This post is adapted from a sermon that I shared at church. It's designed to be helpful with all relationships, not just romantic ones.
I'm no relationship expert.
That may not be the most persuasive way to get you to read this article, I've been fortunate to be around a lot of successful people who have strong friendships, healthy marriages, and solid professional relationships. These five rules summarize what I've seen with these relationship experts. One thing that they all have in common is that they are principles that I've seen patterned and taught throughout the Bible.
1. Have an Inner Circle
Not everyone's words and guidance should carry the same weight and authority. Jesus had thousands of followers and fans. They witnessed his miracles and even listened to his teachings, but how many of them remained at his crucifixion? After his death, burial, and resurrection Jesus had only 120 followers who remained faithful to him. But they weren't his inner circle. Of these followers, Jesus selected only 12 disciples to share his last supper or communion with. In my opinion, even these 12 disciples weren't members of Jesus inner circle. An inner circle provides more than companionship. These are the people that you can go to when you need help, support, and comfort. Matthew's Gospel shows us that Jesus called upon Peter, James, and John to accompany him as he prepared to face the agony of the crucifixion. An inner circle is that group that you can call upon in the middle of the night.
2. Speak Well, but Listen Better
The Bible recognizes how heavy our words can be. We're told that words can bring life or death and that the tongue is our most powerful organ. Proverbs 15:28 says that "the heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil." Many of the successful people I know practice "weighing" an answer. They don't "speak their mind" but consider how and when to share their concerns.
Healthy relationships also practice good listening. Good listeners listen with their time and attention. In our home, there's no cellphones or games allowed at the table. When my wife and I are on a date we put our phones away. We've built listening into our relationships as a healthy pattern.
3. Pick Your Battles
Knowing what's a big deal and what's little will serve you well. Proverbs 19:11 says that sometimes it's ok to "overlook an offense." You may be right and they may be wrong, but you've chosen not to be offended or turn your conviction into a confrontation. Proverbs adds that this is an act of patience. Whether it's the toothpaste, the toilet seat, or the temperature in the car, you can choose to pick your battles by being thick-skinned, patient and self-controlled.
4. Remember the Matthew Model
Sometimes you can't ignore someone's wrong words or behavior.
In Matthew 18, Jesus gives us the blue print for how to handle a hurt, disagreement or conflict. The first thing we should notice is that not all conflict is bad. Conflict may come from a misunderstanding or disagreement over values, priorities, or methods, but it can come from unhealthy competition or unhealthy motives. When conflict comes, it's good to pose the question, "Do I want to win my brother or win the argument?" When a disagreement comes, Jesus urges us to work towards trying to win our brother, spouse, co-worker, family member, or friend over.
The Matthew 18 model also recognizes that sometimes we will not be able to "win" that person over. They may not understand our point of view, apologize, or correct their bad behavior. If your good faith effort failed and the matter is too important to overlook, Jesus makes it clear that sometimes that relationship needs to end.
5. Follow the Golden Rule
There are hundreds of laws and rules in the Old Testament that were meant to guide people towards holy living and healthy relationships with other people. Jesus said that you could summarize all of these Old Testament's laws with one phrase, "treat others the way you would want to be treated."
The Golden Rule demonstrates the genius of Jesus as a communicator and teacher. Not only did he summarize the big idea behind all of the Bible's rules into one sentence, but he did so in such a clever way. He recognized that we can't always put ourselves in other people's shoes or see things from another person's perspective. So Jesus says, "Put yourself in your shoes. How would you want to be treated?"
Including the Golden Rule as a rule for relationships will help you be more graceful, merciful, and helpful towards others. It also has an added benefit that Jesus didn't mention. I've noticed in my own life that when I live by the Golden Rule, people want to reciprocate. They return kindness with kindness and generosity with generosity. It's not a law of human nature, but it's a pattern that I've seen develop as people live by the Golden Rule.