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Home Read the Pastor's Blog The Four Styles of Relating
The Four Styles of Relating

The Four Styles of Relating

 

            If you only had five minutes to live, to what would you want to say to your spouse? Would there be anything you would want to do for them before you died? As you think about your spouse, how do you relate to them right now? Are you saying and doing for them now the things you would want to do if you were dying? I find it fascinating how we handle spouses in crisis differently than when things are okay. Some handle spouses better in crisis than they would in times of peace. If I were to interview your spouse, what would they say about the way you relate? Our relational patterns are key to understanding the nature and quality of the relationships we have and the ones we have lost. Have you ever considered why you relate the way you do and how you relate the way you do?  


            As I read the Heart of Man and Mental Disorders by Rich Thomson, I learned about four kinds of human relationships. This information guided me in the process of learning about myself as well as writing this chapter. I learned why some did not like to be around me, and why I could not get away from others. As I evaluated all the places God allowed me to minister, it helped me to understand why I was successful in some ministry opportunities, and in other cases I did not do so well. I have been able to see why some days I am driving my wife crazy, but other days I can be a blessing to her. At this stage you and your spouse should begin to evaluate the level of relating you need to embrace on a consistent basis with each other and with others around you.


             In Proverbs 27:5-6, we can identify 4 levels of relating that we tend walk in on a regular basis. Let me give you a little background about these particular verses so that we can better explore the meaning. We are getting a comparison between styles of relating. In verse 5 the comparison is “better is this than that” approach. For instance it says “Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed.” The idea here is that if you only had these two options to choose from, then open rebuke is better than love concealed. The text is not saying that it is the best situation over all, but rather compared to the other, it is better. Another example of this is in Proverbs 25: 24, which tells us, “It is better to live in a corner of the roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” Now obviously living in a corner of the roof is not the best situation for anyone, but compared to sharing a house with a contentious woman, it is better. You get the idea?   So Proverbs 27:5 is showing us that open rebuke is better than love concealed. It is not the best situation over all, but compared to love that is concealed, it is better.  


            Verse 6 compares by contrast. Note that it states, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” One who is faithful to you is one who loves you to the point of not being afraid of allowing pain in the relationship if it will make you better or help you to grow in character. The “deceitful kiss of an enemy” gives the idea of one who is acting as if everything is okay between you and him, yet in reality he is holding inside of him grudges or problems he has with you. Yet, on the outside a kiss of endearment gives the impression that everything is okay within the relationship. Within verses 5 and 6, based on these comparisons, we find four levels of relating that all of us at some point tend to walk in. Now, let’s look at these two verses and see if we can identify the levels of relating found in them.

           
            Do you remember the cartoon Popeye? I can remember when Brutus would take Olive Oil from Popeye and beat him up. Popeye would stay quiet, and finally when he had enough, he would say, “That’s all I can stand and I can’t stand no more!” Then, he would eat his spinach, beat up Brutus, and rescue Olive Oil. As I got older I thought to myself, “There is a lot of unhealthy relating going on between Popeye, Olive Oil and Brutus.”—when you find yourself analyzing cartoons, you have become too old to watch them!

The way Popeye handled Brutus gives us an example of the first style of relating we find in Proverbs 27:5. “Open rebuke is better than love that is concealed.” The term “open rebuke” gives the picture of someone who is confronting a person with truth about their situation, but they are not doing it in a loving manner. This is what we call relating in a way where you are Open and Unloving. To be open and unloving means that you are right in what you are communicating to a person, but you are nasty in the way you are communicating.

           
           There have been times where I have not liked something my wife had said or done, and my approach to her was rude, sarcastic, and unkind. What I communicated to her was accurate, but the way I communicated it was unloving. In an open and unloving style, we correct and confront people about matters not because we care about them but because we are “upset about it” or “we have had enough.” The problem is that even though we are speaking truth, it is not in love, rather it is merely to get some things off our chest. We are not considering their interest; we are focused on our own. We are not seeking to help the person with the information; we are seeking to hurt the person. We are like Popeye, and we end up saying more or less, “That’s all I can stand and I can’t stand no more!” In an open and unloving style of relating you are open in what you have to say to and about the person, but you are not caring about how it comes out or the impact it has on the person. When you are open and unloving, you will find yourself rebuking others with no respect for the person or position, exposing the sin of others with rudeness, exposing character flaws with harshness, or even speaking truth with no love. With this style, you will find that things are always out in the open. However, problems may be hard to resolve or may not be resolved at all because others can’t get beyond your negative attitude towards them. In this style, you are right in what you are saying but wrong in the way you are saying it, and wrong in your motive.

           
            In the movie Hitch, there was a man who helped another man learn ways to capture the attention of a young lady in whom he was interested. This man found it hard to communicate what was in his heart. His motives, thoughts, and intentions were all in the right place, but he could not put what was in his heart into words and actions. Have you ever found yourself wanting to share or to do something for someone else, but because you did not know the best way to say it or do it, it went unspoken or undone? Have you ever found yourself sidetracked from relating in love with someone due to some time constraints or other obligations? It’s not that you were scared or unwilling; you just missed the opportunity or were unskilled in ways of doing it. If you have found yourself in any of the above situations, you are exhibiting a style of relating we called Closed and Loving. “Open rebuke is better than love concealed.” Love that is concealed is being closed and loving. Are you getting it? When your style of relating is closed and loving, the love that is within your heart does not transcend to the person you love. Sometimes, kind words, loving rebuke, or even thoughts of thankfulness are not communicated due to time constraints or a lack of skills in how to love. You are not in any way afraid of what they might say or do nor are you concerned about rejection or rebuke. You just have not taken the time or have not learned how to give what‘s within you to others in a way that they can benefit and be blessed by you.

           
            I can remember a time in my marriage when my wife was doing so many wonderful things that were beneficial to our relationship, but I remained silent in words or actions to show love to her. I took her love and work for granted. I really appreciated what she was doing, and I really wanted to show love, but I got sidetracked with ministering and had not studied my wife enough to discover the best way to show her love. Needless to say, my wife felt unappreciated and unloved. I was being closed and loving. It’s like the story of the man who had been married for twenty years. His brother asked him why he didn’t tell his wife on a regular basis that he loved her. The man said, “I told her I loved her twenty years ago. I meant it then, and I haven’t changed!” This is closed and loving. A closed and loving style can be seen when we are appreciative or concerned but not showing it, having praise in our hearts but not expressing it, or desiring the highest good of others but not expressing it. Now when you read, “Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed,” it is not saying that the best situation for a person is to be open and unloving. It is merely saying that if you only had to choose between being closed and loving and open and unloving, one is better than the other. It is not that one should strive to be open and unloving; it just making the statement that one style of relating is better than the other.


        However, as we look at verse 6, we can see two more styles of relating and draw our conclusion as to which style of relating we should strive to develop.  I remember counseling a couple that was having a difficult time staying married, and I had to share some very difficult things with them. We had a good counseling relationship, and they knew I loved them. They trusted my counsel and submitted to the applications given to them to help restore the marriage. Yet, there were still things I needed to say that I knew would be hard to hear. As I waited for the right time and the right way, I finally shared those hard things with them. They were devastated. The insights hit them at the core of their hearts and marriage. They both wept. I just knew they were going to be angry and never return for counseling. I figured I had lost their friendship. My words were loving, timely, and caring but also hard and rebuking. Yet, something happened that shocked me. They looked at me as they were wiping the tears and said, “Thank you. Now we understand what has been damaging our marriage!” Wow! They understood that I was not seeking to be harsh for harshness sake, or seeking to speak rebuking words to get something off my chest. They knew that I had absolutely nothing to gain for myself in sharing that information. I was merely a friend being faithful to the level of the relationship we had developed. I was faithful enough to tell them hard things to help them not to hurt them—nevertheless, accepting the fact that it may hurt their feelings. This is what we call being Open and Loving. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.”


        One who is being a faithful friend is one who is seeking to do what is beneficial even if doing it will bring pain to the relationship. The Open and Loving style speaks truth with love. The words spoken are spoken with the best interest of the other person in mind. The communication is for the edification of the other person. It is not about the frustration of the one speaking. This does not mean that a person should not express himself to others when he is disappointed. But, the motive and intent of expression is the consideration. One does not have to be nasty and rude in expressing thoughts or concerns. One can be truthful and loving. The Open and Loving style is about communicating and relating with others in a way that is considerate, concerned, and caring. It is communicating and relating with others in the right way, at the right time, for the right purpose. In an open and loving style, the person is hurt not because of the attitude or actions of the other person but because of the truth that is spoken to them. The attitude and actions of the giver of truth freed the receiver of truth to deal with the reality of the truth spoken. When you are open and loving, you will find yourself showing appreciation, spending quality time with others, giving encouragement and helpful rebuke, or meeting needs and bearing burdens of others.  


        Right after Seminary I had developed a friendship with a guy that I really started to dislike. This guy had the nerve to tell me things about myself that I did not like! Can you believe that! How dare he tell me those things! Who did he think he was? As I look back, I realize that he was being a faithful friend. He was being open and loving—13 years later I really miss him!  

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone whose breath was so bad that you had to take a step back? Did you tell them or did you smile and politely end the conversation saying to yourself, “Wow that guy needed a mint?” Have you ever gone shopping with someone, and they picked out clothes that made them look as big as a house, but instead of being honest, you kept quiet? Have you ever had a problem with someone, but they never knew because you never said a word?   Is there anyone in your life right now that you have a grudge against, yet when you are around them you act is if everything is okay?   Is there anyone in your life that you are afraid to be honest with because of what they might do to you, take from you, or deny you?


        If you find yourself in any of the above scenarios, you have been walking in a Closed and Unloving style of relating. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” A deceitful kiss is one that is given with pretense not sincerity. It is from people who are pretending to be okay with you, but in their hearts they are holding something against you. They talk kindly to you but rudely about you to others. A closed an unloving style is hard to spot. It appears as open and loving. It is sometimes mistaken as closed and loving. But, when you are afraid to speak the truth in love, you are being closed and unloving. When you are more polite than honest, you are being closed and unloving. When you hold a grudge, and refuse to share your heart in a loving manner, you’re being closed and unloving.


       One day I was upset with my wife because she had not done something that I wanted her to do. My wife did not have a clue. As I begin to speak with sarcasm and short sentences, she began to pick up on the fact that something was wrong. When she asked if there was something wrong, like a real man I stated, “Nothing. I’m fine.” That ladies and gentlemen is the epitome of being closed and unloving. When you are operating in a closed and unloving style of relating, you find yourself talking about people behind their backs instead of to them, holding grudges instead of sharing hurts, being polite instead of being honest, or pretending to be okay with people when you are really not.


      As we have evaluated Proverbs 27:5-6, we have seen that sometimes we can be open and unloving, closed and loving, open and loving or closed and unloving. As you look at your relationship with your spouse, what style of relating do you find yourself exhibiting the most? Why do you suppose you relate with each other according to that style more than another. How has your upbringing and past relationships impacted the style of relating you tend to operate in with your spouse?

What you probably have noticed is that most of the time one of you tends to be open and unloving while the other tends to be closed and unloving. Finally, you both calm down and begin to figure out how to express love to each other, but due to time constraints or poor training you have not expressed the love (closed and loving). Eventually apologies are given, love is expressed (open and loving), and every one is happy.


       As Proverbs gives us these four styles of relating, it is obvious that the style we are to strive to operate in is Open and Loving.   Therefore, when we are not open and loving we need to confess our unloving thoughts, words, and actions accordingly (Proverbs 28:13). Second, we need to begin speaking open expressions of love by faith not feelings (Ephesians 4:15, 25, 29). Third, we need to begin showing open expressions of love by faith (1Corinthains 13:4-7). Finally, we need to trust God’s power not our feelings or abilities to accomplish this style of relating. All of this will have major impact on your marriage. Your relational style will impact the quality of your marriage. If you are not pursing to be open and loving, you will find the relationship less than its best. Be honest with yourself, with God, and with your spouse in this matter and pursue to be Open and Loving.