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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

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Neal and Carly Samudre

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