Chapter 1

Diagnosing the Problem

We would expect the heroes of the early church to get along. So it is surprising to read of the apostles Paul and Barnabas: “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left” (acts 15:39–40). The reason for their quarrel? Barnabas insisted on bringing his cousin Mark, who had abandoned the team on an earlier mission. Paul strongly believed this disqualified him from further service.

Even the best friendships can hit rough spots. Coworkers can turn a worksite into a battlefield. Churches divide over personality conflicts. Family members who ought to love and care for each other instead exchange angry threats—or worse.

So what are we to do? It seems the only way to avoid the pain of broken relationships is to live alone on a remote island.

By identifying the telltale signs of stress in our own relationships we can take steps to address them. See if you recognize any of these:

Avoidance. Longtime friends suddenly avoid each other after a conflict. They used to enjoy one another’s company; now they keep their distance.

Irritability. “What did you say?” “Leave me alone!” “She makes me sick!” “Mind your own business!” “I said no and I mean no!” “I’ve had it!” Sound familiar? We’ve all heard these fiery phrases. And most of us will admit to saying some of them.

Silence. A common response to a wounded relationship is “the silent treatment.” By refusing to talk, they hope to make the other person suffer. It also helps insulate them from further pain.

Enlisting Allies. Many people approach a strained relationship as if they’re preparing for war. They recruit allies by giving only their view of the issue. Their one-sided account becomes ammunition to use in battle. Such behavior reveals insecurity and weakness. It uncovers our lack of confidence to handle the problem appropriately.

Terrorism. This form of personal aggression is subtle and comes without warning. With indirect and underhanded methods, it destroys the innocent along with the supposed enemy. This may involve slanderous attacks that destroy someone’s influence and character, or emotional or physical abuse.

If you see any of these warning signs, your relationship may be deteriorating. Now is the time to resolve the problem.

Don’t Make Things Worse

Poison ivy can make life miserable. Yielding to the temptation to scratch the itch only worsens the problem. The poison spreads, compounding the agony. The right approach is to apply some healing cream and to refrain from doing what itchy skin cries out for you to do.

Broken relationships can make life miserable too. But, like dealing with poison ivy, our natural response may only make matters worse. Let’s look at what doesn’t work.

Our natural response may only make matters worse..

Ignore It. Many people refuse to look at the problem. This only permits disagreements to spread, eating away at relationships.

Attack the Person. A common tactic is to attack the person instead of the issue. Namecalling and faultfinding obscure the real issue.

Manipulate. Sometimes we are more interested in getting things to work out for our own personal interests. We may feel that we have all the answers and work to get others to see things our way.

Involve the Wrong People. We may mistakenly involve individuals more interested in spreading gossip than in restoring relationships.

Talk Too Much. Are we good listeners? Do we lend an ear and try to understand? It’s a bad sign if we are doing most of the talking.

Neglect Timing and Tact. We may do and say the right things but not get the results we expect. If our efforts lack proper timing and tact, we will only compound the problem.

Cover It Up. “Let’s put it behind us and start all over again.” This sounds good but is wholly inadequate if it is not genuine. Wounds of the heart need more than superficial words to heal.

Discard It. Sometimes relationships are treated like disposable goods. If something goes wrong, it seems too much trouble to patch things up.

Broken relationships can be made worse instead of better if we handle them the wrong way. But the necessary repair work can be accomplished when we are willing to follow the pattern given by God.