Managing Your Relationships
Managing Your Relationships
When Jerry Seinfeld began his comedy show (you may have heard of it; it was called Seinfeld), he paid one of his New York buddies what he considered to be a big compliment. He named a character on the show after him. The friend was Mike Costanza. The character on the show was George Costanza. What's more, after the show became a big success, Jerry arranged for Mike to get a bit part in one episode. Apparently Jerry valued his friendship with Mike and wanted to express that in whatever way he could.
At first, Mike Costanza reveled in the glory of having a character on a hit show named after him. There were more than a few similarities between him and George, and he bragged to his friends that he was George. However, the George character wasn't based entirely on Mike Costanza, and to Mike's dismay, the writers of Seinfeld had George do some things that Mike found embarrassing. For example, George danced happily when he found out his fiancée had passed away, he knocked down a little old lady in a rush to get out of a burning building, he took advantage of people on more than one occasion, and on and on.
Finally, Mike decided he had had enough. The George Costanza character was ruining his life. The people he had impressed earlier with the Seinfeld connection now saw Mike as the ultimate loser. So, Mike did the only thing he knew to do: He sued his good friend Jerry Seinfeld for $100 million for using the Costanza name.
The outcome of this event hasn't been settled, and the fact is that Jerry Seinfeld could probably pay the lawsuit with a single visit to an atm. Still I couldn't help but feel a little sorry for Seinfeld when I heard this story—not because he was hit with a frivolous lawsuit, but because even Jerry Seinfeld is not exempt from a failed friendship.
Most of the joy we experience in life—and most of the pain—is the result of our relationships. This applies to friendships, marriages, parent-child relationships, and work relationships. When you're surrounded by people you love and people that love you, the hardships of life become more bearable. On the other hand, no amount of success can ever compensate for the pain of a failed relationship.
Recently billionaire Ron Perelman, ceo of Revlon, made tabloid headlines with his divorce from Democratic fund-raiser Patricia Duff. Both have charged the other with physical abuse and have called each other names publicly. They are no strangers to conflict—this is Ron's third marriage and Patricia's fifth—but the tragedy is that their child has been thrown into the middle of the ring and is being used as a pawn by both in their attempts to crush the other. It is amazing that even with all their millions—make that "billions"—they are unable to get along. For some people, managing a relationship is not nearly as easy as managing a financial empire.
However, if you want to be happy, you'll have to learn to manage your relationships. Those who consider friendship and marriage a disposable item ultimately find themselves unhappy and alone. On the other hand, a recent study published in Men's Health Magazine reveals that the happiest—and healthiest—people are those whose relationships are strong and fulfilling. Happily married men live longer than single or divorced men.
Today is Valentine's Day—the day we celebrate special relationships. Most people are unaware of the story behind the holiday. Valentine lived in Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. He had everything going for him: He was young, wealthy, healthy, and passionately in love with his fiancée. As the day of his wedding approached, Valentine's future looked storybook bright. However, his world suddenly began to fall apart when the emperor declared all Christians to be guilty of treason. In order to escape punishment, all citizens had to declare "Caesar is Lord." Valentine refused to make such a declaration. Worldly success and worldly love were secondary priorities for him. He was first and foremost a follower of Christ.
As a result, Valentine was arrested and put in jail. There was no trial, just a sentence to public execution in the Roman arena. While awaiting death Valentine wrote love letters to his girlfriend—beautiful, romantic letters, assuring her of his never-ending love. On February 14, 259, he became another of thousands to be martyred for faith in Jesus Christ. Since then, Christians have celebrated his fidelity to Christ and romantic love by sending love letters to special people.
A funny-but-sad postscript to this story is that the Hillsborough, New Jersey, school system decided last year that the name St. Valentine's Day created an oppressive environment, since some students and faculty were not comfortable with the implied religious overtones in a day named after a Christian martyr. Fearing that celebration of the day constituted a violation of church and state, the school board voted to rename February 14 "Special Person Day."
Regardless of what we call it, today is a day when we acknowledge those special people in our lives. Today we're going to talk about three things we can do to strengthen the relationships we have with others. This applies to all kinds of relationships—friendships, romances, family members, fellow workers, even customers.
This is the second week of a series called "The Business of Living." It is a series about managing the different areas of your life—time, career, goals, money. Managing other areas of your life calls for learning how to control those areas, controlling how you spend your time, how you spend your money, how you direct your career. When it comes to managing your relationships, however you have to approach it from a different direction. Managing your relationships is not about control; it's about commitment. You can't control others. You can only commit to them. In fact, the more you try to control things in a relationship, the more quickly that relationship will unravel.
Instead of trying to control your relationships, today we're going to look at a few verses in Proverbs 18 that show us three ways you can manage your relationships, three commitments you can make that will strengthen the bonds you have with others.
Managing your relationships begins with a commitment to loyalty.
A group of friends who went deer hunting separated into pairs for the day. That night, one hunter returned alone, staggering under the weight of an eight-point buck. The other hunters asked, "Where's Harry?"
The man told them, "Harry fainted a couple miles up the trail."
The others couldn't believe it. "You mean you left him lying there alone and carried the deer back?"
The man answered, "It was a tough call, but I figured no one is going to steal Harry."
True friendship requires more loyalty than Harry's friend showed him. The people closest to you need to know that they are important to you—more important to you than the externals of life. There's a story about a guy who had just recently married a lovely young lady and was beginning to wonder whether she might have married him just for his money. He asked her, "If I lost all my money, would you still love me?"
She put her arms around him and said gently, "Oh, Honey! Don't be silly. Of course I would still love you. I would miss you terribly—but I would still love you." Those people closest to us need to know that they have our loyalty—always.
Solomon said, "A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother" (v. 24). Solomon differentiates between companions and close friends. Another word for companions might be merely acquaintances. There's a difference between knowing a person on a surface level and having a valued relationship with someone. An acquaintance is a person you get along with as long as everything goes well between the two of you; a close friend stays with you no matter what.
The people in your life are fallible; they will make mistakes. Sometimes they make huge mistakes. Are you committed to them only as long as they do what you want them to do? Are you committed to them only as long as you personally benefit from the relationship? Or can they depend on you even when they slip? Job said. "A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends, even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty" (Job 6:14). The fact is, it is your loyalty that will help them get back on track.
In the Old Testament there is a wonderful love story about a man named Hosea and his wife, Gomer. The story of Hosea's love for his wife is used as a metaphor for God's love for us. Hosea loved Gomer even though she was a prostitute. He loved her even though she was an adulteress. He loved her even though she had a name like Gomer. After Gomer had deserted Hosea, he went looking for her. He found her on an auction block, being sold as a prostitute-slave.
At that auction Hosea bought his own wife and asked her to come back to him. Hosea says, "I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and lethech of barley. Then I told her, 'You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you'" (Hos. 3:2–3).
Managing your relationships is not about control; it's about commitment. It begins with a commitment to give those people close to you your undying loyalty—even when they let you down, even when they desert you, even when they fail. You don't have to condone what they have done, but you can continue to be their friend.
People need your commitment to listen.
I was in an office-supply store and saw a new and improved technological gadget—a $400 speaker phone boasting "handset-quality" voice reproduction. The main selling point on the box was "Now you can talk and listen at the same time!"
This is not what we need in human interaction on a business or personal level. We already have a problem with trying to talk and listen at the same time. We hardly need technology to make the situation worse.
A subscriber to Theatre Arts dialed directory assistance for the magazine's number. The operator said, "Sorry, sir, but there's no one listed by the name 'Theodore Arts.'"
The man said, "No, it's not a person; it's a publication. I want the listing for Theatre Arts."
The operator said disinterestedly, "I told you, we do not have a listing for Theodore Arts."
The man said in a loud voice: "The word is 'THEATRE. T - H - E - A - T - R - E.' I need the listing for Theatre Arts."
The operator said, "Sir, that is not how you spell Theodore."
Some people hear you, but they just don't listen. This is a really old joke, but... Two guys were playing golf, and one said, "My wife has a real problem. She talks to herself all the time."
The other man said, "My wife talks to herself all the time, too, only she doesn't know it. She thinks I'm listening."
One of the greatest gifts you can give is the gift of listening to what they have to say. A group of friends and I were discussing our goals for the upcoming year. One woman in the group said, "My goal this year is to finish a sentence in my mother's presence. I know it sounds like a crazy idea, but if I keep the sentence to less than 6 words and say it really fast, I have a chance."
Stephen Covey says, "Many people do not listen with intent to understand. They listen with intent to reply." This is not listening at all, and it reveals a lack of commitment to the other person.
Proverbs says, "He who answers before listening—that is his folly and his shame" (v. 13). The Book of James says, "Be quick to listen and slow to speak" (James 1:19).
There is nothing manipulative about listening. You can't try to control someone by listening to them. Listening requires commitment on your part. A willingness to listen tells the other person, "I value you as a person." Managing your relationships involves a commitment to listening.
Managing your relationship calls for a commitment of love.
Sometimes I hesitate to use certain illustrations, because I hate to admit that I know what I know about certain topics. For example, I was watching a Love Boat rerun one day. I'm not sure why I was watching it—I'm sure it was because I was flipping the dial between a History Channel documentary on The Reformation and an nfl game—and I stumbled across (briefly) a segment of The Love Boat. Captain Stubing was performing a wedding ceremony, and as he went through the vows he said, "Do you promise to love her, cherish her, honor and keep her, as long as you both shall love?"
Of course, the traditional wedding ceremony says "As long as you both shall live." But the Love Boat episode had modified the vows to give people a back door—"We'll stay together as long as we have feelings for each other. When the feelings go away, we're not obligated to stay."
We live in a society that equates love with emotion. Most people think love is something you feel. And, of course, there are some feelings there, especially in romantic love. But the truth is: Love is something you do. Love is a commitment you make that is stronger than any feelings you might have.
Everyone is familiar with the love chapter. You've heard it: "Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud. It is not rude. It is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Cor.13:8–13). If this is what love is, then it is obvious that love is not about feelings and not about control. It is about commitment. Love is an attitude that says, "I want what is best for you."
Too often, what we masquerade as concern for others is really just an attempt to get them to do what we want them to do, rather than what is best for them. A friend of mine, who was struggling with a decision that involved relocating his business, told me, "There is no one in the world that I can talk to about this. Everyone's advice is so laden with self-interest that I simply cannot trust their judgment. My mother wants me to move back to my hometown, so she can be near her grandchildren. My pastor doesn't want me to move at all, because he will lose us as members of the church. The same goes with most of our friends here. My wife wants to move near her parents. I've got a half dozen Chambers of Commerce begging me to move to their city—not because it will be good for me, but because it will be good for them." He ended by saying, "I don't think there's anyone that I know that truly has my best interests at heart."
Proverbs says, "An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends; he defies all sound judgment" (Prov. 18:1). Solomon also said, "What a man desires is unfailing love" (Prov.19:22).
If you can communicate to others that you are sincerely committed to that which is best for them, you will gain their trust, and you will have a tremendous amount of influence in their life. First, they must believe that you want what is best for them, not just what is most convenient or most preferable for you. Love is something you do, and it is by definition unselfish in nature.
We have many areas of our lives to manage. In most cases, that means taking control—grabbing the reigns and refusing to let go. You have to take control of your time. You have to take control of your money. You have to take control of your diet. You have to take control of career.
But your relationships are a different matter. It's not about control; it's about commitment. As you manage the relationships in your life, commit to loyalty, commit to listening, and commit to love, and you will be the best friend these people ever had.
A resource of Christianity Today International
Steve May has been a pastor to pastors for more than 20 years, helping preachers and teachers to become more effective communicators of the gospel.