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All you need for happy relationships

Are you happy in your loving relationships? An article in last week’s Mail on Sunday suggests that there are “seven steps to guarantee you a happy love life”.

These are taken from the latest book by hypnotist Paul McKenna who has, over the past decade or so, become something of a celebrity life-coach, dispensing all manner of advice on how to live successfully.

Some good advice

There are many wise things to commend in this article. It is good to think about body language as we speak with our loved ones. It is true that small, caring gestures can have large long-term benefits, and I love the idea of “turning arguments into conversations”. Sadly, it can often happen the other way around, but I do agree that developing a constructive way to disagree is essential to building good relationships.

Probably the idea of McKenna’s that I like best is “normal to you isn’t normal to everyone”. We do always think that our family culture, the traditions, the way we communicate, is perfectly normal and balanced, and anyone who is different is, well, rather odd and exceptional. But then you marry someone who thinks they are normal too – but they are not the same as you!

(Incidentally, the same happens in church life; we often delude ourselves into thinking that our church – compared to all others – is the perfect balance of head and heart, new and old, bible teaching and spirit-filled worship.)

It is good to work on relationships; in fact the Bible has much to say about how to relate well to other people, especially in marriage as we commit to love our spouse.

Relationships are important

What Paul McKenna, along with many other agony aunts and uncles, is tapping into is the need we have for friendship. We instinctively know that as human beings we are made for relationship; relating to other people, and especially to those we love, is far more important than just a convenience and comfort – or even procreation. We know that there is value in companionship for its own sake. We don’t want to damage such relationships.

This sense we all feel comes from God. He is eternally relating to himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit and has made us in his image, to relate to him and to each other.

Relationships are broken

Self-help advice can only take us so far. In fact, it is ultimately part of the problem because it is self-saving and self-serving; its goal is to make me loved and happy. McKenna’s tip number three gives the game away by highlighting personal fulfilment – the goal is to be “happy with yourself”. But the problem is that putting myself at the centre of my world will always clash with someone else who is doing the same thing for themselves. And even if, by an act of great will, you try to put that person at the centre of your world, it won’t work because it creates such a weight of expectation upon them that they cannot possibly fulfil it.

These seven steps might contain some good advice but, in the end, they are not enough.

The one relationship that will make us happy

The one relationship that really matters – the one with God himself – is broken. No amount of positive thinking can mend that. This is the case for every human being and the shock waves of this fracture cause a splintering in all other relationships.

But Jesus came to restore our relationship with God by his perfect life and sacrificial death. And he shows us the way to love. There is no promise of a happy love life in the Bible, but there is a promise of a restored relationship with God and a model of love that will shape all our relationships for the better.

And the promise of the Bible is that, even in an imperfect world now, with flawed relationships, we can look forward to a perfect relationship with God and his people in the new heavens and the new earth.

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