It honestly doesn’t seem possible that I have been married to my high-school sweetheart for 42 years as time has flown by so quickly — most of it has been really great and some of it super hard. On this relationship journey I have learned some valuable lessons, albeit most of them the hard way, but I am truly grateful that John and I have invested our heart and soul into our marriage and our friendship, Today, I can see so clearly that my children, our grandchildren, our church community and beyond have benefitted from some of the wisdom we’ve gained along the way. What I have learned as we journeyed back from a hurting and broken marriage has served us well in every relationship in our lives.
Relationships are the Workshop of life.
There are no two relationships that are alike, so it would be impossible to give you a simple, basic formula to guarantee successful, fulfilling and wondrous relationships in your life. People are complicated and so are relationships, so each relationship beckons us to become an expert on the person we are building it with.
Here are just a few of the life-lessons that I have learned over the years:
Every successful relationship starts with a healthy YOU.
If you don’t have a healthy heart & soul it will manifest in your relationships first. Proverbs 4:23 teaches us that we should ‘pay attention to our heart, because it affects everything we do.’ Early in our marriage I truly believed that the entire demise of our marriage rested completely on John’s shoulders — I blamed him for everything and refused to look at my own hurt, critical, and broken heart. When I allowed the Holy Spirit to go to work on me, it was amazing how quickly things began to change. ‘Mt. St. Helen’ settled down and stopped erupting every time a tender or sensitive place in my heart was touched. I had to take ownership of my own heart.
I love Psalm 51:6, which has become a key scripture to invite God to help me examine my heart to actually know the truth about what is going on in there. Often it’s obvious to others, but I am oblivious to it. ‘But still, You long to enthrone truth throughout my being;
in unseen places deep within me, You show me wisdom.’(Voice)
Every successful relationship is sculpted with vision.
You can’t have what you can’t see — while many people simply saw a big block of marble, Michelangelo saw a masterpiece of David in there. We have to learn to see beyond the mess to the miracle of what our relationships can truly be and then go to work to create it. God longs to create such beauty in your relationships.
I have a friend in ministry that has struggled for years in her marriage. For the past few years, every time we get together she spends a lot of time telling me how disappointed she is with her husband, how hurt she is and how she is trying so hard, but nothing seems to be working. I love her, I really do — but getting together with her has been a chore as her frustration leaves me completely exasperated.
The last time we got together, she began down the same path of complaining and I stopped her rather abruptly and asked her, “Do you know what you want? What is it that you expect?” After a lengthy pause, she told me ‘No, I don’t know what I want’. Well, hello!!! You can’t have what you can’t see. The Bible teaches us that without vision, people perish — they can’t see where they are going so they cast off healthy restraint and give up.
Helen Keller said, ‘“The most pathetic person in the world is some one who has sight but no vision.”
Every successful relationship stays alive through healthy communication.
Communication is the source of life for every growing relationship … it is the exchange from one heart to another and without it relationships die a very slow and painful death.
No one is born a great communicator — it takes effort, a lot of risk, openness and complete vulnerability to grow and develop. It is something that will take a lifetime of committed effort to truly appreciate and enjoy, but it is so worth it.
In our early days of marriage, I thought I was a great communicator because I talked all the time and I thought John was a terrible communicator because he rarely talked. Of course, it didn’t help that he was a stutterer and his greatest fear in life was speaking before God healed him.
We both did a great deal of work to discover that true communication was heart to heart and not just a matter of how many words we spoke. We learned that in order to build our communication skills, we had to become a safe zone for each other as we began to realize that the best way to be heard was to listen. Slowly and steadily we grew in understanding and learned how to engage in really hard conversations knowing that our commitment and love for each other was more important than any issue that arose between us.
Every successful relationship is built through the actions of serving.
Jesus taught us that if you want to be great, you have to learn to be the servant of all. Serving is simply finding ways to meet the needs of the people you love. Our own humanity is always looking for ways to be served, and it goes against human nature to look for ways to serve, but true greatness is found in meeting the specific needs of those you are growing your life with. How do the people in your life love to be shown love? Hmmm … we should become an expert on the needs and desires of those we love! For those of us who are married, this is especially important in the bedroom. ☺
Every successful relationship grows stronger through trust.
In my opinion the important element of any growing relationship is trust and yet it is without a doubt the most fragile. It takes a lifetime to build and can be destroyed in a moment. You can love someone, yet sadly sometimes it’s not wise to trust them. Trust is a function of wisdom based on someone’s actions and behaviors and when trust isn’t present, we can’t move forward with confidence in the relationship.
Trust is built over time and even if you have done something to break trust, there is always hope if we choose to own our stuff, ask forgiveness and then do the work to win the trust of someone we love back. The onus to win back trust is always on the one who has broken it, but I believe it is also critical that we create the opportunities for them to start build again. Love is a heart that moves… it moves us toward God and ultimately toward each other.
On this note, I like to remind myself and others that all of us are just one decision away from ‘stupid’ and we would be wise to have a healthy fear of the dumb decisions we can make when we are not fully committed to building our character that is built with trust as it’s core foundation. Trust is essential and your future depends on it.
Every successful relationship stays healthy through forgiveness.
Living in the freedom of forgiveness is mandatory for all of us to thrive. I learned such a powerful lesson from Marilyn Skinner while I was with her in Kampala several years ago. She was speaking to a group of rescued teenaged girls who had been abducted by the LRA in Uganda. She asked them a simple question, “What do you do if a snake bites you?” They all knew the answer was to get the poison out right away. She reminded them that if they tried to pursue the snake to kill it, they may die in the process … but getting the poison out would help them survive.
It’s the same in relationships — we will all get hurt in our relationships, so it’s critical to always keep the poison out of our hearts. We do that through forgiveness and it is a gift we give ourselves.
Every successful relationship is bonded through touch.
Touch is miraculous… it has the power to break down walls and infuse healing into your relationship. My first instinct when I have been hurt or offended is to pull away and to withhold touch and physical intimacy. We so often do that as married couples, as parents and as friends — it is easy to withdraw and it takes great strength to purposefully re-engage with someone. I know this isn’t rocket science, but it is supernatural as it invites the Spirit of God to go to work.
Here’s to stunning relationships in your life xo
ABOUT HELEN BURNS
Helen Burns has been married to her high-school sweetheart John for over 40 years. She passionately loves being a Mom and Oma to her family. She has been a pastor at Relate Church in the Vancouver area for the past 30 years and travels extensively around the world speaking primarily on the subject of relationships, marriage, and family. One of her greatest joys is leading women and seeing the gorgeous generations rise strong together.
She is a television host and has authored several books. She loves to read and cook, and looks forward to seeing many more beautiful places in this big, beautiful world.