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  • Writer's pictureAlice J Stewart

Relationship Advice

Relationship advice. It's everywhere. 

There's nothing new about relationship advice. Entire careers and syndicated newspaper columns exist for relationship advice. But does it seem like there's more of it "out there" these days? Is it me? Or is it the pandemic? Maybe the pandemic keeps our pleasantly distracting relationships from us and zooms us deeper into our more intimate relationships. 

No matter what the cause, I do notice quite a bit of relationship advice lately. I'm sure you do too. 

In addition to relationship advice, I see a lot of relationship "types" and "red flags" mentioned. There's the covert narcissist, the "I'm just sharing my feelings" emotional abuser, the "let's just hash it out" fighter, and a dozen others. 

Relationships are endlessly fascinating and sometimes infuriating because we all have them. We can't live without them. And in church, we're all about them. Our best work might be learning and teaching how to have good relationships. 

Not that we're perfect at it. Not at all. It's a life-long process, and we're working it out with each other. That's the good news… and sometimes the bad news. 

Relationships hard to think about, harder to feel about, and almost impossible to get clarity about because people look at us funny when we bring it up. 

Well, you're reading a blog, and I can't see you looking funny at me. So here we are, talking about relationships. 

One of the bits of advice flying by on social media recently described a "type" displaying a "red flag:"

They'll take everything you've got and never give you enough in return. 

I like to read the comments on these posts. I learn a lot about people. The comments on this sort of relationship style had some additional characteristics. 

They'll gaslight you, practically starve you emotionally, criticize and emotionally abandon you, shower you with affection randomly to keep you around, play the victim, and ask you to work far harder than seems quite normal to earn their love. 

Now, let's face it. None of us are perfect. We have bad days, sometimes years, in our lives. We do things we're not proud of. But a pattern is a pattern, and it's up to us to notice those patterns in ourselves and change what harms each other. We deserve a bit of a break if we're not perfect just yet. That seems fair. 

And, while no one goes out purposefully to hurt someone in relationships (well, maybe some do, but it's it must be rare), relationship harm can happen. 

Let's talk about how we, as struggling churches, can address just one issue that might… well… just happen. 

You know, and I know that you know, how it can be in a church. We volunteer for one thing, and it leads to three. Before we know it, we're on the finance committee and mowing the lawn and making scary decisions five times a week. We spend more time at the church than we do at home. 

Yes, our pastors encourage us to step back from a few things, not burn out, but somehow we're here and can't get out. Even during worship, there's always someone coming up to us while we're trying to pray and asking us about some operational decision to be made that we somehow became an expert in. 

It can feel like we're giving far more than we're getting in church. In our darkest hours, we may feel like "they" are taking everything and draining us. 

This, my friends, is a HUGE red flag to take a step back. It's easy for me to say, and I've said it for years, never take on more than three ministries. Two, max, is my advice. Don't be afraid to leave a vacuum. It will be filled. Do be afraid of over-controlling. The Church will not fail because of you. 

When your inner voice hears people telling you that you're not doing enough, that you don't deserve rest and peace and love unless you've "done enough," that you're not doing it "right," that others will not do it "right," and that they just can't do Church without you… Step. Back. Now. 

I'm not blaming you, and I'm not blaming others. Yes, there are abusers in churches. Yes, we can have co-dependency problems. But I'm not talking about people. I'm talking about situations. 

We can change situations. We can change ourselves. We don't have to break up with a relationship that's not working for us, but we can re-negotiate it. 

Are you in a church where you feel like you must give, give, give? Let me give you an Official Permission Slip. 

I'm serious. Print out this blog and use it as your Official Permission Slip. Through no fault of anyone, a situation has formed, and you now have Official Permission to take a step back. Even if you're clergy. Especially if you're clergy. 

No one will think less of you. If they do, let me know, and I'll have a little chat with them. 

Honest! No one will think less of you, and everyone will want only what's best for you. 

Why? Because you are loved. Oh, it sounds sappy, I know. But it's true. You are loved. You do not need to earn that love. Ever. 

And I love you too. 

What other relationship snags might we get caught up in as churches? Tell us below!


Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash

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