- Each relationship is different and has its unique challenges. If we try to answer the question in the general then we probably get fairly general answers (selfishness, people, time etc.). Maybe a better approach is to ask ourselves the question about specific relationships. For example what makes my relationship with my wife hard? What makes my relationship with my boss hard? What makes my relationship with my parents hard? I often find myself asking (in a kind of exasperated way) "Why is this so hard?" But perhaps instead of asking this rhetorically I should ask in genuinely as if we don't know what it is which is making it hard we're unlikely to be able to address it.
- Viewing selfishness as a virtue - James in the Bible identifies one of the reasons relationships are so hard like this "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?" Selfishness makes relationships hard. We fight because sometimes what we want and what the other person/people want is different. Now selfishness is not new but we are now actively encouraged to pursue it in relationships. Relationships are meant to be other person focused and until we can learn to let go of our selfishness relationships will be hard.
- Untruthfulness - When talking about how we relate to each other the Bible says that we are to put off falsehood and speak truthfully with our neighbours. Relationships are able to flourish when we consistently speak truthfully to each other. The problem is that in our culture we have largely accepted a lot of deceit and untruthfulness - whether it is flattery, white lies or just avoiding saying what is true. Our society’s acceptance of lying and deception has massively hampered our ability to build relationships. We live in a culture where it is hard to trust what people say and building/maintaining relationships in that environment is hard.
- Anger - In Proverbs we read “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered.” Meaningful relationships are impossible with people who are hot tempered and easily angered. The level of anger which we see in our society makes relationships incredibly hard.
- We don't know who we are - Relationships are between people but what if the people relating don't know who they are? How do they then relate? Our insecurity about our own identity makes relationships hard because if I’m insecure about who I am then my relationship with you becomes primarily about me feeding my self image. So the relationship is much more about me being affirmed than it is about connection and interaction. As such who I am can become incredibly fluid as I will be whatever I need to be to be affirmed by the people I am with. Relationships become an opportunity for me to show myself to be funnier, kinder, stronger, more easy going than other people and as such create my self identity.
- We don't know what the relationship is - I am a husband and an employee and a boss and a friend and a dad and a teammate and an acquaintance to a whole host of different people. The problem is we no longer know what the rules of these relationships are.
- For example, what does it mean to be a husband – We say it means til’ death do us part but 42% of marriages end in divorce so what does it mean? What are the rules of relationship? Is it for keeps or do I need to perform to a certain standard? If I need to perform what are the standards I need to hit? Is it exclusive or not? Is it shared life or is it something else? What’s shared and what’s not. – It’s hard to build a relationship if you are not sure what the relationship you are building is.
- Or what does it mean to be a friend? If you became one of my friends you might well find yourself shocked at my expectations of what that means as I view friends as incredibly significant, committed, reciprocal relationships. You could easily find yourself thinking this is a bit intense isn’t it I just thought we’d go for a pint once in a while and send each other Christmas cards.
Relationships are often hard because of differing expectations of what the specific relationship is and this is especially hard in our society where even the basic definitions of what it means to be a parent, spouse, friend etc. have largely been torn up.
Why not run a few of your relationships through these five areas and see if they help you better understand why relationships are hard and what you could try doing to make them easier?