Human relationships exist on a continuum between isolation and immersion.
Do you move away from others because you want to be safe and avoid hurt (isolation)? Or do you move towards others because you think you need them to live (immersion)?
While most of us don’t tend to live at either of these extremes, we do tend towards independence or co-dependence. Whether we know it or not, every relational decision we make is moving in one of these directions.
Where we are on the continuum varies within each relationship, but in most cases, the problems we have in relationships tend to fit one of three relational profiles.
The Frustrated Relationship
Here one person moves toward isolation while the other moves toward immersion. One dreams of being safe; the other dreams of being close and intimate. Can you see the problems brewing? The isolationist feels smothered; the immersionist feels rejected. Since both regularly have their expectations frustrated, the relationship can be perpetually disappointing.
The Enmeshed Relationship
Here both people move toward immersion. While you might think that similar expectations would lead to peace and harmony, it actually produces more problems. Because they are so dependent on each other, they ride the roller coaster of each other’s emotions and are easily hurt when the other does not meet their needs. This relationship can become exhausting.
The Isolated Relationship
Here both people move toward isolation. Each person is aware of the dangers of relationships and opting for safety in seclusion. Conversations are limited, safe, and impersonal. But both people, created in the image of God, long for some form of connection, no matter how small it may be. This relationship can be empty and disappointing.
The Solution For All Relationships
It’s natural for us to develop systems that we think can diagnose and cure our relationships. We hope that relationship profiles, effective communication methods, clear role definitions, conflict resolution strategies, personality typing—to name just a few—will make the difference.
These appeal to us because they promise that relational problems can be fixed by tweaking our behavior without altering the real problem – the sin in our hearts. There may be some value in them, but if they were all we needed, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ would be unnecessary.
The Bible provides a different diagnosis and cure. James 4:1 (with the rest of Scripture) reminds us that our real problem is inside us. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?”
Because of indwelling sin, we have turned life upside down. What we want, for ourselves and from others, becomes more important to us than God himself. We have made ourselves ultimate and God secondary.
When we do this, our selfish desires go on to rule our relationships, leading to problems, conflict, and disappointment with others. Only when we confess our sins and submit to God can we escape the destructive results of our selfishness.
Human relationships are most satisfying when we enter them not just to please ourselves or even the other person, but to please God.
1. Do you tend towards isolation or immersion? Consider your personality, your family upbringing, and life experiences that could have developed this tendency.
2. In a broken world with fallen people, why is it understandable that people may tend towards isolation? How can this tendency be unbiblical and dangerous?
3. If according to God’s design, we are created for community, why might the immersion tendency still be unbiblical and dangerous? How can this good thing become a bad thing if it becomes a ruling thing in our hearts?
4. Apply James 4:1 to your life this past week. What quarrels and fights did you experience in your relationships because of warring passions in your heart?
5. How can you submit those passions to the Lord this coming week? How can your relationships be satisfying (and free from conflict) when the Lord is the utmost passion in your heart? Be specific.