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By John Townsend
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2011 Dr. John Townsend
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Draw to Relationship
You and I are "drawn" to seek out relationships with others. We have an internal drive that propels us toward others. In fact, we have lots of other drives as well: we go online when we are information-driven. We walk to the kitchen when we are hunger-driven. We go shopping when we are clothing-driven. And we talk to people when we are relationship-driven. This isn't really an option. We are simply designed this way by God.
Our draw to relationship can be for companionship, business, love, or romance. The draw is strong and compelling. But it is not always well-informed, healthy, or full of good judgment. And so we often make bad choices, or we don't handle our relationships the way we should. We seek people out, not expecting to have to set boundaries. Then, after a relational struggle and some time in figuring out what happened, we again seek people out—we hope, in a wiser way. It is important to understand how completely drawn we are to finding others.
The problem of moving beyond boundaries begins by acknowledging a simple reality: we need to move beyond our self-protection because we are inevitably and permanently drawn to connect with others.
No one enters a relationship expecting a disaster. We don't anticipate things to run off the rails. We start off with hope, a desire for something good. We hope that friendship, intimacy, safety, and substance will develop. We hope that over time, the relationship will deepen and enrich our lives and perhaps lead to further commitment. This is where we want the relationship to go. In the beginning, we become interested in a person for many reasons: looks, shared interests, character, values, preferences. And once we determine that there might be potential for something good, we invest time and energy into seeing what can happen. But we always begin by hoping for the good.
This drive is not really a choice; it's an undeniable part of the way we're wired up. We are designed to seek out relationship and to hope that it will be a positive thing. We experience a "draw"—a move or a desire—to find someone outside of our own skin with whom we can share life. We want someone to understand us, to spend time with us, to help us find solutions to our problems. We are drawn outside of ourselves.
We find this in the first relationship in life, which is an infant's attachment to her mother. As soon as she emerges from the womb, she immediately searches for a presence to make her safe, protect her, and give her some semblance of predictability in the chaos of her first few minutes of life. It is an innate and instinctual act.
God created this draw toward relationship. The draw is toward himself, and we are told to look for his presence: "Seek the Lord while he may be found" (Isaiah 55:6). It is in relationship with God that we find ultimate connection and meaning. And by God's design, the draw is also toward others: "Two are better than one" (Ecclesiastes 4:9). We are at our best when we are connected deeply to God and to the people who matter most. That, along with a meaningful purpose and task, creates the best life possible.
Human connectedness provides a host of benefits for us. People who have healthy relationships live longer, have fewer health issues, and suffer fewer psychological disorders, to name a few areas. Relationships are simply the fuel for life, and they help power our activities and inner worlds in the directions they are to go. Isolation and destructive relationships, by contrast, are something to recover from, not something that benefits us.
Though most of us are aware of all the advantages of connection, we are not drawn to it primarily because of these benefits. We seek relationship because we want it and need it at a deep level that cannot be ignored. It can be pleasurable and fulfilling to love and be loved. And it can be painful and unfulfilling when things break down. We seek out jobs we feel passionate about, restaurants we love, and movies we feel alive in, all because we long for the experience of connection. The same is true for relationships.
The Trust Piece
For the draw to work as it should, however, any good relationship must have trust at its core. If you can trust the other person with your deeper self, the draw has done its job, and you can make a good connection. Most of us can handle relational problems, such as messiness, irresponsibility, or even high control. But when trust is not part of the equation, you simply don't know who is sitting in the chair across from you. It is the problem that must always be dealt with first. Trust is the ability to be vulnerable with another person. When you trust someone, you feel certain this person will keep your best interests in mind. You believe that they are who they say they are. You feel that the deepest parts of you will be safe with them. You expect that they will be there for you no matter what and that they will love you even when you are not so lovable.
Batach is one of the Hebrew words the Bible translates as trust. For example, "Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this" (Psalm 37:5, emphasis added). One of the meanings of batach is "to be careless." It's not careless as in irresponsible or impulsive. It's care-less, as in without any cares or concerns. If you have a batach kind of trust, you feel free with someone; you don't have to edit yourself, be vigilant about what you say, or walk on eggshells. In batach, you open up a vulnerable part of yourself to God or another person without second-guessing or worrying about betrayal. That's trust.
Such trust is not a luxury, it is an essential. Without trust, relationships cannot flourish. We all hope to find relationships in which we can rest in our trust that the other person is a safe person for us.
I once worked with a salesperson named Trevor. He had the perfect personality for sales: extroverted, energetic, and funny. But Trevor wasn't trustworthy. If he said he would be at a meeting at 10:00 a.m., he inevitably showed up at 10:20. If he called from his car and said he was ten minutes away, it was twenty. If he said he had made fifteen calls that day, the phone records indicated it was ten. It was difficult to work with him on this. In exasperation I finally said, "Trevor, I have to subtract 20 percent from everything you tell me in order to get an honest answer from you." In other words, though I wanted to trust him, I could not. My "draw" to him was diminished. Trust is the oil that keeps the relational machinery running smoothly. It is not a luxury. It is vital.
The Draw Isn't the Problem, We Are!
During my senior year in college, I encountered a double whammy: I had a girlfriend problem and a guy friend problem. The problems weren't related to each other, except that I was the common denominator. My girlfriend and I were at different places in our commitment to the relationship, so we were upside down. And my guy friend and I were at odds because we had a third friend who was in trouble with his conduct at school, and we were deeply divided over how to help him. One of us wanted to support him without any truth telling, and the other one didn't. You get the picture; I was in some relational messes.
At one point, I said to yet another friend, "I really hate this relational stuff. It would be a lot better just to have fun, and study, and work, and get out of all of this interpersonal trouble." In other words, I blamed the draw.
But the draw isn't the problem. You and I are the problem. Though it might seem easier to surgically remove your relational drive, you would lose the possibility of love, intimacy, joy, and meaning in life. It is something we all think about, however. You can't be deeply hurt or disappointed, withdraw from a connection, hesitate to get involved again, or, most important, struggle to trust again, unless your draw to relationship put you there in the first place. Had you not been relationship seeking and instead been a detached, disconnected, robotic person, you would not have encountered a relational problem.
Still, it's better to work on what is going on inside ourselves and deal with that than it is to disconnect, detach, and turn cold to relationships. To paraphrase Alfred Lord Tennyson's famous saying, rather than having loved and lost, you would have never loved at all. And it is always better to have some bruises than to never have tried to make a connection with someone. It is simply a central part of what makes life worth living.
Ultimately, the problem we run into is not our desire for relationship but how we respond to that desire. For example, our draw to relationship makes us vulnerable to self-deception. If you are with someone you care about, your hopes for the relationship can sometimes distort your perceptions. You might filter out information that doesn't fit the picture of what you're looking for and disregard it. This hope, which psychologists refer to as defensive hope, actually mismanages the experiences we have with people, distorting them toward a potentially unrealistic positive end.
For example, a man dating a woman who is possessive and demanding disregards her behavior by saying she is "more serious about the relationship" than he is. A mom with a teen who disrupts his classes at school calls him "spontaneous." A business owner with an office manager who won't take direction from him is "a strong-willed leader." We tend to polish the rotten apple because we want it to be a good apple.
Another aspect of this defensive hope is the "honeymoon period" in a relationship. Though "honeymoon" sounds like a new marriage, it refers to any new relationship period. It is the first few weeks of an important connection with someone, in which we see only the good: the other person's energy, talent, and personality. The honeymoon loads up our endorphins and keeps us in a positive state—for a while. Honeymoon periods are actually a form of "temporary psychosis." They provide a break from the reality of the negative and an exclusive acceptance of the positive. This is called an idealization, a perception that the other person is perfect or close to it.
These idealizing periods actually serve a good purpose. They help us store up good experiences in relationships so we have something to fall back on when we eventually wake up to reality: the first fight, failure, or performance problem. By the time the glitches occur, there is enough equity in the connection to deal with them, to solve the issues and reconnect with the other person.
In fact, specific marriage research now supports the idea that some form of idealization is a positive in ongoing relationships. Husbands and wives who see their partner in a more positive light than the spouse sees him or herself have more satisfying marriages. For example, when one of them does something wrong, the other one first thinks that it was an innocent mistake. Of course, at some point, reality must set in, but this does show that, over time, a fundamentally positive bias about the person you love can help maintain your connection.
Perhaps you are regretting you ever trusted the person who caused your relational problem. If so, don't do that. You may have missed some warning signs, and we'll address those later so you won't miss them again. But understand that your draw to relationship is a part of you—a good and divine gift. You can mature it, educate it, and train it, but it doesn't go away. It is a healthy thing and an essential aspect of how God made you. Your best and highest situation is to be drawn to people, and to also have clarity on the character of who you're drawn to at the same time.
Now let's take a closer look at where the real trouble began —the thing that made it necessary for you to start setting boundaries and withdrawing from bad situations in the first place.
Chapter TwoThe Damage Arrives
I was working with Adam, an account executive for a large firm. He was a new hire and wanted to make a good first impression. His boss, Gene, was helpful and assisted Adam in settling in.
One day, Adam came up with some creative ideas about how the company could do a better job in sales. He told Gene about them, who seemed interested. A few days later, however, at a sales meeting, Adam heard Gene's boss compliment Gene on "coming up with some innovations that are a shot in the arm for the company." They were Adam's ideas.
Stunned, Adam met with Gene, who rationalized the entire situation. He told Adam that his recollection was that they had come up with the ideas together, and "I'll make sure you get credit with me." Adam could not get Gene to admit he had lied. And there was no recourse, as it was Gene's word against his.
Furthermore, Adam had to continue reporting to Gene. Adam tried hard to make it all work, but he was so discouraged and mistrustful of Gene that within a year he had to leave the company. He could not function at a high performance level, wondering all the time when Gene would again take credit for his ideas.
Adam encountered damage from Gene. Specifically, it was a breach of trust in the relationship. Everything stalled, because trust is foundational. It's important to be clear about what this means. A break in trust in relationship is when you no longer experience or believe that the other person will always fundamentally be there for you, and you doubt that they are who they say they are. When that happens, you have lost trust. It may not always be because of deception or lies. It can be because someone put herself first and didn't consider your interests at all—for example, when a friend uses you as the butt of her jokes at parties, even when you have asked her not to.
The Two Trusts
There are two types of trust in a relationship—functional trust and relational trust. In functional trust, you feel you can depend on the other person's behavior and commitments. For example, in a marriage, he'll pick up the clothes from the dry cleaner; she'll be home by 9:00 p.m. On a deeper level, she won't have inappropriate relationships with other men; he won't embezzle money from the retirement account. Functional trust has to do with the alignment between saying and doing: there is no discrepancy between words and actions. Functional trust is essential; it means you can be away from the other person and know there will be no surprises, ethical issues, or indiscretions in your absence. You don't have to monitor or check up on each other.
The second type of trust, relational trust, goes deeper. Relational trust refers to how safe it is to trust the other person with your vulnerabilities and feelings. For example, what does the other person do when you admit a weakness, reveal a need, admit a mistake, have a failure, or talk about trouble from your past? These are our more sensitive aspects and areas that need to be handled with care. When these issues manifest themselves in a relationship, the other person should understand that it was a huge risk for you to talk about them in the first place.
Here's what this might look like in a marriage. When a husband reveals a need or admits a mistake, his spouse should move toward him, be full of grace, and express tenderness and understanding. She can also be truthful and honest, but, keeping his vulnerability in mind, she needs to attempt to "restore [him] gently" (Galatians 6:1). If he cannot trust that she will at least try to understand, he will shut down emotionally. He thinks, What is the use of being vulnerable? She won't even try to understand.
Because it is deeper and more personal, a break in relational trust is a more serious problem than a break in functional trust. A financially irresponsible person—someone capable of breaking functional trust when it comes to money—may yet be trusted for how he feels toward you. You wouldn't want to trust him with your finances, but you can trust his concern for you in other areas. However, the reverse is not true. Someone who is responsible in areas related to functional trust but isn't safe with relational trust—responsive to your feelings and needs—is simply not someone you can safely get close to.
The damage comes when either functional or relational trust is broken. It can happen when the relationship undergoes stress: increased sales quotas, a new baby in the family, or a health problem. It can happen when there is conflict or failure: a job demotion, an argument over vacations or in-laws. And it can simply happen over time. Sooner or later, the passage of time unearths the flaws or weaknesses of the people in a relationship. These flaws cause a rupture in functional trust when someone lies, becomes irresponsible, or reveals a behavior or a secret that causes problems. Flaws and weaknesses cause a break in relational trust when the person becomes emotionally disconnected, controlling, critical, or self-absorbed.
Excerpted from Beyond Boundaries by John Townsend Copyright © 2011 by Dr. John Townsend . Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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