Relationships are hard. If you have even one relationship, you know this is true. I’m not sharing any kind of new information here just yet.
I’ve been sitting in on a series of messages from the pastors at my church on relationships, and how as believers, our relationships should be uncommon. That we should behave differently in relationships than how the world would suggest we behave.
Mostly the world would tell us that we should be getting something out of a relationship for it to be worth our while. Okay. The very definition of relationship implies that both parties get something out of it. But I think the pastors at my church have tried to say that it matters how we behave in a relationship, and if we are only concerned with what we get out of that relationship, then the connection will be flawed.
One of the most frequent mistakes we make in relationships is when we employ manipulation. Manipulation is the skillful handling, controlling or using of something or someone. At least that’s what Dictionary.com says. It’s when we use our words or actions to get someone to do something that we want them to do, that they may not entirely want to do themselves, and likely would not do if we had not… manipulated them into it. Coercion is manipulation’s close cousin. Coercion is the practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats.
Relationships based out of manipulation or coercion are not healthy, but most of us employ those tactics from time to time. We think drastic situations call for drastic measures. I may want my husband to do something or act in a certain way. I can, with my words or actions, force the response I want from him, but our relationship suffers every time I do that. Any time I am manipulative, his first response is resentment. If I am honest, that’s my first response to being manipulated, too.
Manipulation and coercion are not tools of the Father, so they must be tools of the enemy. So what in the world are we thinking when we use those? What we display is our own mistrust of the power of the Holy Spirit to work in a person’s life.
Over the years, I have had to learn, especially in my marriage, that I cannot take the place of the Holy Spirit in someone else’s life. I do not have the power of conviction over another person’s heart. I can shame, condemn, and guilt people fairly well, but only the Spirit of God has the power of conviction and real heart change. So what do we do when we are in relationship with someone, and we want them to change in some way? We have to resist manipulation.
If I have a healthy relationship with my husband, I should be able to broach any subject that I think needs addressing. I do not need to plead my case, make threats, or guilt my husband into agreeing with me. On the surface, I may get my way, but the relationship underneath has eroded away a bit. Over time, the erosion from manipulation can permanently damage my marriage.
Instead, I begin to approach the subject with the Lord first. There is a slight, however slight, chance that I might be wrong. 🙂 I need to ask the Holy Spirit to check my heart. I need to deal with any selfishness or arrogance before I move forward. Am I seeking my own way in this issue? Am I only interested in what I am going to get here? Then, I need to give the issue to the Lord. And that might be the end of it. (If your spouse is a believer, the Spirit dwells in him and speaks to him. One word from the Holy Spirit can do, in an instant, what years of nagging will never do.)
Sometimes, though, I do need to talk something through with my husband. If he doesn’t jump to my point of view immediately, the temptation will almost always be to move on to manipulation. I want my way. After all, I’ve prayed about this, and I think God agrees with me. But when I resort to manipulation, all my prayers are wasted. I am essentially telling God that I’ve got this one.
When we have to use manipulation or coercion in a relationship, the relationship is not what it needs to be, and it in no way honors God. It only tends to show how little we truly trust in the Father’s ability to move in a person’s heart. Often we just have to learn to be patient and wait on the Lord to work. He really does know what He’s doing, even if He isn’t doing it on our timetable. The fact is, that when two people in relationship truly love God infinitely more than they love anyone or anything else, relationships actually flourish. When our focus is on God and not on what we want, as my mom says, “Our wants won’t hurt us.”