Relationships -shedding some light on a complex issue

When I unearthed some old notes on the subject of relationships it began to dawn on me how we all assume so much about this subject without a great deal of thought. I felt I must revisit this important matter. The notes carried the name of Tom Marshall as the Christian author who had inspired my scribbles: so his is the credit for any thoughts that inspire you in this article; mine is the blame for any contradictions or lack of clarity.


[] ‘A relationship is the mutual sharing of some, or all, aspects of life between two or more persons.’ But ‘mutual’ does not necessarily mean ‘equal sharing’. For instance: a workman puts in the labour and the employer pays the wages. (Genesis 29:14-20 and Matthew 20:11-16 are good biblical examples of that.)

[] And a relationship is distinct from the individuals who are its components. A marriage, for example, is neither the husband nor is it the wife. So if a wife tries to ‘work on’ her husband with complaints about their marriage, the outcome could be a boisterous failure. Both should work at making their relationship fruitful.

A complex network of relationships

Relationships are what keep us human. After all, even Robinson Crusoe, when shipwrecked on a desert island, needed a ‘Man Friday’! Each human being is actually incorporated into a complex network of relationships, such as: husband/wife, parent/child, brother/brother, sister/sister, sister/brother, teacher/pupil, master/servant, doctor/patient, supplier/customer, driver/passenger etc.

  1. The Intention of a relationship

(a) This intention could be an end in itself, namely mutual fellowship, as in the case of friendship. From the very beginning of the human race God said about marriage: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone’ (Genesis 2:18, New Living Translation unless otherwise stated).

(b) The other major benefit of relationship is functional, a means to an end, to get a task done successfully. ‘God created human beings in his own image . . . Then . . . blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it”’ (Genesis 1:27-28).

Most relationships have some of each of those facets, fulfilment and fruitfulness – and it is wise to respect the boundaries of each aspect. For example, if a salesman targets his friens as customers they could feel they are being ‘used’. Or, if an employee expects his boss to pander to his fluctuating moods he could soon be out of a job.

  1. Varying degrees of Involvement in any relationship

A vocation can involve long hours of work without any great degree of closeness. On the other hand, a doctor’s consultations with a patient may be brief and yet be very personal. Here again, differing expectations can lead to difficulties. For instance, does a wife need to know the details of her husband’s hassles in the office? After all, half of his problems could be resolved before his next day at work. And in his weariness, including traffic jams on his journey home, could add an edge to the tone of his voice in answering her sociable questions. As a couple they need to come to a mutual understanding of each other’s expectations, and agree on some boundary guidelines – such as ‘No reference to business problems at the evening meal or in bed’.

  1. The highest degree of involvement is Intimacy

(a) ‘Now you are my friends,’ Jesus told ‘the twelve’ at their last supper, ‘since I have told you everything the Father told me’ (John 15:15) – contrasting this relationship with that of a master and servant – ‘a master doesn’t confide in his slave.’ Sharing confidences is a feature of intimacy.

(b) And loyalty is another: ‘A friend is always loyal’ (Proverbs 17:17). Indeed, ‘a real friend sticks closer than a brother’ (Proverbs 18:24). Solomon would have learned these lessons from his father David’s published lamentation on the death of his bosom pal Jonathan. (See 2 Samuel 1:26, ‘How I weep for you, my brother Jonathan! Oh, how much I loved you! And your love to me was deep, deeper than the love of women!’)

The deeper the intimacy, the more potential there is for pain if there is a breach of that relationship by disagreement or death.

If we don’t tell one another our expectations, or at least sense them intuitively, one party can be purely subjective in their judgments about the other.

P.S. To help us achieve the best quality of any relationship requires true love as its motivation. Tom Marshall reckons genuine love always has four vital ingredients: respect, trust, understanding and care. This ideal, relational love is best considered in a separate blog. I’ve given that article the title: ‘Four-square Christian love’.

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