The status of today’s marriage and family landscape is worrying.
Dysfunctional families are on the rise. There are increased cases of abuse, physical and emotional.
Many young people are abusing drugs, a factor that leaves most of them without hope, making many destructive decisions in the process.
Speaking broadly on this matter, the cases of widows and orphaned children who may feel neglected, alone and unsupported are also increasing.
Most charities, churches and non-governmental organisations that offer support to the most vulnerable in society have done a commendable job of lifting many out of poverty.
However, many others have used the plight of the vulnerable and less fortunate to enrich themselves.
There are varied dysfunctions in our society today adding to the pain that is being felt by many families.
How can I forget the runaway corruption that is leaving many families anxious and vulnerable?
What about violence in the family, child labour and abuse, trafficking, and many other vices that besiege the family unit?
There is also the worrying rise of suicide in the family, an indicator that there is a need for an urgent conversation to take place within families, if not nationally, to debate on how we can restore justice while at the same time speaking about comfort and healing.
The fact is that the hopelessness felt by many young people may lead them into acts of lawlessness.
American Michael Josephson, a champion of character development, says: “Toxic relationships not only make us unhappy; they corrupt our attitudes and dispositions in ways that undermine our healthier relationships and prevent us from realising how much better things can be.”
But because we cannot visualise how better things could be, we get lost in the maze of blame, revenge, or even fear and increased anxiety and stress.
When we find ourselves struggling with failures and faults in relationships, where do we take our disappointment?
The challenge with relationships is that we marry, or are born into relationships with imperfect people seeking perfect ways of relating.
Considering that disappointment comes about because none is perfect is real and necessary to the concept of building lasting relationships.
Sadly, we also have an idealised view of love, promoted by those who fantasise about what relationships should be.
When the reality we face doesn’t match up to the fantasy picture we have built thanks to media we watch or read, it leaves us disappointed.
On the other side, in marriage or parent-child relationships, greater knowledge and understanding comes from developing deep and lasting relationships.
This is where we build real and affectionate relationships that provide us with the foundation we need to nurture a healthy family, and by extension, society.
WORKS OF MERCY
Families should therefore embrace works of mercy that relate to love, care and nurture if such relational environments are to thrive.
In marriage, we do not fight over who gains recognition on the support our children or parents get.
Works of mercy and kindness must be part of who we are and the values we ascribe to. This is what defines our character.
In marriage, the values each spouse espouses become key to the character of the family.
For example, how do we solve conflict? Is it through a shouting match?
It is important not to confuse the emotional intimacy we have with our spouse, children, and parents that is generally driven by the honour we have for them, with love.
Did it ever occur to you that your parents or partner can love you but they will never have access to knowing who you really are?
LOVE AS AN EXPRESSION
In fact, much of the pain carried by teenagers is the result of the assumption that just because they belong to a particular family, they have access to every part of that family.
Knowledge comes from learning, intentional learning. This, of course, takes time.
When you read about love, for example, one discovers that love moves from being a feeling to an expression of endurance, patience, and kindness among many other attributes.
These are the attributes that, if embedded in one’s relationship, will give marriage its definition.
So, as members of a family, support for one another must be love-driven.
Deep relationships create deeper conversations that enable people in a relationship to truly know each other and how to support each other.
I don’t have to wait to be loved, I make a choice to love, to forgive, to care and to understand my spouse and my children.
The question is not whether we are called to such a mission of caring and supporting each other, or even whether those in need of our support deserve such care and support, rather, the realisation that we have a call and mandate to live this way.
In some cases, most relationships advance manipulation, verbal abuse, unfaithfulness and betrayal that may lead to emotional withdrawal and a level of aggressive behaviour.
Connection that leads to restoration cannot be there if love is adulterated.
It is toxic love when we love only because we need something in return. True love does not make demands.
When this continues, we get disappointed when we don’t get what we needed. In fact, one wonders whether we are not manipulating those who expect support from us.
God wants us to take love beyond physical and emotional connection to giving each other real support so as to experience freedom and rediscover our lost dignity and meaning.
When we don’t show such concern, our selfish mentality hurts and keeps the relationship trapped in a cycle of dependency.
AFFIRMATION IS IMPORTANT
How do you react when your spouse or child comes to you for help or affirmation? Do you offer your support or do you reject them?
Rejection has made many men and women and children sink deeper into their pain.
Affirmation and appreciation has a way of helping those facing pain gain the courage and begin the journey to recovery.
God wants his people to regain their dignity and return to productivity.
Our desire to help relatives in need must take cognisance of the fact that support should lead to freedom and self-reliance.
If you, for instance, commit to support your teenage child who is caught up in a cycle of abusing alcohol or drugs, you should refrain from condemning this child and look for ways of communicating acceptance and hope.
BUILDING A HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT
This will open a door of friendship where they feel safe enough to share their struggles.
A wounded heart can only be healed by love and a show of affection. Our aim should be to help break any hung-ups and dependencies that impede growth.
This may require breaking away from company that retards development. Dependency in relationships behaves a lot like addiction.
Some marriages may not find healing from abuse, acts of unfaithfulness and acts of violence due to such addictive relationships.
At the heart of holding onto bad relationships is fear. When we communicate acceptance consistently, herein lies the power of breaking such controlling forces.
Due to the many issues facing families today, many have come to believe that a healthy family is blissful myth.
VALUE EACH OTHER
However, rewarding and life-giving relationships come as a result of purposeful and committed investment.
This calls for both partners to create an environment that communicates safety within the family and home.
We should always appreciate the fact that healing and restoration happens better when we create an enabling and freeing home environment that liberates and empowers.
Gary Smalley, the author of The DNA of Relationships, believes that when we create a safe environment within a relationship, those involved are able to grow and flourish.
This calls for each spouse to be intentional at valuing each other. Such an environment should avoid prejudging others, hateful speech, blame and words that seek to label each other.
When we see others as less important, we are tempted to use manipulative actions that seek to place us in control.
In relationships, there are no winners and losers. When we establish and respect healthy boundaries, this enforces a culture of peace.
In their book Boundaries, Henry Cloud and John Townsend note that boundaries help people to determine what they are and are not responsible for within the relationship.
ACTS OF KINDNESS
In addition, clear boundaries help create an environment where each person finds their untapped potential, gets inspired, and gets catapulted out of any prison they find themselves in.
Restoration is made easier where one spouse or member of the family takes these steps:
Initiate: Restoration may not succeed where a couple takes the path of blame instead of one of them or both taking the initiative to break out of the stalemate. Note that taking initiative is a risky and vulnerable act because you could just be rejected.
Humility is not weakness. Apologising or seeking forgiveness first is not a sign of defeat.
Choose to be empathetic: When we mentally take the place of the other person, we are able to visualise the pain or difficulty they face.
Relationships thrive better where either partner knows that we hear them and we affirm them. This is what facilitates the healing process.
We are called to believe in others. This is what bridges the gap between them and us.
In today’s world where relationships are comfortably entwined with consumerism, my worry is the growing gap between real passion and one that is manipulated because it rides on gifts and provisions.
My philosophy is that our love should be demonstrated through consistent acts of kindness, big or small otherwise it will die.
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