A Problem-Based Relationship

There’s a ubiquitous problem that occurs in relationships. It’s most obvious in marriages, but if one looks closely, you can see it in so many other kinds of relationships.

It’s a subtle problem; it creeps up on you before you realize it.

The problem is manifested in our communication. For many of us, our relationships are based on problem-solving. Think about what you talk about among your co-workers the most: solving problems. Most of us spend most of the day at work solving problems. Be productive! That’s our goal. (I even often hear people ask for God to "help them be productive.") And to be productive, most of our conversations are about solving problems.

This habit at work surreptitiously spills over into other relationships. Before we know it, spouses spend an enormous amount of their communication problem-solving. “What’s for dinner?” “Did you fix that leak?” “Have you called your parents lately?” “Who will pick up our kids from school?” “Can you take her to the Doctor’s appointment?” “How am I supposed to deal with that awful boss or co-worker?” “Why don’t you ever take me out anymore?” And on and on . . .

Before we know it, we've spent most of our emotional energy discussing problems to be solved. Of course, having a helper in a spouse or family member is special and sweet.

The problem is, if we talk about problems even 51% of the time, then we have a relationship built on problems. And there is no way that intimacy can be built when we’re in problem-solving mode. This is especially true if your spouse is the problem in your mind!

For those of you who know Transactional Analysis, the Adult Ego state deals with problem solving. Well, good for you. But, the Adult Ego state can’t have intimacy. That’s for the Child Ego state. The Child enjoys passion, feels delight, and shrinks in terror. The Child experiences true vulnerability.

You will never be intimate with a person if you stay in your Adult Ego state all the time or even most of the time. It can’t happen. It won’t happen.

You might stay in the Adult Ego state because you’re scared to be in the Child Ego state. You’re afraid of feeling a suppressed pain or anger. If you can just keep it about the facts or the problems, then you won’t have to be vulnerable. It’s safe. It’s predictable.

And it’s miserable.

True intimacy means that you open yourself up to the potential of being hurt. It also means that you open yourself up to being completely loved and cherished just as you are.

For many couples, if you take away the problems, then you have nothing left in the relationship. This happens every single Fall when parents say goodbye to their college freshman. So many parents base their relationship with the spouse on their children’s lives. They go back into a quiet, “empty” house and it’s terrifying. “Now I have to face that spouse with just myself. What in the world will we talk about? I sure hope we don’t have to talk about my grief and pain; it’s just too much to deal with right now. I know . . . I’ll just keep talking about activities. I’ll keep calling my son or daughter at school and keep that the chief topic of conversation. Yeah, that’s safe.” Many couples get divorced around high school graduation because of this common problem.

For other couples, taking away the problems in their relationship is too scary because if they were to be healed, they wouldn't know if the relationship would last. “At least he’s yelling at me. If the fighting stops, I don’t think he’d even acknowledge I’m here. It’s all I've known for so long.”

Relationships were designed to be so much more than problem-solving.

Of course, and perhaps you knew this was coming, we do the same thing with God.  If you were to write down your prayers or internal dialogue toward God, how much of it would be about problems?

If you find that you are fervent in prayer and devout in reading Scripture when things are bad, but trail off when things are going fine, then you have a “problem relationship” with God. If God only, or chiefly, hears from you when you need some problem solved, then you only need God when He can do something for you. You are one of those persons who seeks God’s hands and not His face. You are much more interested in what He can do for you or give you, rather than interested in having a loving relationship with Him just because He’s God and you are His creature. And that’s what creatures do with their Creator: have loving relationship.

How many of your relationships on earth are problem-based? Why?

Is your relationship with God problem-based? Why?

The answers to these questions will reveal a whole lot about the kind of person you are.