We are social creatures who thrive in relationships. Statistics put the displacement caused by wars and conflict in the world at approximately 40 million. Failure to embrace diversity, manage issues of compatibility and conflict join a long list of triggers of relational misfortunes. In one of my books, The Marriage Dance, I state that God expects everyone in a relationship to know that there are factors that could positively or negatively affect their relationship. We are all created differently and are uniquely gifted. The threshold of withstanding pain and stress comes differently for different people. When we fail to intelligently interrogate our relationships, we lack the knowledge and awareness of what we are up against.
The fact that we all are different, have weaknesses and fail occasionally is enough fodder to ignite a fire in a relationship. However, there is a wise saying by King Solomon that states that, “A house is built by wisdom and becomes strong through good sense.”
Hurry hurry has no blessing
Rule number one in relationships is approaching everything patiently. Patience helps an individual gain wisdom, and guides one on how to apply it in a relationship. Unfortunately, many are in a hurry to get in a relationship and commit before gaining enough knowledge about the person they are surrendering their life to. This has seen many young people succumb to the pressure to fit in the mould. The end product is being in a relationship with a stranger. Susan Kraus in her book notes that, “the rush of infatuation leads people to take the next step in their relationship without looking objectively at the odds of the relationship succeeding.” Sadly, before such a partner comes to their senses, plans to move in together are in high gear. “Unfortunately,” adds Kraus, “many of these hurried unions lead to disappointments as the relationship often falls apart before it has had time to take shape.”
In my involvement with dating and married couples, I have come across certain interesting findings: First, couples who tend to move quickly to sexual intimacy, for example within a month of dating, believe that having sex signifies a commitment to one another. Sadly, sex becomes the glue that holds them together. Chances for disappointment become high, should this glue weaken. Marriage must be seen to offer much more than sex.
Compatibility and communication
Two should walk together out of a shared or common agenda. Spiritual, physical and emotional agreement must move in tandem. Most dating people forget that someone’s spiritual inclination, which may be a little hard to detect, is key to a relationship. Many relationships have suffered serious harm because partners did not have the same spiritual inclinations. Compatibility is key for lasting relationships and should not be confused for chemistry. As much as an inventory of traits and a feeling of connection is important, compatibility is a process that will call for negotiation and navigation as a couple moves along. Having the right attitude and a willingness to work on oneself and the relationship is key.
The end product of a well-connected couple will reveal feelings of: “I feel safe”, “I feel accepted”, “I feel I belong” and “I feel loved”.
Because communication styles do not necessarily match or complement each other, the temptation to make assumptions is high. It is wise to always want to truly understand what your partner is communicating. Chemistry between spouses should not just concentrate on feelings and temporal emotional connections that are based on self-gratification. Chemistry must go beyond feelings. It develops over time as we blend our desires, dreams and the other person’s ways of looking at issues. This chemistry contributes to the overall well-oiled relationship.
Common areas of agreement
First, love must be accompanied by shared values. As you think about a relationship, consider what makes you different and special. For example, your values, beliefs, expectations, and dreams in life. Second, who is meant to complement you? Get to know their values, beliefs, qualities and character traits. Third, ask if you are fit for each other. What are the areas of agreement? Are the gaps too large to fill? Are there any areas that are non-negotiable? If the differences are core enough to cause you worry, then walk away. You will do yourself a lot of injustice if you choose to stay in such a relationship. Responsible behaviour and managing oneself in the relationship is your responsibility. Love must not be defined from two different directions. Rather, it must be accompanied by the kind of behaviour that is in line with confessed values. We should not downplay our destiny and that of the family. Today’s wounds in relationships are created by self-seekers who make a choice to take a certain road for their personal gain, thereby hurting others.
We must become others-centred. This kind of love is God’s kind of love. Mahatma Gandhi observed that, “a man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.”
Dealing with differences and challenges in a relationship
a) Acknowledge that diversity is real and is the ingredient that adds colour to a relationship.
b) Sameness is not the same as agreement. Generally men and women express themselves differently. This does not necessarily mean opposition or a lack of love. If embraced well, this has the potential to grow the relationship but if mishandled, it leads to conflict and stagnation in the relationship.
c) Beware of hurting words. We need to remember that the tongue is a flame of fire. If poorly used, words have the potential to breed emotional pain.
d) Manage your differences through affirmation and dialogue. If poorly managed, our differences can easily lead to fights. This can lead to a spirit of indifference, thereby denying a couple moments of fun.
e) Be orderly and specific when dealing with issues. Avoid crowding the scene of discussion with unrelated issues. When a couple starts dragging past resolved issues into current discussions, it accelerates the separation between them. Forgiveness restores fellowship and gives the couple an opportunity to deal with issues together - as a team. When we acknowledge our potential to fall. It enables us to give grace and not judgement.