What Does a Real Relationship Look Like?

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In the same way as we fill our homes with piles and piles of stuff we don’t need or even really want, and in much the same way as we fill our minds with the stress of an overstuffed schedule and guilt over letting go, many of us clutter our spirits with superficial relationships. These so-called friendships seem to suck the life out of us rather than nurture our souls.

A big part of the problem is that we often base our relationships on what we think we can get out of the relationship rather than on what we are willing to put into it. We all want relationships that are going to make us feel good about ourselves, that are going to make us feel loved and accepted and nourished, but, according to 1 Corinthians 13:4–8, it’s quite possible we’ve got it all backward:

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.

Real relationships aren’t based on what we can get, but on what we can give.

So what does that look like? Here are the essential qualities we should be looking for, not necessarily in others, but in ourselves:

Patience. To be patient means “quietly and steadily persevering or diligent, especially in detail or exactness.” In a world that moves increasingly fast, patience is a virtue that is often very difficult to come by. But real relationships take time, and they also don’t mind waiting. Are you treating your relationships with the patience they deserve? Are you willing to wait, even when you don’t feel like it, or are you constantly rushing?

Kindness. Real relationships are gentle and tender, where we always treat each other with respect. Do you build up your friends and family members rather than tear them down? Are you nice? Is your default set on kindness rather than on snarkiness?

Absence of jealousy. If we’re not careful, feelings of jealousy can easily creep up on us and take over our thoughts, causing deep-seated discontentment and clouding our view of the people we love. Are you struggling with feeling envious of your friends or siblings? Do you resent their success, or are you genuinely happy for their triumphs?

Humility. Many of us spend a great deal of time tooting our own horns, bragging, and trying to build ourselves up in front of others. When it comes to your own relationships, are you quick to bring attention to yourself, or do you turn the focus to others? Are you ever guilty of false humility—pretending to be humble in a way that actually brings attention or glory to yourself?

Selflessness. Selflessness means putting someone else’s needs ahead of your own and thinking about someone else’s feelings and desires first, before you think about your own. This is a daunting requirement, but in real relationships, selflessness shouldn’t feel painful, because we actually care deeply about the people whose needs we are putting above our own.

Graciousness. Graciousness simply means being willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. It assumes the best about other people’s motives rather than the worst. Do you show grace in your relationships? Are you quick to judge or become annoyed, or are you willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, even when they’ve done something to offend you?

Forgiveness. Forgiveness means being willing to let go of actual offenses. When it comes to real relationships, the ability to forgive and forget is not just important; it is essential. In your own relationships, do you frequently hold a grudge, or are you willing to let bygones be bygones? Are you quick to say, “I forgive you,” and mean it, or do those words never seem to come?

Honesty. Real relationships are honest, even when honesty is hard. Are you a truth teller in your relationship, or do you skate over facts in favor of what is easy or pleasant? Do you choose flattery over honesty, or are you willing to speak up when necessary, even if your opinion might not be popular?

Protectiveness. Real relationships protect and shelter those who are in them. Do you look out for your friends and family members and do what you can to keep them safe from harm? Are you willing to jump in and defend them against attack? Do you protect and shelter the people you love?

Trustworthiness. Becoming someone whom others can really trust, wholly and completely, is no small feat. To be trustworthy means to be “deserving of trust or confidence; dependable; reliable.” Do you deserve the trust and confidence of others? Do you live your life with integrity? Do you avoid gossiping and talking about others? Do you keep your promises?

Perseverance. Real relationships endure, even when the road gets rough. A real friend is in it for the long haul, and understands that there may be some big bumps and potholes along the way. Are you willing to persevere, even when your relationships get hard, even when your friends and family members let you down or disappoint you? Are you willing to keep going, or are you quick to throw in the towel?

Real relationships are tricky and messy and sticky and hard. They take effort and endurance and selflessness and yes, lots of perseverance. But real relationships are also what make life so rich. They are the foundation of a meaningful life, the thing that keeps us going when times get tough. They are the people who will love you no matter what. With great risk comes great reward, and while the effort of cultivating real relationships may feel risky, the reward is worth it. 

Taken from Unstuffed by Ruth Soukup. Copyright © 2016 by Ruth Soukup. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com. All rights reserved.