Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Trinity & Triangles: Part II

I do not enjoy conflict. I can be "affliative" to a fault. But I'm learning the perils associated with glossing over problems and pretending they don’t exist. I was reminded of this tendency recently when I heard about a man who finally went to see a doctor after a year of denial about the mole on his body that was growing and growing. By the time he made it to the doctor, what had begun as a small growth was a large and festering malignant melanoma. This is a worst-case scenario involving denial and its affects on physical health. But the tendency to run from problems affects emotional health, as well.

We looked at the problem of "triangulation" among friends a couple days ago. Not every relationship is healthy or salvageable and when our conscience dictates that we need to shake off the dust from relations that are harmful to us personally or to our marriages or family, we must be free to do this. But when a redeemable relationship falls apart over a misunderstanding or miscommunication, healthy confrontation done in the spirit of reconciliation (versus triangulation) is in order.

How To De-Triangulate

For All:

1. See it for what it is. Look for unhealthy “structure” in your relationship with others. Draw a triangle on a piece of paper with sides for “victim,” “savior,” or “persecutor?” Which one are you? Pray for resolution!

Help for "Victim"

1. Are you “clinging” to someone? Perhaps it’s time to cut the strings and shift your reliance to Christ. In doing so, you will free not only yourself but those around you.

2. Are you venting to “Suzy” about “Paula?” Ask the question: “Would I be saying these things if Paula were here?” If you wouldn’t, you shouldn’t be telling Suzy!

3. If you find yourself complaining about “Paula” to “Suzy,” you should carefully deconstruct the conversation to get a better sense of what it is about Paula that’s really bothering you. Go deep. (“She’s always late!” can be boiled down further to “When she doesn’t show up on time, it’s as if I’m not as important to her as whatever else she has going on. She doesn’t seem to respect me or my time.”)

4. Then go to Paula in love. Tell her you want to fix what’s broken. Avoid accusatory language that will fan the flames (Say: “It’s my sense that when I have something important to share with you that your mind is somewhere else.” Don’t say: “You are so insensitive! You never listen to what I’m saying! I can’t stand that about you!”)

Help for "Savior"

1. Are you letting “Suzy” vent about “Paula” behind her back? Recognize that you are an unhealthy side to the triangle and you need to opt out! Tell Suzy you love her, but she needs to take her case directly to Paula. By all means, recommend counseling if you sense reconciliation between Suzy and Paula is important but unlikely to occur naturally. Contact Focus on the Family (1-800-Afamily) for a free list of Christian counselors in your area.

Help for "Persecutor"

1. Do you sense that you dominate someone? Are you in control and always dispensing advice or calling the shots? Is there a lack of equality or give and take in your relationship? Have you invaded space and over-stepped boundaries? Or have you encouraged unhealthy reliance by allowing someone to “cling” to you? Is what you say and do in your best interest or hers?

2. Scrutinize your words and actions. If you determine that you’ve offended someone by crashing through boundaries (or allowing someone to “cling”), trying to exert control, or failing to be considerate about her needs, let her know you now see the problem. Apologize and determinedly try and right what’s wrong. Stop talking and start listening. Determine whether it’s space she needs or, in fact, more of you in a caring, genuine and selfless manner. Think first in terms of her needs versus your own and let your actions be guided accordingly. Always point the one who “clings” to Christ--not you--as the ultimate redeemer.

Help for All:

1. Depending upon the importance of the relationship, a mediator can be brought into the dialogue (e.g., Christian counselor). This is a healthy role for a third-party “savior.” Relationship counseling isn’t just for marriages. Other family relations and even friendships can be saved in the counseling setting.

2. True friends go the distance for one another. But sometimes we need to ask ourselves: “Am I a high-maintenance friend?” If so, consider steps you might take to move into the “low-maintenance” realm. What is a “low-maintenance” friend? These are friends who don’t hold periods of distance or separation against you. People with whom you can pick-up after some lapse of time right where you left off. People who are forgiving of phone calls that aren’t returned immediately or “thank-you” notes that come late or other types of expectations that build up feelings of “pressure” or “guilt.” A low-maintenance friend doesn’t need the constant reassurance that you’re still friends by superficial reinforcements. She trusts in the strength of the friendship and is happy that you both have a life and other interests outside of your relationship.

3. Guard the tongue. Our mouths can get us into trouble. Gossip is an easy, breezy little sport for most of us. We slip in and out of it with the greatest of ease. But careless words can create indelible scars. Beware of “discussing” close friends with one another. It’s helpful to get into the habit of asking yourself the question: “Would I be saying this if Mary was standing right here?

4. Don’t take it personally! If your friends are slow to respond on occasion or off on a life adventure, don’t regard this as a threat to your relationship. View it as a good opportunity for the other person and look forward to reconvening at a later date to talk about it! Those of you who have children know how important it is to occasionally have a babysitter for a break from the kids. Even spouses occasionally need to go off and do their own thing. In the context of friendships, healthy space is similarly important. It can rejuvenate a friendship that’s feeling under “pressure” or “crowded.”

5. Most importantly, abide in Christ!

Back to Trinity

The model of Trinity gives us a glimpse at a perfect relationship defined by a pure form of love. Look no further than the loving engagement of Father, Son and Spirit in the ministry of Christ. As fallen human beings, we are a far cry from this state of perfection. Yet it serves as our model. There’s a selflessness and pure devotion that characterizes Trinity. Three volitions enveloped and wedded in love.

Questions to ponder: Am I acting in love? What are my motivations in this relationship? Do I have her best interest at heart? Or am I mostly concerned about my own?

(Triangle pic by atconc; see http://www.flickr.com/photos/atc/107159589/ for restrictions.)

On My I-Pod... Higher by Creed

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