By Maria Fontaine
July 26, 2022
In one of my recent posts on the importance of communication,1 we looked at various ways that people communicate and how pivotal the subject of communication is to effective relationships with others. In this post, I’d like to focus on specifics regarding how we can make our relationships stronger and happier.
I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned from the context of a marriage relationship, but it’s important to remember that many of these principles can be applied to other relationships. So, if you aren’t in a marriage relationship right now, you can apply these principles to other relationships or areas of your life.
I recently read about Tim Keller, a well-known author, counselor, and pastor, who was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer in May 2020. I loved his attitude when he was told that he would not live through this and what he had to say about his priorities for the time he had left on this earth.
When Dr. Keller was asked, “What are the things that you want to focus on, considering how short your remaining time in this life is going to be? What comes to the top of the list for you?” he said:
My wife, Kathy, and I are fairly well known as being a team. In many ways, we are joined at the hip.
Right after the cancer was diagnosed, we realized it wasn’t right to come to the end of our lives without improving our marriage in places where it could be better.
There were some things that she felt she could not talk to me about because I didn’t respond well, and she had given up trying to do it. But now we’re finding breakthroughs in being able to talk about certain things and deal with them in a way we were never able to before.2
I was very impressed by this, because if Tim Keller, living in the shadow of cancer, can make bettering his marriage one of his most important focuses, how much more should we be able to do that in our relationships.
Another thing I was very impressed by along these lines was a story of a man who was about to go through a divorce. He and his wife had tried everything else, and nothing was working. He loved his wife and he wanted to remain with her.
So, he came up with the idea that every day he would ask her what he could do for her and do his best to accomplish it. The first three times he asked her, she thought he was kidding when he would say, “Honey, what can I do for you today?”
She decided to test him and gave him a big or difficult job like cleaning out the garage or doing an overhaul on the garden. She made it as hard as she could since she thought he would never uphold his side and keep doing what she asked.
But as day after day he continued to ask her what he could do for her and then wholeheartedly put his strength and effort into doing those things, she started to believe that he really was determined to do whatever it took to convince her of his love. Through his willingness to perform actions that would serve as a tangible expression of his love, their marriage was saved.
It took all he could muster, but it was what his wife needed. It was a manifestation of his love as he acted out the biblical precept to “serve one another in love” because “by this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another” (Galatians 5:13, John 13:35).
When the Lord is at the center of our marriage and He is the most important Person in our relationships, His love brings us into unity and oneness. When His love motivates us, then we can know that we are pleasing Him, even if the response from our partner might not always be what we would hope for.
Giving God’s love to others is not a contract designed to get what we want in exchange from someone else. It is a gift freely given without the expectation of reciprocation. Sometimes we do things for our partner, expecting them to reciprocate. We do something nice for them and we want them to do something nice for us in return. Many times, that will happen because love begets love, but we may not see that return come back to us in the way or at the time we hope for.
If we are motivated by what we expect to get back, then what we’re giving is not fully given in love. We would do better to model Jesus’ love; He gave everything for us, knowing that we could never repay Him.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as also Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her.”—Ephesians 5:25
“A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.”—Proverbs 15:1
“Let all bitterness, and rage, and anger, and clamor, and slander, be removed from you, along with all malice.”—Ephesians 4:31
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”—Proverbs 17:17
“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.”—Proverbs 31:10–11
“The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.”—Ecclesiastes 7:8–9
“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”—John 15:12–13
“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they will not become discouraged.
“Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being, for the Lord and not for men, because you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as your reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”—Colossians 3:18–21, 23–24
“Be humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”—Ephesians 4:2–3
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”—Ephesians 4:29
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”—1 Peter 4:8
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”—1 Peter 5:6–7
“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”—1 Corinthians 13:2–8
1 See “Life Essentials—Communication,” Directors’ Corner, May 17, 2022, https://directors.tfionline.com/post/life-essentials-communication/
2 Tish Harrison Warren, “How a Cancer Diagnosis Makes Jesus’ Death and Resurrection Mean More,” New York Times, April 10, 2022.