Relationships aren’t easy, but you already knew that. They can be grueling when you discover your business partner has lied to you, your family has gotten on your last nerve, an old friendship falls apart, or when you get left out all together. Relationships can be tricky, painful, and labor intensive, yet they are vital to our well-being.

God and My Relationships

Like everyone else, I have had significant struggles with every kind of relationship. Many times I have endured pain and conflict in my family. I’ve had seasons of close friends and seasons of loneliness. The energy and effort it took to maintain relationships with those around me became despairing at times.

In my early thirties, I began to seek God and study the Bible. I learned of the beautiful relationships of David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi. But the greatest lesson was understanding and practicing a daily relationship with Jesus. Suddenly, I noticed my relationships with others began to change. All of my close relationships began to slowly improve.

I have found God to be a great teacher about the nature of relating to others—something I did not really expect to find in Him. In Luke 10:27, Jesus places our relationship with others right after our relationship to Him. God desires to deepen and strengthen the bonds we have here on earth. He wants to help us love other people with real and honest love, and when we do that, He is glorified.

What I’ve Learned

Relationships are worth the energy and effort; they have great value. God has taught me some things that I wish I had known long ago. It would have made for better family dinners and neighborhood block parties. And while I’ve learned a lot, I still struggle in putting them into practice.

1. Smile. It’s not only an expression of the mouth, but eyes, and entire face. I envy those people whose faces seem to smile even when they are not trying to; I find myself smiling more around them. A sincere smile sends a physical message to someone that you are glad to be with them.

2. Ask thoughtful questions. Avoid polite and trite ones. Put some thought behind what you ask and personalize questions.

3. Ignore the screen. Forego answering a phone call because you value being with someone. It shows your friends they are important to you. Believe it or not, hitting the “decline” button speaks kindness louder than helping an old lady across the street or sending a bouquet of flowers.

4. Be a giver. Make them them a cup of coffee or snip a rose from your garden, or even share a favorite article from Shattered Magazine. Gifts can be a form of encouragement (something most people don’t often get) and it deepens the relationship.

5. Verbalize praise. Find something praiseworthy about someone and say it out loud. Praise not only the success but also the personal qualities that enabled it.

6. Include others in decision-making. Don’t just go in and tell everyone what the group will do and how. No one likes a dictator—make sure you don’t come across as one.

7. Ask others for their opinion. Be gracious if you don’t agree with it. Knowing what someone thinks about a situation helps you know them better. The sharing of ideas deepens a relationship.

8. Say thank you. A lot. You can’t overdo it when it comes to being sincerely appreciative. Gratitude is a key ingredient in sustaining long-term relationships.

9. Invite someone to something. If you are like most people, invitations can be rare and are really appreciated. If someone asks you to something, reciprocate with another invitation.

10. Lend a hand. Don’t stand there and watch someone work. My friend used to laugh at her sister-in-law for not actually working in the kitchen, but standing close by to give the impression that she was. It fools no one—it makes great “princess” jokes, but it causes relationships to suffer.

11. Go the extra mile. I had a neighbor who would give my daughter a ride home from gymnastics sometimes but would only go as far as her own house; I had to go the rest of the way to get her. Don’t just do things for others out of your convenience, but rather according to their need.

12. Share what you have. Stinginess stunts growth, but generosity blesses both parties. Sharing is an opportunity to change a relationship.

13. Reciprocate. Commit to never let another’s positive action go unanswered. Answer kindness with kindness, love with love, and apology with apology.

14. Listen. Really listen. Don’t talk over them. Listen without interrupting, offering advice, or making a judgment. There are some people that I avoid talking to because they interrupt me with an array of pat answers or a lecture. Remember, everyone wants to be heard.

15. Reminisce together. Many marriage seminars use the technique of having couples recall something funny or sweet from their past. The reason is simple; it bonds us when we enjoy a good memory together.

16. Pause your opinion. Reserve your opinion until it is asked for. It shows we value the friendship more than our viewpoint.

17. Forgive. Remember how much God has forgiven you, still loves you and wants to stay in relationship with you. God has freely forgiven, so we must do likewise.

18. Handle conflict appropriately. It is possible. Make sure it’s a discussion about ideas and not about the other person. Respect that each person has a right to disagree with you.

19. You aren’t always right. Leave some room for the possibility that you could be wrong. Avoid pressuring someone to see things your way.

20. Be honest. Lying to someone is insulting. Even if it is just embellishing a story, it disrespects and hurts the friendship when they find out that you weren’t totally honest.

21. Lighten up. Sometimes we talk our problems to death and forget to talk about the blessings. Being positive can be contagious and uplifting to those around you.

What Do You Think?

What would you add to this list? What has God shown you that might help someone else? Do you think people suffer more now with relationships than in the past? What is the funniest thing about relating to other people? I’d love to hear what God has been teaching you about relationships!

[Image via Thomas Heylen/Flickr]