The People Factor: How Building Great Relationships and Ending Bad Ones Unlocks Your God-Given Purpose (5 page)

Had we all learned as children to “put our whole selves” into the right relationships, many of us could have been more successful in our friendships and acquaintances. Instead, we often live out parts of the Hokey Pokey in our relationships, putting parts of ourselves into them while leaving out other parts. But people need to see those parts in order to enter into a healthy relationship with us. Many of us have tried to cover up or change certain things about ourselves to please others or to make us feel more attractive or desirable; and we have learned firsthand how detrimental that can be to any kind of relationship.

Let me encourage you to know yourself well and also allow the right people to know you well. Put your whole self—your
real
self—into your relationships, so you can participate in and enjoy real relationships in return.

RELATIONSHIP REMINDERS

• Make a priority of getting to know yourself.

• Do your best to avoid self-deception. Assess yourself honestly and ask trusted friends to help you guard against believing you are someone you are not.

• Evaluate people to find out whether or not they really know themselves, recognizing that if they have deceived themselves, they may deceive you too.

• Remember that actions speak louder than words. Focus on behavior when you really want to assess someone’s character.

• Keep yourself real by being straightforward and sincere, not being afraid to be vulnerable, and learning to develop the skills needed for true intimacy.

• Don’t tolerate anything hidden in yourself or in the people with whom you are in relationships. Insist on transparency.

• Realize that the benefits of being real are worth pursuing in your relationships, and don’t settle for relationships that are not transparent and real.

RAISING YOUR RELATIONAL IQ

1. In what ways do you think being transparent will benefit you and your relationships?

2. In the section titled “It Starts with You,” I list several questions that will help you get to know yourself better. I encourage you to take some time to answer those questions now.

3. In the section titled “Invite Others into the Process,” I suggest some questions to ask a trusted friend. Whom do you trust enough to answer these questions lovingly and honestly for you?

4. Think about a few people with whom you have extremely close relationships. Are their actions consistent with their words? Do you believe they know
themselves well and allow themselves to be transparent with you? In what ways?

5. In what specific ways do you need to become more straightforward and sincere? What steps can you take to become more vulnerable or to develop skills needed for true intimacy?

6. What parts of yourself do you allow people to see? What parts do you hide? Are you allowing your whole self to enter into your relationships? If not, why?

7. Do you display fear in any of your relationships? Why?

8. What aspect of being vulnerable scares you most, even though you know it brings out the best results in relationships? Will you allow this to hinder you?

2

Healthy Relationships Must Be Win-Win

THE LAW OF MUTUAL BENEFIT

IN 1992 SOMETHING AMAZING HAPPENED IN the world of sports. Most people call the phenomenon “the Dream Team.” I’m talking about the United States Olympic basketball team who won the gold medal in Barcelona that year. They were a group of greats—highly skilled, gifted players with a brilliant coach and staff. During regular season games, many of the Olympic teammates were fierce opponents. They were all outstanding, elite athletes as individuals, including Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Charles Barkley. Each of these men brought exceptional basketball abilities to the team; but more important, each one brought a willingness to learn to play effectively with the others. When they put aside old rivalries, learned to play together, and brought out the best in each other to play for their country, the result was explosive.

This group is often described as the greatest sports team ever assembled. The only losers in the whole Dream Team story were their opponents. The team, and everyone associated with them, experienced “win-win” every step of the way to their memorable victory.

Why was the Dream Team so successful and so wildly popular? I believe it was because they connected in ways that were beneficial to everyone.

B
OTH
P
ARTIES
N
EED TO
W
IN

For various reasons, many people find themselves trapped in relationships that are bad for them, not good for them. These situations make them feel that they are losing, not winning. This often happens because one or both people in the relationship are emotionally needy or afraid to be alone. They find something in the other person that meets their needs, and they feed off of each other for a while until they become codependent. There can come a point at which one or both people become so miserable they cannot continue in the relationship. They realize the association that once met their unfulfilled needs has become a chore. When these conditions are in place, relationships typically break down, leaving people exhausted and feeling used.

The scenario I have described happens in marriages; it happens to adult children who care for ill or aging parents; it happens in friendships and work relationships; it even happens between individuals and organizations, especially in situations of long-term employment. Whatever the circumstances, this kind of development is damaging to the people involved.

The good news is that relationships do not have to be this way. In fact, healthy relationships do not leave people with a constant sense of losing anything, but with a healthy sense of feeling good about themselves and their friends or associates. When people are in healthy relationships, they can say, “This is good. This relationship is an extremely positive situation for me.” Both parties need and deserve to win.

If you have ever been involved in a bad situation and felt like the “loser,” even if it has happened repeatedly, things can change! Your relationships can get better. You can know the joy, security, and fulfillment of relationships that add to your life instead of gradually subtracting your energy and enthusiasm, siphoning away the good qualities and abilities you have to offer. Your encounters with the people around you can be refreshing, restorative, empowering, and encouraging, and others will be able to say the same about their experiences with you.

The success of any relationship depends on having two people who
both
give and receive; it requires mutual pursuit and joint benefit. A meaningful relationship is only possible when respect, honor, and values are shared. The very word
relationship
implies the involvement of two entities, and a true relationship is a state of being mutually connected for positive purposes, with positive results for everyone.

The success of any relationship depends on having two people who
both
give and receive; it requires mutual pursuit and joint benefit.

Y
OU
C
AN

T
R
UN ON
E
MPTY

Anyone who has ever driven a car knows one thing for certain: it will not go anywhere if it is out of gas. No matter how hard you press the accelerator, it simply will not budge if it does not have any fuel. That same simple principle applies to you. If you do not have the “fuel” you need, you cannot move forward in life, whether that means taking care of yourself and your family, fulfilling your responsibilities at work, or pursuing the destiny for which God created you.

One essential of an enjoyable, purpose-filled, successful life is surrounding yourself with people who can benefit you as much as you benefit them. When both parties in a relationship are pouring good things into each other, no one’s tank ever reaches empty, and greatness results. As one person becomes vulnerable and learns to share, the other one does too. No one feels alone, uncovered, or as though he or she has given too much. As one person expresses love and support, the other does too. This whole concept of mutual benefit is a beautiful and life-giving exchange.

But when one person gives while the other one takes, the relationship first becomes lopsided; and then it becomes difficult or even damaging. One person begins to feel drained and the other one does not even notice. Emotional exhaustion, feelings of aloneness, and eventually resentment begin to take root. That’s when the situation ceases to be win-win, and one person becomes a tired, frustrated “loser.”

So how do you know when a relationship is depleting you and bringing loss to your life? Sometimes it is obvious; you do not need any help at all to figure it out. But sometimes relationships that drain you can be so familiar and so convenient that you stay in them without realizing how dysfunctional they are. On a more
serious level, these relationships may include elements of control or manipulation, which cause you to be confused about whether they are unhealthy.

When you are involved in a relationship and wondering if it may be leaving you empty, think about these things. A relationship that depletes you

• is a constant source of discouragement.

• gives you the sense that you want it more than the person you are in relationship with wants it.

• is one you repeatedly try to convince yourself to stay in.

• may make you physically, mentally, or emotionally tired after speaking to or being with a certain person.

• may be comfortable or convenient on a surface level, but it leaves you with questions in your heart about whether or not it’s right.

• may seem to be too much work to get out of if you need to leave it.

• is one in which you feel you have little energy to confront problems or challenges. Often, this is because the relationship itself is draining, literally leaving you with little motivation or ability to make necessary improvements.

• taxes your internal resources, such as your joy and peace, and external resources, such as time, money, or possessions.

• is one in which you may be able to be pleasant when with the person, but later regret that time you gave to him or her.

• is one in which you feel a combination of excitement and a sense of dread about being with a certain person, but do it anyway.

• pulls you away from closeness with God and with other people.

• dulls your vision for your life and your future.

Conversely, people in relationships that give to you and add positively to your life

• won’t allow you to become complacent.

• equip you with wisdom needed to navigate life and situations successfully.

• offer you unconditional love and acceptance.

• provide a safe place for you to be yourself.

• hold you accountable to your dreams.

• do not compete with you and your accomplishments.

• stretch and challenge you to become better.

• give their time and energy to you when needed.

• always lend a listening ear.

• expose you to more than you have experienced before and open your life to new possibilities.

• are your biggest cheerleaders and are constant sources of encouragement.

• are simply a joy to be involved with.

As you can see from the characteristics of relationships that deplete you and ones that add to your life, relationships can be either disastrous or amazing. Relationships that take from you rarely, if ever, become win-win, but relationships that add to you can move beyond the blessings of simple win-win and become powerful catalysts for greatness in your life today and in the future.

R
ELATIONAL
H
EALTH

Many of us were raised to give to others and to “be nice.” While being nice is an admirable trait, it can get us in trouble if we overdo
it and do not surround ourselves with people who are nice to us in return.

Your life can benefit significantly from being in relationships with people who will serve and sacrifice for you as much as you serve and sacrifice for them. You could gain a lot by having people who will be as honest and transparent with you as you are with them. When these kinds of mutual exchanges take place, both people are happy, fulfilled, and relationally healthy. Individuals who are relationally healthy do not worry about being empty or being alone; they are not afraid to be vulnerable and open in a relationship because they know the other person will also be vulnerable and open. That mutual vulnerability in a safe relationship leads to emotional safety and protection for both people.

In unhealthy situations, people play double Dutch, the old jump-rope game in which players jump in and out of a twirling rope. When a situation lacks relational health, people never fully commit. They are sometimes “in” and sometimes “out” because they do not feel safe enough to stay in all the time. In unhealthy relationships, people frequently feel they do not know what to say. They fear saying something wrong, and they constantly wonder what the other person feels or thinks. These dynamics set up insecurity and drama—they are
not
win-win!

Relational health does not happen outside a win-win situation, but it thrives in an environment of mutual benefit. Just as physical health empowers people to achieve and enjoy things they could not if they were not healthy, relational health also enables people to take their interactions with others to a new level. When both people are free to be who they are, they are safe and secure. That gives both of them the freedom to grow and the power to experience, accomplish, and together enjoy things they could never do on their own.

B
EYOND
W
IN
-W
IN

Think about advertisements you’ve seen for amazing new products. Often, near the end of the pitch, an announcer says, “But wait! There’s more!” He goes on to promise that if you order right now, you can get two products for the price of one, plus some extra little gadget guaranteed to help you in some way.

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