon, since they didn’t have much money. Three months into marriage, they still didn’t have a set in stone plan, and they were still broke. I asked mom to give us a picture into what that season looked like, the silly arguments over money, and the types of meals they would eat on a budget. Mom mentioned just how tight their budget was. She and Dad worked at a call center for a while. The people who call and ask you for money — that was my parents. Eating out was not an option, except for the occasional Little Caesar’s pizza for cheap. Monday’s menu was hotdogs with hormel chili. Tuesday’s was fried frozen chicken. She remembered one time when she and Dad were in the grocery store, they had $5 left over from their grocery budget and Dad wanted to buy a pack of baseball cards and she wanted to buy a magazine. It turned into a full out fight over who would get to spend the extra money. 

Here’s another example. Some of Mom and Dad’s friends had loaned them a washer and dryer, so they wanted to do something nice in return. They took them to dinner at Shoney’s and it cost $40, which was way out of their budget. Mom said she still remembers the feeling of seeing the check and wondering how they were going to eat for the rest of the week. I love that she mentioned this story, because nowadays I feel like there’s so much pressure on young wives to have it all together. They’re expected to have all the snacks cut in the perfect shape and to be both healthy and perfect. Seeing how perfect other people’s meals can be through social media and other outlets will feel like you’re not doing your role well enough. But sometimes, there are seasons in life when ramen noodles and hotdogs will just have to do. For example, during this season of my life, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a great dinner. Cereal is just fine. Mom pointed out that looking back on the moments she shared, they’re such sweet and fun memories. Take note of all the ways you grow and the things you learn during those times in life.

One thing I love about my parents’ relationship when they were first married is that even though they were broke, they still had fun. It didn’t keep them from being hospitable. Many people think they can’t be fun or hospitable because they don’t have anything or they might not have the “coolest” house. Mom spoke into this topic well. She said the first time they had a couple over in their tiny apartment, she made spaghetti. However, she had no idea how many noodles to make to properly accommodate the amount of spaghetti sauce. So, needless to say, there were plenty of noodles left over. Dad began throwing spaghetti noodles at Mom, which turned into a full on food fight with their friends. There were noodles everywhere, even until they moved out of that apartment. They would have holiday parties at their house and everyone would bring something, which usually consisted of rotel cheese dip and hotdogs. The fact is, people don’t care what your house looks like. They care about being together. 

Mom reminded us that we have to be the one to invite people sometimes. So many times we sit around and get sad because people aren’t inviting us places, but it might just be that you need to invite people to do things. Christian and I found ourselves in the place when we first moved back to Louisiana. I was throwing myself a pity party because we weren’t getting invited to a Bible study our friends were having. But then I had an epiphany — Why don’t I start a Bible study. I could be the one to text and invite them over, and now we’re all great friends! Mom chimed in with some good advice. She said that if someone says no when you invite them, don’t take it personally. Invite somebody else! 

I wanted to mention that Mom was an Art Major in college. While here and there, she’ll use her artistic ability, for the most part she isn’t really using her degree. I think someone needs to hear that because often in college, you think, “this is it.” You think that if you make a wrong decision, you might miss the call of God on your life. I just want to remind you that you cannot miss it if you’re truly following the Lord. I love what 2mama posted recently. She said that if you’re doing whatever you’re doing for the glory of God, then you’re doing what He called you to do. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself now to think that whatever you decide now will determine the rest of your life. It might shape your life, but it won’t be the end all be all. God has your future and God has your now. 

I hope this is all encouraging to you! Here are some questions to think about as we wrap up:

Look at the people around you in your life. How can you steward those friendships well? 

How can you use what you have to have fun and to host well? 

How can you work towards growing in your relationship, even if that means restructuring things? 

Where are you that you actually need to water the ground where you’re standing? Seeds can easily be thrown in the ground, but you need to take some time to be intentional and see growth. 

Becoming a Family

Becoming a Family

It’s been long said that expectation is the enemy of joy. That should be the mantra of your blended family, especially in the critical first year or two. Paint it on your walls, write it on a sticky note on your desk, needlepoint it on a throw pillow…do whatever you need to do to keep this saying in front of you at all times. It’s crazy how much stress and anxiety you can save yourself as you blend your family if you simply remember those six little words: expectation is the enemy of joy. Or as Scott likes to say, “death by expectation.”

Many couples enter a new marriage with unrealistic expectations about how quickly and easily their children will adjust to all the changes. New home, new parent, new siblings. Maybe a new town, new school, new friends, new pet. New dynamic in the home. New person or people with whom you have to “share” your mom or dad. New concerns about what your other biological parent feels about you having a new stepparent. It’s a lot, especially for a child, and their transition will almost always be anything but quick.

That’s okay, your marriage isn’t a flash in the pan; you’re in this for the long haul, and that means your children are as well. You’ve got plenty of time to make this work. Remember, slow and steady wins the race. Or, as Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Your blended family relationship isn’t a sprint; you’re running a marathon; you’re doing it as a team. The first step is to lay down any expectations you might have about what those relationships are going to look like and how quickly it’s going to happen. Forcing it or running at a faster pace than desired will leave you feeling defeated, exhausted, and depleted. The best you can do is ensure you’re creating a safe, secure atmosphere in which healthy parent and sibling relationships can flourish… and then wait. Relationships happen organically. Trying to force things to happen too prematurely can change the character of the relationship and the blessings the Lord wants to do in it.

Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some things you can do to create the best possible conditions for new relationships to develop. Let’s look at a few things that helped the families we interviewed throughout the project.

Put the “Fun” in “Dysfunctional”

The Lord is going to walk your family through some amazing mountaintop experiences and some seasons in a dry valley. Every family, blended or not, goes through seasons (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Even the best, most loving, and healthiest families have some level of dysfunction. Things simply won’t be perfect all the time. You know that’s true in your marriage, and it isn’t different for your family as a whole. Building relationships takes time under the best of circumstances and throwing kids in the mix — especially kids who don’t really know each other yet — doesn’t exactly make things easier! So we encourage you to find ways to put the fun in dysfunctional moments.

As we said earlier, kids like to build relationships around fun activities and time. That’s honestly not much different than how we do it as adults. Think about your relationship with your spouse, for example. Arranged marriages notwithstanding, you probably didn’t meet one day and get married the next. No, adults take time to build a strong relational foundation. And how do we spend that time? Dating! We see movies, go hiking, share meals, take vacations, ride rollercoasters, attend sporting events, and enjoy whatever other common interests we have. As we spend that time having fun together, we get to know each other. Ultimately, we fall in love. Why should things be any different for our children?

We were lucky in a way because Michael was our only child when we got married. The three of us had time to connect before Shay, our second, came along. That also meant Michael didn’t have to immediately “blend” with another child from day one. Instead, he got to enjoy our pregnancy right along with us, getting more and more excited about becoming a big brother. Of course, Shay and our other two boys were born with Michael already there, so they’ve never known a time when Michael wasn’t their big brother. As a result, we never had to help our children immediately blend with other kids. It just happened naturally.

“Be patient and guard your heart (open ears, quick to listen, and slow to anger—James 1:19). It’s okay for it to feel a little bit different.” – Marcus & Sara, A Blended Kingdom Family

Scott and Vanessa Martindale founded Blended Kingdom Families in 2020 in obedience to the calling that Vanessa received from God to minister to blended families. Through faith and radical obedience, they have partnered with God to help spread the Gospel into all blended family homes and equip the church to better serve blended families. The Martindales are a blended family themselves, and they know the struggles that come with the blending process. Their new book Blended & Redeemed released September 13, 2022.

Finding Joy in Your Relationships

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

WTG: Our Best Couples Advice

WTG: Our Best Couples Advice

What’s up, friend! I’m so excited to share this Sisters + Friends episode with you! This one features some of mine and Christian’s best friends, Freddie and Parker Amos. I’m sure you already know Freddie, as she’s been on the podcast and is our counselor at Live Original. But her husband Parker joins us in this conversation as well and it is so great! 

We talked all things relationships, marriage, friendship and more. Christian and I kicked off the conversation by addressing a little tiff we had earlier that morning. Long story short, it led me to my first piece of marriage advice: Do not start on the defense. Remember you are on the same team working toward the same goal.

I then asked if Freddie or Parker had any relationship advice to give from any of there communication flops. Freddie answered by saying it varies for her and Parker. She said that for her, she has to assume that Parker is going to respond while having her best interest at heart rather than assume the worst in her. She also has to remember that it’s not just about her when they’re trying to resolve something. It’s about their marriage and also what will be best for Parker rather than assuming she knows what’s best. 

It truly is so easy to assume what is best instead of bringing it up. It’s also true that we often do wait to address an issue and I have found that the longer you wait, the more the problem multiplies. This could all be resolved by taking time to address the problem even though it might not be fun. 

We then began to tell the story of how we all met and became friends. Christian and Parker were kind of the OG’s. Without their friendship, Freddie and Parker wouldn’t even live in Louisiana. Parker said the first time he remembers meeting Christian, they were in high school. Parker lived in Auburn at the time and Christian was still living in Florida. They met at a rush event for a fraternity that they were both considering rushing at the time. He knew Christian as the “cool surfer dude from Florida.” This was so funny to me because when I met Christian, I thought he looked like a hot lifeguard haha. 

Christian chimed in and said it took a few months for Parker and him to become good friends because he was still in his crazy phase and Parker was not. But they ultimately became friends through church. They developed such a deep friendship, and I always say that Christian and I probably wouldn’t have started dating without Parker. I asked Christian to take us back to the conversations he had with Parker leading up to when he began pursuing me. 

This is a great example because often when people start pursuing someone, they keep quiet about it or it’s not actually much of a pursuit at all. It gets isolating and bad. But Christian had his friends as a part of mine and his relationship before we were even in one. 

Christian mentioned that he typically is an indecisive person. So he needed people in his life to speak into this relationship. He and Parker talked through what mine and Christian’s relationship would look like, how Christian would lead, etc. Parker gave Christian plenty of dating advice during this time, and eventually, it became Parker’s turn. He began dating Freddie!

Parker began sharing about the beginning of his and Freddie’s relationship and what that looked like. They met during their freshman year of college at an event called the Oaks Retreat at Auburn. Parker said that when they met, he remembered her by her unique name and her super cool lifted jeep. He quickly found out she had a boyfriend, so he kept his distance. But eventually, when they broke up, she became pretty vocal about the interest she had in Parker. Everyone was so excited when Freddie and Parker started dating. It’s important to note though, that once Freddie broke up with her ex boyfriend, she and Parker didn’t immediately start dating. They took some time and space before jumping into another relationship. It’s also important to be intentional about not bringing baggage from past relationships into a relationship with the person you’re going to marry. Not that some of that won’t come in somehow or need to be addressed, but it is important to still take that time and space before jumping into a new relationship. What I saw with myself is that I kept repeating the same cycles in my relationships. The reason I didn’t fall into the same situation with Christian is because, for one, he led better than anyone else I’d dated. And also, the Lord had truly prepped my heart after my last breakup by reminding me to just slow down. 

Freddie went on to share how cool it was that when she met Parker, her heart desired both Parker and time to herself. The Lord was so kind to grant her both. He allotted her the time she needed outside of a relationship, and at the right time, began her relationship with Parker. Parker mentioned how in college, everyone is seemingly trying to find the right person instead of being the right person. If we would just focus on being the right person God’s called us to be instead of looking for that person first, it would all work out much better. He sees their story as a great example of God displaying this concept. 

I would say this to people as a practical piece of advice: Listen to the sermons and podcasts on dating. Read the books on dating. Do all the things. I did this before I met Christian, and it truly got my heart posture right. I think it’s great to prep for the relationship way before you ever get into the relationship. I believe this shows God that while you are surrendered to His plan for your life, you’re also preparing for what He has for you. 

Another topic I wanted to address was community. We’ve talked about community in dating, singleness, and other seasons, but I wanted to talk about community in marriage. Often, when people get married, they begin to isolate themselves, which is a very dangerous place to be because you definitely need couple friends in that season. I remember at Freddie and Parker’s rehearsal dinner, the amount of friends who stood up and spoke so much life over them and blessed them was such a beautiful thing. Many of those same friends are still walking through life with them. For Christian and me too, all the people who spoke life over us and encouraged us are still walking through life with us. It’s so important to hang on to those relationships. 

So, I asked Freddie and Parker what it looks like for them to be in community in marriage. Parker talked about how they both prioritize each other having individual friendships too. For example, Parker having a friend like Christian to encourage him and hold him accountable will allow Parker to be a better husband for Freddie. When he is in community, he is healthy as a husband. He mentioned the importance of prioritizing this, because isolation leads you to believe that you are the only one walking through a situation. Community will help you pick up on the things that might seem a little off in your relationships. They’ll call you out and hold you accountable, even when you aren’t willing to be honest about what’s going on in your life. 

Also, when you’re dating someone, you don’t want to say anything negative about that person and lead your friends to think poorly of them. Even though you might love your person, we’ve gotta be real … your friends can turn on a dime, am I right? They can think your person is the best one minute and the worst the next. So, when you’re married, it’s important that you don’t throw your spouse under the bus or talk bad about them. But instead, bring your friends in to speak life into your relationship. At that point in your life, you should have friends that trust and love both you and your person enough, to where if you say one thing, they won’t automatically think of you as a bad person who talks negatively about their person. They’ll actually be more concerned about how to fix the problem at hand in the best way. 

Christian then reiterated the idea that you can be in community, but not actually be open and transparent. For example, that same morning, Christian and I had a little argument, and we told Freddie and Parker about it. As it turned out, they had actually had an argument of their own that morning too. They could’ve kept it to themselves when we were sharing about ours, but they didn’t. They let us in to what they were walking through. And that is what true community should look like. Your struggles actually help each other. 

Christian and I used to get really bummed about not having community with other couples. In fact, we would get our feelings hurt when we weren’t invited to other people’s small groups. For those looking for community and feeling like they just can’t find the right group, I would encourage you to start your own! Christian and I recently started a Wednesday night Bible study at our house that has been so fruitful. Sometimes we have to look at the things we’re complaining about and think, “Actually, can I fix that problem?” This was certainly a situation that Christian and I could fix.

Next, I addressed a big topic in relationships: comparison. This is so important to talk about because it is so prevalent. The minute you get discontent with who you’re with because you compare them to another person, it will mess up your entire relationship. There have even been times in mine and Christian’s relationship when this topic surfaced. When we had Honey, I remember saying things like, “Oh, other people’s husbands are so helpful.” Looking back, I was comparing Christian, in a sense, to how helpful other husbands were, even though I would never want to be married to any of those people. I love Christian and I’m so attracted to him. Even more than just that, I love everything that he is and how he serves our family. But because I compared him to someone else’s husband based on one thing, all of a sudden I started getting mad at him for little things that he wasn’t doing. I’ve just seen the potential for this topic in our marriage to be such a destructive thing. It wasn’t that I was comparing him in a physical appearance, but I was comparing him in terms of helpfulness. Typically, when we think of comparison in relationships, we think of females comparing themselves to others. And while that does lead to discontentment in who we are, we don’t think about comparison affecting an entire relationship, especially in a marriage. 

Freddie chimed in by mentioning how important it is to avoid comparison in relationships. Instead of allowing ourselves to make excuses, we should remind ourselves, “Actually, my relationship is so important to me and I’m going to prevent myself from letting my eyes wander.” Like Freddie said, things don’t change when you’re even in a serious relationship with the person you do love. You still have to protect yourself in the same ways. 

Christian and I had just been listening to Ben Stuart’s message on David and Bathsheba, which I highly recommend if you’ve never heard it before. One thing Ben talks about is the fact that God gave us curiosity. But he reminded us to make sure we’re using our curiosity in healthy and beautiful ways because it leads to innovation. He said that if we are lazy with our curiosity, it can lead to sin. 

When Christian and I are watching a show and it looks like things might be about to get inappropriate, Christian gets on his phone and won’t watch whatever is happening on the screen. I appreciate this so much because it shows that Christian isn’t concerned with being curious about the screen. But instead, he only has eyes for me. I think many people believe that we don’t have control in an instance like that. And we do, but we have to fight for it. 

At Christian and Parker’s Bible study in Auburn, week after week, guys would talk about how they were trying to quit porn. One week, they finally put their foot down and asked the question, “Are we actually going to quit?” So, I asked the guys what that looks like for a man who admits he struggles with porn to actually take hold of something like that? Christian said that a lot of it starts by finding the common denominator. For someone, it could be late at night before bed, making the effort to not be on their phone. For someone else, it might be not taking their phone when they go to the bathroom. Covenant eyes is also a good idea. It’s a locked down browser that only allows you to search certain things. You have to be aware of which situations you struggle with the most. You have to go much further than just “Yes, I struggle with it.” You have to ask yourself, “Why am I struggling with it?” and “What situations do I let myself go there?” 

Parker made the point that your fight with lust does not end once you get married. If anything, it increases, because the enemy wants your eyes to be anywhere except your spouse, especially when you’re having conflict and things get hard. He said that with any sin, you have to ask yourself, “Is this better or is Jesus better?” It’s definitely a fight, but that’s why it’s vital to have people who can hold you accountable. 

Everyone talks about how everything changes when you get married, but we wanted to talk about some of the things that don’t change. When I was pregnant with Honey, everyone told me that my whole life was about to change. Well, there were actually a lot of things in mine and Christian’s lives that didn’t change once we had Honey. We’re still who we were before. We still have friends over. We still travel. So, that’s not necessarily always true that everything changes when you get married or have a baby. A lot changes, but not everything. I think some people have this idea that all their problems will change when they get married. Freddie mentioned that getting engaged, married, or having a baby will not solve your problems. Those things will actually challenge you a lot in your relationship. 

I asked Freddie and Parker to mention some things they thought might change when they got married, but that have actually stayed the same. Freddie began sharing about struggles, whether it be sin or body issues. Marriage does not come in and make all those things better. It actually makes them harder, because it’s no longer secret to you. Parker sees those struggles all the time. But you have the option to either stay in your sin, or change something. 

This led us to talk a bit more about the struggle of comparison. When my parents first got married, my dad used to get really jealous for my mom if other guys would look at her. A lot of people might have thought that he wouldn’t be jealous anymore once she had a ring on her finger. But when you have a deep lie inside of you, a ring doesn’t just change that. It changes when you decide to let the Lord heal that in your own heart. If you think anything other than God is going to heal a sin in your life, it’s not going to happen. Only God can take a sin and redeem you. 

Parker said that when he got married to Freddie, he didn’t think he’d have time to do all the fun things he loves. But he still gets to hunt, fish, have time for music and all the things. It’s even better now because he gets to share all those things with Freddie. He said it’s important to find someone who’s going to encourage you in the things you love, as that’s what Freddie does for him. 

Marriage is a serious thing. It takes intentionality and God being at the center of it. Then you will be able to be the best version of yourself for your spouse. It’s such a beautiful and fun thing, doing life with your best friend. For a culture that doesn’t value marriage, it’s very sad to see. Marriage is one of the greatest gifts that God has given us, as well as having children. A lot of people think that when you have kids, your life is over. But in some ways I think that our life began once we had Honey. And in so many ways it made Christian and me who we are. 

These things that God designed and gave us in life, like marriage and family, are such beautiful things and the enemy will 100% be after your heart in them. But if you just follow the Lord’s leading on those things and are intentional about following His voice, you will find so much fruit in it all. At the same time, if you’re single and just don’t desire that yet, rest in the place God has you. God has you there for a reason. Singleness is a beautiful thing too. Paul actually said it’s better that you stay single. There’s beauty in all things that God creates. Being able to be content where you’re at brings so much fruit and blessing.

If you want to hear our full conversation, be sure to listen HERE!

About Sadie & Live Original

Sadie Robertson Huff is well known for her engaging smile and energetic personality, but there is a lot more to the 25-year-old star of A&E’s Duck Dynasty and runner up on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars season 19

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