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7 ways to pursue relational health

7 ways to pursue relational health

By: Livia Ungurean with Paul Johns, professor of human development and family science

a couple holding hands

Just over 10 years ago, Paul Johns, assistant professor of human development and family science, was approached by students to ask about marriage preparation. He asked Eldon Frey—then the campus pastor—if there were any programs on Messiah College’s campus that would help students prepare for marriage.

Soon after, Johns launched the “Are you serious?!” conference, a couples retreat for intentionally dating and engaged individuals. It is a place to learn more about healthy relationships, develop relationship skills individually and as a couple, and make informed decisions about the future of the relationship. The program is designed to help couples master their own relationship destiny and pursue relational health.

Professor Johns emphasized the importance of understanding that, when considering marriage, it is important to know that you commit to who your spouse is now and all of the changes he or she may face in the future.

After the 10th annual retreat this past April, Johns shares exclusive conference content.

Here are seven action points to help pursue relational health:

  1. Seek the beauty. Begin to see the “beauty” in your partner as a reflection of God’s beauty. Praise God for His beauty and the small glimpse of it that He has given to you in your partner. Then make sure that you tell your partner when you see beauty in him or her (every day!).

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” 1 Peter 3:3-4

  1. Turn to the Lord. Do not look to your partner to fulfill your deepest needs and desires. When you feel empty, unfulfilled or unappreciated, turn to the Lord for your fulfillment and then rejoice in the companionship and intimacy that you have the privilege of sharing with your partner.

“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

  1. Do not idolize. Do not make your partner, your relationship or your marriage into an idol. Give thanks to God daily for the precious gift your partner is to you. When we worship the Creator rather than created things, we see more clearly the value in his creation.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33

  1. Seek your partner’s needs before your own. Do not ignore your partner’s needs. Study them and seek to fulfill them, not out of coercion but out of love (a very precious gift).

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4

  1. Turn toward your partner, and not away. When stress from inside or outside of the relationship hits, turn toward your partner. Being physically, mentally and emotionally available, as well as responsive and vulnerable, allows deeper intimacy to develop.  Allow the Holy Spirit to produce the fruit that leads to unity.

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-3

  1. Watch your anger and your tongue. We often lash out in anger when our expectations are not being fulfilled. Take note of the irony in the fact that we get angry at and lash out at the very one we say we love and desire (our most explosive anger is often in defense of a fragile core self, a self that we desperately need our partner to validate.)

“…Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19-20

  1. Stay focused. Be on guard, knowing that our vision and judgment is least trustworthy when we take our eyes off the source of beauty and truth. If we make our choices based on what we see and experience in this world—without  putting it in perspective with God’s Word--we are deceived, frustrated and most prone to the destructive forces of sin in this world.

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18

Consider taking time to practice each point in your daily life and reflect on scripture as a reminder to strive towards the love of Christ. It is often easier to compare relationships to the standard of the world, leading to selfish, unrealistic standards and unfulfilling expectations. Fix your eyes on Him, and allow the Spirit to maintain unity with your partner through humility, gentleness, patience and the greatest of all: love.

To learn more about the "Are you serious?!" conference or more human development and family science events please visit www.messiah.edu/info/20402/about_us/504/department_events_calendar!