Finding Success in Relationships


Being single these days is not easy. The desire to find someone to love and share your life with is powerful, but it’s also fraught. At worst, we’re left brokenhearted, facing divorce and suffering emotional pain and loneliness.

Why is it so difficult in today’s society to find lasting love? Perhaps it’s because we’re constantly confronted with opportunities to find quick love, romance and sex.

I’m sure you know someone who’s found the “love” of their life, been married, seemingly to live happily ever after, only to break up and divorce within a decade. The Australian Institute of Family Studies recorded 118,756 marriages in 2008—and 47,209 divorces. It’s clear that many people want the security of a long-term relationship, but a huge majority find only pain.

I’ve asked myself on many occasions why so many of my relationships haven’t worked out. Am I to blame? Is there something I’m doing wrong? Am I destined to spend the rest of my life failing in relationships? Why doesn’t God find me someone right now?

God’s plan

The Bible has a lot to say about my dilemma. It sees marriage as a lifelong commitment, not a two-year experiment. God said, “I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16), and Jesus echoed this, saying, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning” (Matthew 19:8). God designed the marriage relationship to be for life. And that adds some weight to the issue. The question of who to share your life with is a serious one.

The Bible also makes it clear that God understands human needs. After all, He designed us and gave us the desire for companionship. Part of God’s design is, of course, sexuality, as the apostle Paul explained to the young people of the church in Corinth: “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:8, 9). God knows that, as a part of our design, we need the companionship of others and are incomplete without it.

Another aspect of our relationship needs that God takes into account is the desire for both partners to spend time together, getting to know each other. He understood it so well that in ancient times, He actually made it a law that young men could not be sent to war if they’d just married or even if they were engaged to be married.

“Has anyone become pledged to a woman and not married her? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else marry her” (Deuteronomy 20:7); and, “If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married” (Deuteronomy 24:5). God knew that when a man and woman fall in love, the most important factor leading to success in their relationship is to be together. This is still applicable today.

Finally, the Bible makes it clear that God understands how difficult a relationship can be. He didn’t design it that way, but sin has had an impact. Speaking again to the young people in Corinth, Paul said, “Those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this” (1 Corinthians 7:28).

Despite being single, Paul knew how much work a marriage was (and still is), and he wanted young people to be aware of that. The sentimental idea of living happily ever after, so common in movies today, is an illusion. The marriage relationship requires constant attention.

Spending meaningful time together as a couple

Communicating is probably the best thing you can do to help your relationship.

  • Have dinner together, or even better, make dinner together.
  • Go for a walk after dinner.
  • Go grocery shopping together.
  • Try to reduce the time spent watching TV, even if you’re doing it together.
  • Have “date nights” once every other week.
  • Do household chores together.
  • Don’t just talk. Listen.

a refining process

A helpful image the Bible uses for a relationship is the process of refining gold or silver. Put simply, refining is when a material—usually a metal—is purified by burning away the impurities.

Picture a lump of impure gold being placed in a furnace. After the impurities have been destroyed by the heat, the gold can be retrieved, shining and pure. The Bible says, “I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10). And Daniel said that “some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time” (Daniel 11:35). These verses make it clear that the process of being refined—going through difficulties and hardships—while painful, will work to our ultimate benefit.

The book of Psalms also tells us that after being refined, we will find “a place of abundance” (Psalm 66:12). It sounds like a difficult process, which is exactly how many of our relationship experiences will be. But the end result is always better, because it gives us something to look forward to on the other side of hardships.

what we need to know

We must understand two things in order to have successful, happy relationships.

1. We must know ourselves. If we are to succeed in our relationships in this modern world, we should know who we are, and what we want and don’t want. Neil Warren, author and creator of the successful online dating website eHarmony, explains in his book Date . . . or Soul Mate? that “until [people can] identify themselves in a precise and detailed way, they are in no position to identify that person who will be able to move through life with them.”

How can you find the person you are looking for when deep down inside you don’t know what you need? Spending time reflecting on who you are, exploring yourself through a journal or doing personality and relationship tests are great ways to begin to discover who you are.

2. We must understand others. Conversely, it is also vitally important to “know the enemy.” If you’re a woman, you must understand what makes men tick if you are to succeed in a relationship with one, and vice versa. It is natural for us to approach the opposite gender in ways that seem right to us but may not be for them. We need to be able to speak in ways they will understand and identify with. We practise this by talking with members of the opposite sex.

There’s also a host of books to help us learn about the objects of our desire. One of the most successful is Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, by John Gray. Gray explores how men and women can increase their successes in relationships by learning how each one operates and acting accordingly. Time invested in reading and researching in this area will pay dividends over many years, even when you are in a stable relationship.

We should also learn from lost relationships. I know that after your love interest has given the let’s-just-be-friends speech, the last thing you’re wanting is an autopsy of the relationship. The strongest urge is to dwell on the happy moments or forget the relationship ever happened. But when something goes wrong, we must analyse it to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

For example, can you identify destructive patterns in yourself or a former partner? Were things said or done that you didn’t notice at the time but that hinted at trouble ahead? Are there occasions you wish you could relive and redo or avoid in future?

This is an opportunity to learn from your mistakes and ensure that you do not make them again. Learning these lessons will lead to a better chance of success in the next relationship.

Maybe every failed relationship we have is part of the process of being “refined.” It hurts while it’s happening, but it can make us better people. We can come out of it more mature, shining like 24-carat gold. You can be content and enjoy the relationship you have now, knowing that with each new relationship, you are becoming more suited to the person God has planned for you when the time comes.

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