Since we were created as relational beings, we all have relationships that bring meaning, support, and purpose to our lives. However, we also all experience ups and downs in our relationships, often in the most important ones. Whether those are problems in our relationships with our parents, friends, siblings, roommates, romantic partners, spouses, coworkers, etc., it is stressful and discouraging when a valued relationship is in turmoil.
Even though relationships have a powerful impact on our emotional, spiritual, and mental health and are deserving of time and attention to ensure their health, many people think that their relationship issues are “too small” to seek the help of a counselor. We want to assure you that this is not the case! We regularly see students who are struggling to learn how to best love and honor their parents while pursuing the will of God in their lives. Others come to work through troubled relationships with peers, siblings, family members, roommates, or friends, while still others seek the help of a counselor to work on a dating or engaged relationship to discern if this is the one the Lord has for them. We also work with married students in helping them pursue health and holiness in their marriages as well.
In short, no relationship issue is unworthy of the help of counseling. It is better to seek the help of a counselor to work through a “minor” relationship problem than it is to suffer alone in silence and let it turn into a “major” one.
No matter the relationship issue you may be experiencing, boundaries will play a key role in maintaining health in the relationship. We want to encourage you with some general thoughts about boundaries.
- When confronting a relationship problem, use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. This helps to prevent making accusations and allows you to take responsibility for your thoughts, feelings, or actions. “I” statements can also help to cultivate an atmosphere where reconciliation is possible. For example, if a friend said something that hurt you, saying, “I felt hurt when you said...” will be more productive in lessening the tension than if you said, “You hurt my feelings when you said...”
- Our Savior demonstrated boundaries and understood the importance of striking a balance between serving others and taking care of ourselves. He accepted that His humanity had limitations; He needed sleep, rest, food, solitude, and time with the Lord. Thus, it is not just okay for us to accept our limitations in our lives and in our relationships as well; it is Biblical!
- The Lord teaches us and models for us the importance of boundaries in how we use our time. The notion of having a day of rest or a Sabbath is one such example. Ensuring that you are making time for both serving others and take care of yourself will help foster balance, growth, and peace in your life.
- There is a difference between bearing one another’s burdens, which are things that cannot be carried on one’s own, and carrying our own loads, which are those aspects of daily life that we can manage without relying on others to do them for us. This, again, is a delicate balance to strike, but it is important to avoid the error of thinking we should never let ourselves be served or to always let ourselves be served. The middle ground is where the balance is struck, and seeking the wisdom of the Lord helps us to know where to draw those lines in godly ways. This cannot be achieved by comparing oneself to others and basing our boundaries on what others around us, even mature believers, are doing. Discerning where to bear the burdens in your relationships and where to let the other person carry his or her own load is important in maintaining balance in life. Seeking the Lord’s direction is a key aspect of relationship maintenance.
"Boundaries" by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend (Zondervan, 1992)
There are many books and articles written on the subject of relationships and boundaries, but this is one that we recommend often. This book provides a comprehensive view about what boundaries are, what they are not, and how to ensure that the multiple relationships we have in life are healthy and life-giving. It is written from a Christian perspective.
"Boundaries in Dating" Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend (Zondervan, 2000)
Healthy dating relationships include growing in freedom, self-control, and honesty. This book can help you identify areas of your dating relationship and your life that need fine- tuned or significantly changed as you seek to honor God together.
"Love and Respect" by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs (Thomas Nelson, 2004)
This book helps couples who have been together for any length of time learn how to meet some of the core longings of their significant other in how they communicate with him or her. Dr. Eggerichs uses research to teach us that women desire the security of unconditional love, while men desire the honor of unconditional respect. This book is appropriate for couples in crisis, couples who are in healthy relationships, or for anyone who may be touched by a relationship that would benefit from more love and respect.
"The Safest Place on Earth" by Dr. Larry Crabb (Thomas Nelson, 1999)
Larry Crabb shares that believers are continually disappointed when our spiritual community of like-minded individuals fails to deliver on our desire for true fellowship and companionship. He contends that the church would do better to encourage openness with our failures and weaknesses and to then find the support and compassion in community with our family of brothers and sisters. Dr. Crabb challenges us to realize it is our brokenness before others that helps lead us to a deeper relationship with God and others.
"The Bait of Satan" by John Bevere (Charisma House, 1994)
This book discusses one of the most life-thwarting snares that Christians encounter in their attempt to live for Christ – taking offense. As it first affects our relationship with God, it also then compromises our relationships with family, friends, and those we meet on a daily basis. John Bevere challenges us, through the effective use of examining the relevant Scriptures, to stop rehearsing past hurts, to fight thoughts of suspicion and distrust, and to avoid the temptation of telling “my side of the story.”
"Sacred Marriage" by Gary Thomas (Zondervan, 2000)
Want to read a book that will enhance and bless your marriage relationship? This book asks the question “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” A better marriage begins with an improved relationship with our Lord. As we focus on allowing God to refine our character, He changes the contours of our marriage relationship.