There are scores of books designed to help couples build or rebuild a healthy relationship. This is not one of those books. This is a book written to help you build a better you so that you will be equipped to build a better relationship.
The healthier you are, the healthier your relationships will be.
Truth is, your relationships will never be any healthier than you.
Here’s why. And this is important. Relationships are never stronger than the weakest link.
Granted, link is a bit harsh. But I think you know what I mean. The stronger, more mature, more secure person in a relationship is always forced to make up for, defer to, or fill in the gaps created by the weaker person. If you grew up with a brother or sister who created chaos in your home due to bad habits or unhealthy lifestyle choices, you know what I’m talking about. That sibling got the lion’s share of attention while you, the straight-A student who stayed out of trouble, got whatever was left over. Your parents spent far more time talking about, worrying about, and praying about the wild child than the other children in your family combined. The entire family dynamic was impacted and possibly dictated by the weakest link.
The same is true for couples.
If you’re the weak link, your relationship will never be any healthier than you. If your partner is the weak link, the relationship will never be healthier than your partner. That’s why I say, the relationship won’t get any better than you. So, the better you become, the happier everybody will be. And if you determine to wait until you find someone who is committed to becoming a better version of him- or herself, well, everybody wins. As I stated in the introduction, couples generally don’t have relationship problems. They have problems they bring to the relationship. The better you that you bring, the fewer problems you bring with you. And of course the same is true of your future partner.
Once Upon a Time
When it comes to becoming the best possible version of you, I’m convinced the best place to begin is with the Beginner. If you’re like most people, you fall into the theological category of theist — that is, you believe in a God. Chances are you believe your God of choice had something to do with the creation of the world. Either directly or indirectly, you probably believe God is responsible for creating you. But here’s something you may not have considered. The ability for humanity to experience, develop, and maintain relationship is in itself a creation. Once upon a time, or perhaps before time, relationship didn’t exist.
If, like me, you believe in a personal God, then it’s not difficult to accept that the ability to pursue, initiate, and sustain a satisfying relationship is a gift God gave to the human race.
It’s impossible to imagine life without relationships. Having personally experienced the satisfaction of long-term friendships, a twenty-something-year marriage, and the joy of being a father, I know my life would not be nearly as rich without relationships. In addition to relationship, God also created sex. Think about that for a moment. Only a moment. Once upon a time, there was no sex. God thought it up. Next time you’re asked to say the blessing before Thanksgiving dinner, throw that into the mix of things you’re grateful for. If nothing else, it will pretty much ensure you won’t be tasked with that responsibility again.
If God created and gave us the capacity for satisfying relationships, it’s reasonable to assume God knows a thing or two about how to prepare for and operate one. Ever purchase something from a big box retailer and open the box to find a card that reads something along these lines? If this product is defective or a piece is missing, do not return to the place of purchase. Instead, contact us at 1-800-ITS-YOURFAULT. The reason the manufacturer would prefer you call them first is because they are the manufacturer. They know more than the retailer about their product. Way more. They also know operator error is more likely to blame than a manufacturing defect. So they would prefer that you call before you return.
Relationally speaking, when a relationship isn’t working properly, it’s tempting to go stand in the return line rather than check with the manufacturer. That’s unfortunate. It explains why relational history has a way of repeating itself.
In addition to creating our capacity for relationship, God has given us instruction in how best to conduct our relationships. The core essentials for relational health are clearly explained in the second half of the Bible, the New Testament. In fact, the New Testament contains the single most powerful relational principle known to man. A single idea, that when applied, resolves all relational conflict immediately. That’s right. Immediately. I know; that’s a big promise. But it’s true.
As you may know, the New Testament is a collection of texts written primarily as a way to introduce post-first-century generations to the person, works, and words of Jesus. More to the point of our discussion, the New Testament provides us with the foundational behaviors and perspectives necessary for satisfying and enduring relationships. Embracing the teaching of the New Testament will prepare you to commit.
But there’s a catch.
Against the Grain
The New Testament can be compared to an unsanded board. Run your hand in the direction of the grain, and it’s smooth. Run your hand against the grain, and you may come away with splinters. In a similar fashion, if you approach the New Testament asking, “How do I find the right person?” the text is silent. But once you muster the courage to ask, “How do I become the right person?” the text comes alive. Similarly, come to the New Testament asking, “How do I change my partner?” Crickets. But ask, “How do I change myself?” Splinters. So in this chapter we’re going to open the New Testament and ask the relational questions these ancient and sacred texts were written to answer.
In the first century there was no “singles culture” to speak of. Nobody dated. Come to think of it, nobody really dates nowadays either. Well, almost nobody. I hear a lot of married couples talk about scheduling a “date night.” I don’t think my parents scheduled “date nights.” Not sure when that started. I got married so I could quit dating.
In the first century there was no dating. Parents arranged their children’s marriages. You may remember that from the Christmas story. I’ve often wondered who my parents would have betrothed me to marry. It’s not a question many of us want to spend too much time thinking about.
While the New Testament says nothing of dating, courting, or going out, it says a great deal about relationships in general. In addition, several New Testament writers address men and women directly as well as husbands and wives. But before we jump into those specifics, let me make one observation. I’m amazed how often men attempt to leverage the passages addressing women to get the women in their lives to change or to behave differently. And yes, I’ve talked to my share of wives through the years who are quick to remind their husbands what the New Testament says about being a “good husband.”
Why bring this up? It underscores something you otherwise may not believe. Namely, the right person myth extends right on into marriage. The assumption of husbands and wives who leverage the Bible to modify spousal behavior is: “If I could get my spouse to act right, everything would be all right.” Odd thing, these are the very couples who married assuming they had met the right person to begin with.
Turns out, the right person doesn’t always act right.
So what do they do? Look in the mirror and work on themselves? Heck no. They didn’t do that when they were dating; why start now? Instead they go to work trying to fix their spouses. Nobody wants to be fixed. Fix your pet, not your partner.
Sounds like a bumper sticker.
People don’t get married to be fixed. They get married to be loved. Or fed. Moral of the story: single people who refuse to focus on becoming the person the person they’re looking for is looking for become spouses who don’t focus on becoming the spouses their partners were hoping for.
Don’t do that.
Abandoning the right person myth now will save you a truckload of unnecessary grief later. Decide to become someone now so you won’t have to fix someone later.
Excerpted with permission from The New Rules for Love, Sex, and Dating by Andy Stanley, copyright Zondervan, 2015.
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Have you struggled with the consequences of believing the right person myth? In relationships it’s easy to want to fix the other person instead of become the right person. That’s why Jesus told the speck/plank in the eye parable — we’ve been planking each other for millenia! What are you working on (on your side of the street) in order to be a better partner in the future? Come join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you!