Are Your Strengths Sabotaging Your Relationship?
And that’s not all bad. In fact, we’re called to ‘look carefully how [we] walk, making the best use of the time… [to] understand what the will of the Lord is.’ (Ephesians 4:15-17) Our lives are short, and giving our very best best to love God and others is a life well-spent.
It's also not wrong to avoid making mistakes wherever we can. To be organized, on time and disciplined.
But, it’s all-so-easy for people like me to find our righteousness - our value, meaning and worth - in what we accomplish and how we present ourselves to others. We soar when we think we’re doing well, but crash when we fail or feel stuck.
In addition to being inherently unstable for us, it creates serious problems in our closest relationships.
First, we’ll tend to hide (see: Adam and Eve, Genesis 3) from God and our boy/friend, fiancé(e) or spouse in an attempt to seem like we have our act together. We may even hide our weaknesses and failures from ourselves. (Hey, if I’m not even aware of it, I don’t have to admit it to you, right?)
Second, this will make it incredibly hard for the person we’re in relationship with to be honest with us about their weaknesses. It’s not fair to ask the other person to (metaphorically) undress while we're bundled up in our thickest winter coat.
So, what can ‘strong’ people do?
Two quick suggestions:
- Come back to the gospel and find our strength in Christ, not our accomplishments. The allure of appearing strong in ourselves is so powerful we need to admit our weaknesses and confess our sins every day. And we need to cast our attention on Christ, who 'being found in human form... humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.' (Philippians 2:8-9) Jesus' submission to the cross and open weakness was not his undoing, but the path to glory and resurrection. It will be the same for us. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
- We need to intentionally share our weaknesses, failures and sins with our significant other. For example, when they ask us how our day went or how we’re doing, sometimes we can let them know where we’re struggling and ask for prayer. ‘Honestly, I didn’t use my time well at work today and I’m feeling frustrated with myself. Would you pray for me?’
Over time, these two, simple practices will transform us into the kind of people who see and share our need with God and others. And our closest relationships will become much more vulnerable, honest and rich.
An Action Plan For ‘The Weak’
But what if you’re the kind of person who identifies more with 'the weak'?
Again, just as a reminder, I’m not saying you are anything less than the ‘strong’. After all, as we’ve just seen, finding our strength in ourselves rather than Christ is a massive weakness.
The truth is we are all weak, full of natural, God-given limitations and yes, sin patterns we have contributed to.
When we admit them to God and (wisely and selectively) to trusted others, it’s a beautiful thing.
But it can be very painful in a close relationship where you’re willing to be weak, and the other person isn’t. It doesn’t feel fair, and - honestly - it isn’t.
What can you do?
Well, if you're not married yet, it’s worth evaluating whether you should continue in the relationship. I can’t give you definitive advice without talking to you, but it’s worth bringing this up with the other person and seeing how they respond.
Something like this:
‘I feel like, in our relationship, I’ve been pretty open with you about my struggles and places where I feel weak. But I don’t feel like you’ve done that much with me, and it’s making it hard for us to get closer to each other.’
Are they willing to listen and start engaging around that with you? A willingness to listen and learn more is a great, encouraging start you can build on.
But if you bring it up a few times and the other person isn’t willing to press in here, I’d say it’s fair to question whether your relationship can move toward greater health and intimacy.
In other cases, there may be a willingness, but a relatively inability to pursue the sort of self-reflection that will contribute toward the intimacy you're desiring. In that case, the other person doesn't need to feel badly about that, and you don't need to feel badly about saying it's not a fit for you.
If you’re already married, of course, it’s an entirely different story. While it can be incredibly frustrating to share your heart openly without much reciprocation, it’s not a reason to leave the marriage.
What can you do about it?
Again, without knowing your specific relationship, these fall into the category of ‘suggestions to pray about’.
- Keep sharing your heart fully to God. Tell him about your frustration and pain in prayer. Keep reading scripture where he fully shares his heart with you.
- Plead with God to help your spouse see, and share, his or her need with God and you. Don’t give up: God is able to do more than we can ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20)
- Appropriately continue sharing your heart and weakness with your spouse. You’ll have to decide what it looks like, but finding your true security in Christ will allow you to have compassion on your spouse, and continue to model the sort of vulnerability you’re praying for in them.
- When they do share more openly, thank them for it. Let them know how much it means to you.
- Occasionally, and gently, repeat your request. Not a lecture; a short-and-sweet comment usually gets the point across.
Even though I was pretty oblivious for many years of our marriage, my wife’s example of transparency and occasional challenges to share my weakness with her eventually made a big impact on me. While I’ve still got a long way to go, I’m a different person and we share far more openly than we ever did.
Slowly, but surely, we're moving toward the 'naked and unashamed' vision God has held out for married couples from the very beginning. With God's grace, I'm confident you can, too. (Genesis 2:25)
Okay, here’s the part of the show we make this personal and move from theory to practice.
- Do you identify more with ‘the strong’ or ‘the weak’? Why? Give at least one example from your life.
- What are some strengths of your particular profile (weak or strong), and how is that (or could that) impacting your relationship?
- What are some weaknesses of your particular profile (weak or strong), and how is that (or could that) impacting your relationship?
- Depending on your profile, consider going to the action steps above and work through them in the coming days. Of course, it's entirely possible you identify with parts of both. Mix-and-match as appropriate.