At Gateway Church in Austin, we continue our series, How To Kill A Relationship in 30 Days (HTKARI30D).
Having healthy relationships is a pretty common goal, but achieving that goal can be a real challenge. Why is that? Why is it so tough to have happy relationships and to make those relationships last?
According to the Prepare and Enrich assessment which has helped 3,000,000 couples from different backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities, here are the 5 Relationship Killers:
- Communicate in Code (message notes and message video from North Campus)
- Get Your Way Always (message notes and message video from Gateway South)
- Dwell on What’s Wrong (message notes and message video from Gateway South)
- Don’t Commit (message notes and message video from Gateway South)
- Avoid Conflict (message notes and message video from Gateway South)
These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.
HERE IS THE AUDIO OF THE MESSAGE I SHARED AT GATEWAY SOUTH:
HERE ARE THE NOTES FROM THE MESSAGE FROM JOHN BURKE:
“If you want love, you’re gonna have to go through the pain. If you want love, you’re gonna have to learn how to change” – NF
I wish someone would have told me that!
It’s true, but no one tells you that—do they?! They say Love is just a magical thing that you shouldn’t have to work at, it’s just something your trip over, stumble into one day, and
- “it completes me…”
- “it makes me whole…”
- “it satisfies my every longing.”
It’s the Magic Hollywood Love formula we were all spoon fed—but Newsflash “It ain’t love”– no wonder so many relationships don’t last. We kill them because we think the goal of love is self-satisfaction. God says the goal of love is to change us to be more like Him.
Love must change you – if you’re not willing to flex and change, you cannot grow into the loving person God intended.
That’s what we’re talking about today how inflexibility kills relationships. Inflexibility can kill relationships faster than a good ole elementary school balloon stomp. Remember those?
Robert Roberts writes about a 4th grade class that played the “balloon stomp” game. A balloon was tied to every child’s leg, and the object of the game was to pop everyone else’s balloon while protecting your own. The last person with an intact balloon wins. Balloon stomp is a win/lose zero-sum game. If I win, you lose. Anyone else’s success costs me. Balloon Stomp is a Darwinian contest—the survival of the fittest—and since ten-year-olds are Darwinian people, they entered into the spirit of it vigorously. Balloons were ruthlessly targeted and destroyed. A few children hung shyly on the sidelines, but their balloons were stomped just the same. The battle was over in seconds. Only one balloon was still inflated, and of course, its owner was the most disliked kid in the class. Can you really ever win at balloon stomp?
Then Roberts writes about a remarkable thing that happened. A second class was brought in to play the same game, only this time it was a class of children who had intellectual disabilities. They too were each given a balloon, given the same instructions, the same signal began the game. One of the teachers said, “I got a sinking feeling about this.” This time though, the game changed. The instructions were given too quickly for the kids to grasp. In all of the confusion, the one idea that sank in was that the balloons were supposed to be popped. But instead of fighting each other, these children got the idea that they were supposed to help one another pop balloons. So they formed a kind of balloon-stomp co-op! One little girl knelt down and held her balloon, like the holder for a field-goal kicker, while the little boy stomped it flat. Then the boy held his while the little girl stomped, and on and on it went laughing together with every loud BANG. And when all the balloons were stomped, a big cheer rose up from all the kids. Everybody won!
In relationships, marriage especially, many times you will stand at the crossroads of deciding to flex and change or stubbornly insist on getting your way.
The thing you want to change in the other person or the relationship is like the balloon tied around his or her leg—you get fixated on stomping it out.
- Stomping out his pride,
- stomping him or her into shape,
- stomping out that annoying habit,
- stomping her into doing it your way.
And if you decide to insist on the Darwinian struggle of “I win and get my way.” You will lose at getting a lasting, happy marriage relationship—or good working relationship if applied to the workplace.
Demographer George Barna did a national survey asking: “What do you want out of life?”
- Americans said Health was number one
- “A marriage that lasts” was number 2.
But how can we get what we want?
- Maybe you’re married
- maybe you’re hopeful
- or maybe right now you’d opt for jail time over marriage…
but regardless, we need to be the kinds of people who can make relationships last—at home, at work, in parenting.
What we’re talking about today is what makes you a healthy, happy, loving person.
Being “In Love”
Our culture tells us the secret is to find that right person you fall “In love” with. I hear people talk about how “in love” they were before they got married.
- Then they married, and in a matter of years—they lost that loving feeling—just died on them. They start playing balloon stomp, trying to change each other, then little things start getting on each other’s nerves.
- As one man said, “Very few things get on my wife’s nerves, I feel very special to be one of them.”
- Little annoyances get bigger until everything bugs you and you’re thinking, “would you please stop that breathing in and out, it’s so repetitious”.
I think this is common because our culture defines love as a feeling—you’re either “In love” or you’re not. But there’s a big difference between being “In Love” and learning how to Love another human being.
Being “in love” requires no effort at all.
- Psychologists tell us the “in love” obsession which is not love at all, but is really a romantic high that lasts about 2 years.
- Then the couple starts blaming the other for not giving them what they need to have that “in love” high.
- And so we start trying to “Make” each other change to meet our needs.
- Two people, needing the other to give them what they want – so love becomes more like a tic on a dog – each person latching on to try to get it’s “love” needs met by getting things to go their way.
- The problem with many marriages where God’s out of the equation – what you end up with is 2 Tics but no Dog.
One guy said, “I decided instead of getting married I just buy a dog.” Why? His friend asked. “Because after the first 2 years, a dog is still excited to see you.”
When “that loving feeling” is not happening, some pack up the bags and move on to find “Love.”
- 40% of first marriages end in divorce. They leave to find that “loving feeling” but it’s illusive.
- They remarry, but if they don’t change, that doesn’t work either usually – and 60% of second marriages fail.
- So they try again, yet 75% of third marriages fail.
The solution is not finding the perfect person,
- not feeling a Love Buzz,
- not making life go your way,
- But becoming the kind of person who can sustain a loving, lasting relationship.
Instead of trying to stomp out what you don’t like, when you work on you…becoming a loving, accepting, flexible person, the other person is much more likely to say “You know, I realize I’ve got this balloon of selfishness tied around my leg—will you help me stomp it out? And you learn to say the same thing.
What areas do you need me to grow in—let me hold the balloon for you.
But in order to do this, you must become a humble, flexible person.
Flexibility Pop Quiz
Our family growing up tended to be:
- Somewhat Rigid
- Very Flexible
- Overly Flexible
Researchers tell us we start off pretty close to where we grew up, but part of spiritually growing up is coming out from under your family of origin, and learning from a new Father, God, healthier relating patterns.
Dr. Allen Parducci, a prominent UCLA researcher asked “What makes happy couples happy?” He found that money, success, health, beauty, intelligence, or power have little to do with a couple’s happiness.
Instead, he found the following:
“A major factor determining happiness has to do with each partner’s ability to adjust to things beyond his or her control.”
– Dr. Allen Parducci, UCLA
So if flexibility is so important, then how do we grow in it?
- Flexibility is necessary because all of life is changing and mostly out of our control.
- And those we love are not intended to be under our control – they are intended to follow God’s will and his loving ways – not do our will.
- And we were intended to do the same, but all of us fight to play God rather than letting God be God.
- So life and relationships are full of surprises (many that are not God’s will) and learning to be flexible to the right degree will be an important quality for lasting relationships.
The Prepare/Enrich marriage assessment we use for SoulMates premarital counseling has been used by over 3 million couples to help determine traits to work on to make a marriage last.
In their study, 87% of those unhappily married said:
“My partner is sometimes too stubborn and inflexible.”
Inflexibility kills a relationship.
That’s why they say couple flexibility is the 2nd greatest predictor of lasting marital success after communication (which if you missed last week—go listen on our website or get the notes at www.ericbryant.org).
Flexibility is the capacity to change and adapt when necessary. If you can’t change, you’re not growing—you’re stuck.
Where Change is Necessary in Marriage:
Adapting to Differences
This is the single area were couple flexibility is most important.
- When we come to areas where we think or act differently, how do we deal with each other or seek compromise or make decisions?
- Do we inflexibly assume we were God’s perfect creation and all others should conform to our image?
- So any differences in the other—it’s wrong and must be stomped out?
Yet God created all of us in His Image—with our differences.
If it’s a difference that reveals a more complete view of God’s image created in different personalities, temperaments, traits, can we learn to value and even appreciate these differences?
Romance and intimacy masks differences.
This is why you need to take time to build a friendship first and wait on physical intimacy.
See each of us constructs an ideal image of the person we marry.
You almost never go into a marriage, preemptively considering this person will become irritating, frustrating, and put on excess weight.
Love is blind, but if we don’t realize that this is not love–just a romance phase and it’s not reality.
We will marry an image and only later discover the real person, and we will be shocked – what happened to the person I married?
The answer is, he became real. To make relationships last, you must learn to be flexible and value differences.
Everyone lives by a set of rules that are rarely spoken but always known.
Couple flexibility reflects the capacity of a couple to change and adapt their rules. It refers to how rigid and unbending we all are with our particular rules of how things should be.
Unspoken rules usually become vocalized when our spouse breaks them.
Think about the rules you had in your family as you grew up. Here’s a sampling of rules that you may bring into a marriage:
- Don’t ever be late.
- Don’t be uptight.
- Figure it out for yourself, don’t ask for help.
- Don’t be stubborn, ask for help.
- Don’t talk about money in public.
- Don’t hide anything.
- Never call attention to yourself.
- Don’t work too long or too hard.
- Don’t be lazy.
- Never raise your voice.
- Don’t hide your emotion.
- Don’t talk about sex.
- Don’t talk about your feelings.
- Better safe than sorry.
- No risk, no reward.
We all assume that these are the right rules because they were our rules we grew up with, and when the other person breaks them, we tend to be inflexible.
But who says they are the right rules of life?
When we enter marriage, it’s like each brings a suitcase full of baggage, and one of the tasks of marriage is to each open up our suitcase and decide together what things are we going to keep and what things are we going to throw away, because this is no longer the family we grew up in.
U2 has a great line, “Love, it’s not the easy thing, the only baggage you can bring is all that you can’t leave behind.”
You’ve got to learn to flex and leave behind the baggage of rules that do not in fact come from God, but from your family of origin. Hold tightly to what God says love is and does—be willing to let go of all else.
Some people say “marriage is just God’s way of keeping people from fighting with complete strangers.”
But Jesus explained God’s intent for marriage this way:
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. – Mark 10:7-8
- God’s intent for marriage is this mysterious spiritual unity of oneness.
- God’s design is that we leave and differentiate from our families of origin (from the rules and regulations authoritative voices in our heads we grew up under), and willingly put ourselves under his authority—follow his ways of love, so that we can bond ourselves first and foremost to our marriage partner.
- Then we must decide together, what are the rules that we will live by as we seek to follow God together – this is God’s ideal.
- But if our family or cultural-rules hold more authority than God’s ways, it is often very hard to let it go—to be willing to flex and work together to pack a new suitcase of family values and ways that suit us both.
Neither of us knew the other’s rules until we violated them.
I found myself inflexible and stubborn, but when I prayed, I knew I needed to let it go. But I kept having to say, “Lord, help me let it go. It’s not your rule, it’s mine – your rule is the rule of laying down my life for those I love.”
So you’ll either learn flexibility or something will break.
Changing Roles and Expectations
This is another place flexibility is necessary.
- We all have unconscious roles and expectations that you and your partner fall into.
- Just like an actor in a drama follows a script, so do married couples without knowing it.
- A bride and groom are drawn into acting out roles that they form from a blend of their personal dispositions family backgrounds and marital expectations.
- And they change with time.
How couples handle decision-making about roles and dividing household tasks may seem like a small deal, but it can become a huge source of conflict.
If flexibility is not a high quality of both partners – little ripples can eventually start to shake the foundation of a relationship and cause a catastrophic collapse.
There are lots of little ripples of decisions about roles you’ll have to flex with:
- Who does the laundry?
- Who pays the bills?
- Who does the shopping?
- Who takes care of the cars?
- Who mows the lawn?
These are all questions that must be negotiated. When children arrive the decisions get even more intense because typically the way we were parented is our default norm, and now the stakes feel gigantic.
- Who works and who stays home with the kids?
- Do we both work and put the kids in childcare?
- How do we train, correct, discipline?
- Who is primarily responsible for homework?
So our differences get magnified.
Then you throw in the shock waves of circumstances of life – job losses, family crisis, health issues, bad vacations …
Without flexibility couples inevitably collapse.
You see why flexibility is the second most important trait behind good communication that we can develop? But if we struggle to “let it go”, if we find our pride, our stubborn streak, our “my way or the highway balloon-stomping character defects” getting in the way– how do we change and grow? Let me give you some suggestions.
Humble Yourself –
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 1 Peter 5:5-6
I think marriage is kind of like God’s Gym—it’s the place where both partners will train and grow in how to truly love another human being with a God-like kind of love.
But we must humble ourselves under God as our Trainer because we all need help.
Just as most people don’t just walk into the gym already in shape, it’s in the gym through hard work and some pain that they see the gain of growing strong.
God opposes us when our pride makes us stiff-necked, stubborn, critical, hard-hearted and inflexible.
But God gives grace and help to those who humbly want his help to flex and change.
So if you’re getting stuck, feeling stubborn and inflexible, take it to God first.
Decide to grow not get your way: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:21
These verses say that two people, in an intimate relationship of marriage, or close friendship or partnership are to be like iron on iron-it sharpens each other. But what happens while iron sharpens iron? Sparks fly! Right! It’s not always a cake walk.
And this second verse gives the key to growing—we must submit to each other. Now I know this word “submit” spoken in church is almost like a cuss word—it brings up images of male dominance and female subordination. But this is actually the verse that precedes the oft-quoted wives submit to your husbands, and it says submit to Each Other. It’s followed by the command, husbands, lay your lives down for your wives.
By the way, the Bible never says: Make sure others submit to you! Instead, men and women are called to respect each other.
If you need respect, ask yourself: am I living a life deserving the respect of others?
Am I living the kind of life that others would want to follow you?
Am I living the kind of life that others feel cherished and protected and nurtured by you?
The point is this—the opposite of an attitude of submission to each other is an attitude of dominance—of getting MY WAY!
And most couples struggle with this—it’s fallen human nature.
- We try to dominate one another and get our way with one another.
- We keep trying to stomp on each other’s balloons in a competitive hardening of the hearts.
- But this takes us down a path of destruction rather than growth.
John Fisher, a noted family therapist says:
“The success of a marriage comes not in finding the “right” person, but in the ability of both partners to adjust to the real person they inevitably realize they married.” – John Fisher
So here’s the typical scenario. A couple’s been married for about 2 years, just long enough for each to realize that those “annoying things” are not changing like they’d hoped in the other person. So what do we do? We stand at a crossroads of a decision: It’s not an obvious one, but a critical one: Do I seek to manipulate and change my spouse, or do I seek to grow to learn to be a better lover—to even love the warts I see just like God loves me, warts and all? Do I try to change him or her and get my way, or do I ask God to change me? Critical decision! Do I say, “God is this balloon I’m hanging onto one that needs to be popped – do I need to let this go in order to better love?” If so, you humble yourself before God, and you ask the other person to help you – you hold the balloon for them so they can help you pop it. Then that kind of humility demonstrated allows the other to hold the balloon they need to pop – you can help them and it becomes a win-win game where we help each other grow when both are humble and flexible before God.
Change Your Attitude – One reason I find we get so inflexible is that we have this attitude, “If I’m going to be happy, my spouse has to…fill in the blank.” It’s not true. Your inner well being, your spiritual condition is not in the control of others or circumstances—it’s your choice before God. Change that attitude. Start saying the truth, “It doesn’t have to go my way for me to be happy.” I can let go and let God. God’s promise is that those spiritual qualities we’re trying to get from the other person – love, joy, peace, a sense of excitement in life…they only come from him. Jesus said,
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:11
But when the Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace….” Galatians 5:22
So when things don’t go your way, or your spouse doesn’t do what you want, you can let go of being negative and critical, manipulative or domineering trying to get them to make you happy. You can flex because your spiritual well-being does not depend on that person – it comes from God – and the choice is yours.
Victor Frankl was a 26 year old Jewish psychiatrist in Vienna Austria. He was happily married, living down the street from his mother, father, and sister when one day a dreaded knock came to his door. Hitler’s Gestapo rounded up Victor and his whole family and took them all to the dreaded Auschwitz Concentration camp. [I once visited Auschwitz, walking most of the camp, hearing the stories of the horrors—the isolation chambers some prisoners would be locked in for days in pitch blackness, I could barely squeeze into some of them. And there Victor Frankl worked month in and month out—each day hoping for a few slivers of carrots or peas, wrapping his legs in shreds of scrap burlap in the winter to ward off the cold.] Every day he labored under the great smokestacks that belched out black carbon monoxide from the incinerators that cremated prisoners—and over the years he had to watch as his mother and father were marched in under those smokestacks, then his sister, then his wife—never to come back. When Victor Frankl was finally called in for inquisition, he stood naked in the center of a powerful white light, while men in shiny boots assailed him with questions and accusations—trying to break him down with their lies. They had taken from him his wife, his family, his writing, his clothes, his wedding ring. But in the midst of that interrogation, Victor Frankl had this insight: “They have taken from me everything I have—except the power to choose my own attitude!”
You and I can choose as well! It’s not dependent on that other person. Take responsibility for your own attitudes in God’s Gym of relationship, then you can be a more flexible person who can make relationships last.