It is simple to know how to maximize our relationships by learning some basic concepts about the purpose of relationships and how they work. The Bible says we are “made in God’s image.” Since God is spirit, what does that mean? God made us in his image as Relational Beings. God is a relational being, and we were designed for relationship. God made us relational beings so that we would desire a relationship with him as well as with other people.
This is what separates us from animals. By the way, I wonder what evolutionists say about this aspect of our being? How did our capacity for relationship “evolve”? Your cocker spaniel may seem like she desires to have a relationship with you, but it is based mostly on being fed and having her tummy rubbed!
Because we are relational beings, we have Relational Needs that are universal. Experts indicate that there are actually 50+ ways we can experience our Relational Needs being met. We have all heard of the Five Love Languages, representing five common Relational Needs. In counseling, I discuss the Top 10 Relational Needs: Acceptance, Affection, Appreciation, Approval, Attention, Comfort, Encouragement, Respect, Security, and Support. It is possible to discover the order of priority for these needs in ourselves and others with a simple diagnostic tool.
Along with being relational beings, we also have a capacity for retaining positive as well as negative emotional experiences. When our main Relational Needs are not being met, or we are not meeting them in our spouse, the negative emotional experience is Aloneness. From just going through the experiences of life, other common negative emotional experiences are Condemnation, Guilt, Fear, Anger, and Hurt.
These negative emotional experiences accumulate in a very subtle fashion sometimes. The accumulation can be compared to the experience of feeling gravity. Gravity is being exerted upon us all the time, but it is much more evident when we, say, injure our leg and have to limp around on crutches. Gravity seems to have a much stronger influence. Sometimes we are unaware of the building up of these negative emotional experiences until they overwhelm us.
Each of the negative emotional experiences has an Antidote. For Aloneness, the Antidote is getting our main Relational Needs met. For Condemnation, it is applying Truth; for Guilt, it is Confession; Fear, experiencing Perfect Love; Anger, it is Forgiveness, and for Hurt, it is Comfort. It is only in relationship with God, other people, or a spouse that our Relational Needs can be met. It is also only in these relationships where we can receive the Antidotes for negative emotional experiences.
The secret to maximizing your relationships is twofold: First, we must be proactive and vulnerable about getting our own Relational Needs met and meeting the Relational Needs of others that are close to us, that are in relationship with us. Secondly, we can choose to be in close relationship with God, others, and a spouse that regularly help us “drain” or dissipate our negative emotional experiences with the Antidotes, as well as those that will vulnerably allow us to help them do the same. In other words, we can surround ourselves with people that are capable of speaking the Truth in love, and giving and receiving Confession, Perfect Love, Forgiveness, and Comfort.
Of course, God provides all of these! But God himself acknowledges that he isn’t enough. In the Garden of Eden, Adam had a close relationship with God and lots of cool animals, but God said this wasn’t enough. In Genesis 2:18, God said “It is not good for the man to be alone.”
When we experience toxic relationships that never meet our Relational Needs allow us to meet their Relational Needs, we feel aloneness. When there is no one else in our life that speaks the truth in love to us, helps us experience Confession, Perfect Love, Forgiveness, and Comfort, the negative emotional experiences build up. The overflow that results shows up in many bad things: escape with addictions to work, substances, sex, or other activities; codependency (see previous blog!); obsessions/compulsions; physical illnesses; anxiety/depression; irritability/hostility; sleep/eating disorders; emotional numbness; and others.
So healthy relationships are not only fulfilling, but they are vital to our spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Isolation from God and others is deadly in many ways. Now I will repeat something that, if people took it to heart, it might put me and a lot of other counselors out of business! As I have said before, the common denominator with almost all of my clients who come in for counseling is that they are completely isolated, either literally or isolated within their own relationships and marriages. They go through the motions without ever “experiencing” relationships the way God intended them to be.
On the contrary, when we are in healthy relationships that regularly fulfil our Relational Needs and apply the Antidotes to our negative experiences in life, we overflow with the fruit of the spirit to ourselves and others: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see Galatians 5:22-23).