When should I leave?

I've been reading for these talks on friendship coming up, and one book that has been great is Safe People by Cloud and Townsend, the 'boundaries boys' as I call them.

The book is all about how to choose friends with good character, and how to be a friend with good character. But even if it only contained its last chapter, entitled 'Repair or Replace?' it would be a book well worth reading.

These days it's just so easy to leave a relationship, whether it's with a friend or significant other, or a marriage partner. Cloud and Townsend ask the important question of when it is appropriate to try to repair the relationship - or replace it with a new one.

They believe that God’s own example of how to reconcile relationships should instruct ours, and list these six steps on how to act in a broken relationship.

1. Start from a loved position. In other words, get support for yourself from a loving group of Christians. This gives you the support and love you need to be strong.

2. Act righteously and change yourself first. We need to remove logs from our own eyes before we take out specks in the eyes of others.

3. Use others to help. Maybe get counselling, intervention.

4. Accept the reality that the person may not be the person you want them to be. Forgive them for that and grieve your expectations. Ephesians 4:32 says “Be kind and compassionate, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.” You need to work out if people are bad... or just different from you. Appreciate their uniqueness and enjoy them.

5. Give change a chance. “To say that you now have boundaries and then leave, is not to have boundaries at all.” The real test of our character is to do the difficult things while in the difficult relationship, not to leave it. It takes a lot of courage and character to deal with a difficult person in the right way. We can only know that we have done the right thing and that we truly have character when we have been tested in the fire of relationship.”

6. Be long-suffering. Exodus 34:6-7 shows God as slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. God is not someone who gives up on relationship easily. How long is too long? They say that only you and God know. But it is usually longer than we think. It is past the point of pain, or revenge, or despair, as God gives us the supernatural ability to love and keep seeking an answer. That is what he did for us, and that is what he calls us to do.

When is separation an option? The sad truth is some relationships are not workable if one party is not willing to change and reconcile, and separation may have to come into play at some point.

However, this may not necessarily be a permanent separation. Even after separating, we must be open to the person’s later repentance and accept them back if they have truly changed. (Luke 17:3-4)

Putting the steps into the opposite perspective, they write that you are not ready to replace a significant relationship if:

  • You are trying to resolve it alone, without the help of others
  • If there are ways you are contributing to the problem
  • If you have not accepted the person, forgiven and grieved what you wanted them to be
  • You have not used new skills and behaviours in the relationship, responding righteously
  • You have not given change a chance
  • You have not been long-suffering.

“Relationships are the most important aspect of the spiritual life. In fact, they are the spiritual life, as God defines it. To love God and love your neighbour as the main requirements of the Law.”

With apologies for the lack of original thought in this post. And if anyone wants to get at me for copyright reasons, please take into account that I think this book is so good that I can only be encouraging other people to buy it and read it for themselves!