Good relationships can be thought of as a unity of mind and will. There exists a harmony among the members in both the ideas and goals pursued. This harmony is for the benefit of all involved as each gets to feed from the good that the relationship will come to bear. But we all know that relationships can be tricky business, and many of us experience this difficulty on a daily basis. When unity breaks, the relation often turns in on itself and works against the members involved. The purpose here is to outline three pillars necessary for any relationship, whether marriage, family, work, or friendships.
The first pillar is Truth: “speak every man truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” Eph. 4:25. No social relationship can exist without truth. Without truth, there cannot be trust, and without trust people will recoil from those they find untrustworthy. Notice Paul says we are all members one of another; we form a body. Without truth disorder and confusion reign. Schism develops in the social body. But not only in the body, but a schism happens in our souls as well.
There are two facets of truth that I would like to review. They are honesty and simplicity. Honesty has to do with the conformity of our words to our thoughts. For those who believe in only relative truth, the following may have little meaning. But for those who believe there is an objective reality, one that is true according to the designs imposed on it by the creator, then the connection between word and thought becomes more substantial. An untruth, or lie, represents a breach in the created order. Through it, we participate in an act that is opposed to our created nature; for we are rational creatures, and knowledge and truth are objects that belong to us as rational creatures. Therefore our lie creates a break in our souls. “Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak” – Psalms 12:2. By our lies, we not only disrupt the order of our relationship, and do harm to the other, we harm ourselves as well. We introduce a disorder into the mental faculty of our soul. This disorder in the mind will bleed into other faculties as well. So not only will this corrupt our reasoning (namely that we believe we can meet reality with falsehood), it will be corrosive to our imaginations, our emotions, and then ultimately our wills. From there it works outward into our relations with others. Our conscience, through its nagging and accusing sentiments, also testify to this corruption of our souls.
The other facet of truth can be expressed in the idea of simplicity. For our relationships to flourish, we need to represent ourselves as we truly are. Truthfulness encompasses not only our speech but also how we behave, dress, and the activities we engage it. The idea is to enable people to know us correctly, to know our real intentions. We are what we seem, we are genuine. We may be tempted to present a different self by attempting to display qualities that are not really a part of us. Or we hide certain other qualities about our self. Many feel uncomfortable showing hurt and sadness, so we often hid this and show anger. We hinder our relationships to the extent that we are not living a genuine life. To express or reveal ourselves genuinely can be terrifying for some of us, but we have a moral duty, both to ourselves and to others, to strive to be genuine.
The second pillar is pleasure. “A continual dripping on a rainy day and a quarrelsome wife are alike” – Proverbs 27:15. This sentiment is not limited to a wife and marriage, but is the same for all quarrelsome prone people. Much has been written about toxic and difficult people. Some people are just very painful to be around. Consequently, they will be lonely. Relationships need to be pleasurable to thrive. There is only so much pain that someone can endure from what another dishes out, and once that threshold is crossed, the union is severed. They may be together physically, but emotionally they are very distant. There is no longer unity, and this opens the door for opposition and ultimately decomposition of the relationship.
So what are the aids that help us contribute to making our relations more pleasurable? First of all, we can strive to be more flexible. Many of our conflicts arise from our own demands; we expect the other be as we would have them to be. Some of us are taking much more than we are giving. But we are told that “it is better to give than to receive”. When we are inflexible, we have a hard time yielding our wills and conceding to others. If I am inflexible and expect the other to bend to meet my needs, I am essentially treating the other as a need-satisfying object. I am not treating them as a person, but as an It as Buber put it; an object for me to use at my will.
The other aid is to be light-hearted. Many of us take ourselves way too seriously. If something does not go the way we planned, or if we feel slighted in some way, we often react in ways to boldly rectify the situation. However, to the one on the other side of the fence, the once looking at your face, you may be being received as toxic. You might want to ask yourself, “what make me so important?”. Or as St. Paul asked, “why not just be wronged?”
The next aid is to be kind-hearted. Here the focus is on the other rather than the self. A kind person is a giving person. They give their time, energy, and other resources. They can even yield or give in on their wants, demands, and expectations. In short, their egos. These people’s thoughts tend to be occupied on others, in particular, on how to bless them. This helps deflate our own ego as we are thinking and caring about the other. To be kind-hearted means that we can project ourselves into the lives of others. This helps prepare us to listen to the other and to seek to understand them because we are not too focused on our own agenda.
The last thing worth mentioning has to do with anger. Perhaps nothing is more detrimental to relationships as the nondiscretionary use and release of anger. Researchers have found a correlation that exists between the health of a marriage and the quantity of the positive to negative emotional exchanges among the spouses. When a marriage has a certain level (less than 5:1 ratio) of positive to negative emotional interchanges, the marriage is in danger. This simply means that when one is not sending much more positive than negative emotional messages, the relationship begins to reflect that emotional tone. Anger (often expressed in irritation, or annoyance) is a negative and damaging emotion in any relationship. Who wants to be around someone who seems to be constantly annoyed or irritated with you? Even if this is not directed to you directly, it is still not pleasurable to be around someone with an angry disposition.
The last pillar of any good relationship has to do with goodness. “Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” Phil. 4:8. We as humans have a certain nature, and our nature specifies which things are helpful to us, and which things are damaging. Whenever someone introduces a vice into the relationship, this will almost always have a harmful effect on the other. Substance abuse, pornography, and gambling just to name a few obvious ones. Less obvious but probably more commonly shared by most of us would be such vices as laziness, envy, contentious, thoughtlessness, inconstancy, back-biting, ingratitude, pride, intemperance, impatience, and quick-tempered. All of these also work to the detriment of a relationship.
So, here are a couple of goods to go along with goodness. The first is goodwill. It is very helpful to have goodwill toward others, even if we are upset with them. A flourishing relationship exists when each has goodwill toward the other. Who does not feel more loved, safe, and appreciated when you know the other has your best interests at heart? The other good has to do with good objects. This has in mind the type of things we attach ourselves to. Here we are concerned with hitching ourselves to good behaviors, situations, and people. We reap what we sow. If we engage in bad behaviors, people, and situations, we cannot expect to come out unscathed. The bad that we attach ourselves to will invariably take its toll on the relationship.
This takes us full circle back to truth. There is an objective order to our life and world. If we operate against these objective principles that sustain our life and world, it is to our own detriment. As a lie goes against the truth of order that corrupts our knowledge, so does living a life without goodness corrode our souls and relationships.