Have you ever experienced the pain of a failed relationship? Walking through each day numb, until a tidal wave of hope or rage or fear hits and sends you to bed, shivering, crying, and staring into space in terror. It feels like your heart has been ripped from your chest and put through a meat grinder.
If you have experienced a failed or failing relationship of any kind (marriage, dating, parent/child, friendship, job loss, neighbours at war, church splits or issues in a community), I have great news for you today. There is a framework for successful relationships. Although relationships can be difficult, they do not need to be doomed to failure. We can do the work of love that makes them enriching and abundant sources of joy and delight.
Not like a Disney movie where everything ends in happily-ever-after. We dream of fairy tale endings but they aren’t real. Real life relationships and a life worth living requires work and decisions and heart changes. It produces joy and real joy has nothing to do with the butterfly feelings we call love. Joy is the settled assurance, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice of gratitude in every situation.
I have made a mucky mess of most of my relationships: love found and lost; friends who disappeared for no apparent reason; family holidays that ended in disastrous feuding; jobs that ended long before reaching a successful tenure, and an ugly divorce. All leaving me with the burning question, “What is it about me that they could not like or love?”
In still, quiet moments truths emerged that were hard to face. Yet, changes were necessary if I were to gain any hope of finding lasting relationships. Changes that needed to be made from the inside out.
I want to share 10 elements I found within the 10 Commandments that can change, heal or mend struggling relationships even if you are not a religious person.
Have you heard the story of the 10 Commandments? I remember watching Charlton Heston as Moses in the movie produced in the 50’s? (You can actually watch it on YouTube if you are interested. Just click on the link.).
This may seem like a strange place to look for relationship advice. Instead of looking at the 10 commandments as a list of rules, I’ll ask you to give me a few minutes where you consider the principles behind the list.
My hope is that you will find some practical ways to enhance your quality of life starting immediately.
The 10 commandments state:
1. You shall have no other gods before me.
The first element of long lasting relationships is the decision and commitment. Commitment is the glue that binds long term relationships together. Therefore, before committing to a relationship careful consideration should be given. Commitment is not contractual. Contracts provide escape when things do not go as planned, do not go our way or when they become uncomfortable. Commitment actively works to find solutions, makes necessary changes to one’s behaviours and does not quit when things become difficult. Contracts encourage an attitude that “nothing lasts forever”. Commitment demands an attitude that never gives up. You will have to burn some bridges: your will might have to die, you can’t have your way all of the time, you will have to forgive, and you have to let past things go. You must be committed to your commitment more than you are to selfish behaviours. And sometimes that can feel like you’re dying. 😜
2. Do not make for yourselves any graven images.
The second element of long lasting relationships is to not do relationships by substitution. There can be a tendency to substitute giving things instead giving ourselves especially when things are hard or difficult. You can not work long hours and provide a house, car, or vacation as a substitute for coming home and working through the big issues of life. Strong relationships require that you show up and be present. Do life face to face and in person.
3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
Did you know that when you love someone, the way you say their name is different? Just saying. The third element of long lasting relationships is communication. You can build a strong relationship with the words that come out of your mouth. You can also destroy a relationship with the words that come out of your mouth. Counsellors will tell you that one of the top reasons that relationships fail is due to poor communication. All of us are vulnerable. We want to be loved, accepted and valued. There is a dangerous pathway that you can travel when it comes to communication. The first step is criticism. You can read more about the criticism pathway by clicking the link. It is so important to speak kind words that allow hearts to grow close together.
4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
The fourth element in long lasting relationships is time. In a busy world we often refer to quantity and quality time. In order for quality time to emerge, there must be an adequate amount of time provided. You can’t just make memorable moments happen. In the process of time spent together, the special moments appear. Invest time in your relationship and watch it flourish. Schedule time that is non-negotiable. Commit to show up and be fully present without distractions.
5. Honor your father and mother that your days may be long in the land.
The fifth element of lasting relationships is honour. There is an element of humility and respect involved in honour. When I think of honouring my country, I realise that I did not gain the freedoms I enjoy by my efforts alone. The same is true in relationship. Honour in relationship is a statement that you can not do this alone and respects the other person’s contribution as well as your own. The best way to cultivate honour is with gratitude and forgiving. Acknowledge the good and forgive what didn’t work out so well -striving to improve along the way.
6. You shall not murder.
Murder definitely would have a detrimental effect on your relationship. The sixth element of lasting relationships has to do with how you handle anger. You have to create an environment of peace. Yelling and throwing fits do not accomplish closeness. Learn to speak like a human-being with kindness and grace. And…learn to listen to the response. Do not hold on to your anger…in fact, before the day is finished work to deal with angry emotions so that they do not fester into infectious behaviours. Create a peaceful atmosphere and you will build a lasting relationship.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
Adultery is another relationship killer. Seriously. However, the seventh element of lasting relationships is self-control. The issue here is lust. Oddly enough, lust does not only relate to sex. Excessive indulgences feed lust and often are displayed in addictive behaviours. Lust drives you for more and more and more -it is insatiable. Lust will cause you to become discontent and dissatisfied with what you have. Self-control is an essential element to behaving appropriately in relationships.
8. You shall not steal.
The eighth element of lasting relationships is trust. You can not build a strong relationship with someone that you can not trust. Period. Trust lost is very difficult to restore. It is imperative to be trustworthy.
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour (lying)
The ninth element of lasting relationships is honesty. Respect people’s reputation especially those that you desire to build a permanent relationship with. Guard their reputation as your own. Always be honest and truthful.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s “stuff” (paraphrasing there a little.)
The final element of lasting relationships is contentment. You know the old saying that “the grass is greener on the other side of the fence?” the truth is “the grass is greener where you water it”. I’m not sure where that originated but it is wisdom. There will always be something or someone sunnier, shinier, prettier, or offering more benefits on the surface. Finding contentment requires that you take good care of what you have been given and cherish it with all of your heart. Work through the difficult times and build together something what can unfold into something great.
These 10 elements can be applied to any level of relationship that you desire to remain permanent; marriage, family, friendship, business, career/job, community, church and yes, even a relationship with God. Make a careful decision and commit to it with every fibre of your being. Show up and deal with the big issues of life face to face. Communicate gently and effectively. Invest time so that special moments emerge. Cultivate an attitude of honour with gratitude and forgiving often. Deal with you anger in a healthy way and don’t hold onto things. Exercise self-control over the drive for more and more. Be trustworthy. Be honest. And finally take good care of what you have been given so that you have the opportunity to enjoy your relationship for a lifetime.
I would like to add one caution: we all know that no one person can make a relationship work on his/her own. Not even God could do that in His desire for a relationship with us. You can hear the pain in His voice through Jeremiah in Jeremiah chapter 2. It takes two committed people or a group of committed people (in families, business, churches, and communities) working through the big issues with honest effort to see great relationships as a result. In cases where abusive behaviours have emerged, always, always seek safety and help from a trained professional.
Many times (excluding abusive relationships) making changes to your behaviours, as I have mentioned in this article, can provide the first steps to getting your relationship back on track, keep it healthy or restore broken relationship. It can also help remove the charged atmosphere that ignites tension and stress.
Do you think these would work in your relationships?