To varying degrees, relationships can feel warm and intimate or they can feel chilly and estranged.   I’ve created this graphic to illustrate the wide range of relational temperatures that we might experience.

God created us for warm connections with others, represented by the six “yellow zones” of my illustration.  It is likely we’ll engage intimately in the center zone with just a few people, and there will be more people–with less intimacy– in each subsequent circle.    Regardless of the amount of intimacy and warmth, all of these yellow-zone relationships are healthy.

Yet, we are sinful people who don’t always get relationships right.  Our brokenness affects all areas of life, including how we interact with others.

Great hurt occurs when our relationships exist in the “blue zones.”   When friends or family members resort to cold-shouldering, hostility, or shunning it can be crushing.   The biblical story of Jacob and Esau and the account of Joseph and his brothers illustrate the pain that comes from living in these circles–pain that can sometimes last for generations!

The pain caused by blue-zone relationships keeps us counselors in business.

My guess is that almost everyone would prefer to relate with others in the yellow zones.  Only the seriously dysfunctional would want their relationships devoid of warmth.

As with the weather, temperatures can change in relationships.  So let’s look at some things that might cause relational temperatures to change.

List 1.  What may help relationships Warm Up?

  • Listening for understanding
  • Pursuing clarity
  • Seeking reconciliation
  • Assuming goodwill
  • Heartfelt apologies
  • Forgiveness
  • Humility
  • An “others orientation”
  • Expressions of love and care
  • Engaging
  • Mutual respect
  • Making others feel safe
  • Acts of kindness
  • Choosing to be unoffendable

List 2.  What may cause relationships to Cool Off?

  • Poor communication
  • Withholding the benefit of the doubt
  • Assuming ill-will
  • Making assumptions
  • Judging motives or capacities
  • Victim mentalities
  • Resentment, bitterness, and unforgiveness
  • Seeking revenge or retribution
  • Prejudice, condescension, and any of the “isms”
  • Egocentrism, selfishness, greed, and pride
  • Withdrawing or stonewalling
  • Inattentiveness
  • Anger, out-of-control emotions
  • Fear, intimidation

Doing more of the things on list 1 above and doing less of the things on list 2 ought to warm up any relationship.   It’s worth noting that all of the “one another” passages in Scripture would fall under list 1.  The church is to be a place of warmth!

But even so, there are no guarantees things will always be warm with our family and friends.  Some things remain out of our control.   In Part 2 on this topic, I will talk about how to handle it when coldness remains in a relationship even after doing your part.

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