Brokenness | Top 16 Ways It May Be Impacting Your Relationship
by Wyatt Fisher, Psy.D. & Michelle Graham
What is brokenness?
Brokenness is the flawed condition of humanity that creates a propensity for people to hurt themselves and others.
One of the facts of being human is that we don’t always get things right. Romans 3:10 says that not one of us is righteous. That’s a pretty heavy accusation, but the sad part is that it’s true. We all mess up. Even when we have the best of intentions, things can still be irreparably torn to pieces. Paul had a great way of talking about this phenomenon. Romans 7:15 says that he didn’t even understand himself – he wanted to do what was right, but he didn’t. He still did the things he hated. The ways our sinful nature pops up can make a mess of healthy, God-honoring relationships. If it’s so regular and everyone deals with it, how are we supposed to break free from the things that hold us back? Just as with any other problem, the best thing to do is start by recognizing when our flesh is getting in the way. We must learn to spot it, own it, confess it, and grow from it. To aid you in this process, we’ve compiled a list of the top 16 ways brokenness may be infiltrating your relationships:
When people say that acceptance is the first step to recovery, they aren’t wrong. If we can’t admit that we’ve screwed up, we’ll never change for the better. Instead of getting defensive and claiming innocence, we need to step up and claim our mistakes. Be mature enough to know when problems in a relationship are because of you. Every single issue that comes up can’t possibly be the fault of one person – relationships are two-way streets, and that means, inevitably, that both people will make mistakes from time to time. However, be sure you’re regularly taking ownership for your part of the tension rather than getting defensive and blaming everyone and everything else instead.
If someone has indeed wronged you, talking to them about it is the best first step. Giving someone the cold shoulder just worsens the situation. It’s a move that middle schoolers use on their friends, not adults in loving relationships. Some significant others think the silent treatment is the way to go, but stonewalling like that usually leads to more pain than it’s worth. Silence might be golden, but using it as a punishment in a relationship can feel like being tossed into the inferno without cause. Grow up and communicate what you are feeling.
One of the ways people try to pry attention away from their mistakes is to point out the faults in others. Every person in the world has flaws – we wouldn’t be human without them – but nagging at issues we personally find annoying is never a constructive way to enact change. In fact, it often works against us by enlivening a sense of stubbornness; if a person keeps telling us to change, we tend to resist, ignore, and stubbornly refuse to consider changing. Don’t be critical, be humble about your own issues and provide a safe place to work on problems together while intentionally looking for the strengths in your spouse instead.
There is a huge difference between dry humor used for laughs and negative sarcasm used to attack people. Contempt that leads to name-calling and being harangued builds walls between couples and tears away trust and respect. Degrading someone gives the impression that even if they did do what was right in your eyes, it still wouldn’t be enough. Instead, find positive ways to tell your significant other when they’ve done something to upset you. Comments in a loving tone will always go further than anything said in rudeness or sarcasm.
5 Negative Assumptions
Trust is one of the foundational cornerstones of a healthy relationship. If we can’t trust our significant other, the whole relationship should come into question. Not everyone has earned perfect trust, but most also don’t deserve to have their motives questioned around every corner. Besides, no one wants to spend half of their time explaining why they did or didn’t do something. After a while, you just want the person you love to trust you and take you at your word. Give your significant other the benefit of the doubt and trust them with big and little things.
6 Invalidating Opinions
We all know this person – the only one who is ever allowed to be right. Anyone who disagrees with them is stupid or foolish. It’s almost as bad as not being allowed to have an opinion at all. Having this type of person as a significant other can be a harrowing experience. Discussion is a natural element of day-to-day conversation, but if the other person isn’t allowed to have an opinion, things can only go downhill. As a teammate, it’s important to build one another up instead of invalidating the other person’s thoughts and feelings.
7 Escalating Vengeance
There isn’t much satisfaction in the revenge business, and retaliating after a fight is never the right way to go. It might feel natural to lash out at things that have hurt us or made us angry, but it’s not how God wants things to be. Romantic relationships wither when arguments escalate into retaliation. Why would anyone want to take revenge when it could ultimately lead to an ever-worsening cycle of hurt? A couple in a healthy relationship doesn’t feel the need to get back at one another for disagreeing or for being angry with one another.
Sin is incredibly selfish. But when we are more concerned with how we feel and what we need over the needs and desires of everyone else around us, we lose sight of what’s most important. Our sinful nature is always trying to get us to look out only for ourselves. Being selfish and putting your needs or wants first is a great way to end up alone.It’s important to take care of yourself and get what you need, but it’s even more important to pour a little of yourself into your better half. Take a clue from Jesus and don’t think about yourself 90% of the time – it could lead to breakthroughs.
A common complaint in couple’s arguments is that the other person doesn’t even try. They don’t try to understand, be nice, or even make dinner. Are you doing everything you can to actually grow closer to one another? Are you sensitively responding to the needs and concerns of your partner or are you dismissing and ignoring them? Putting forth a weak effort to be helpful or considerate is a sure way to degrade your relationship. Don’t let sin make you complacent, be sensitive to your spouse’s needs and respond to them!
10 Keeping Score
Keeping score is for games and tournaments, not relationships. The instant someone starts a tally for who does how much and which one is a slacker, resentment blooms. It’s not necessarily bad to know when good things happen, but comparing them to the bad isn’t healthy. This especially turns ugly when one half of the relationship is determined to see who serves more than the other. It can turn into statements like, “You never ___ any more” and “I do so much more than you.” Stop keeping score – the point of the relationship is for both people to win, and by racking up the points in “good” things we do, we lose the very relationship we think we’re fighting for. Moreover, no one likes to see their mistakes waved in their faces. More than anything, we’d like to move away from them or, even better, act as though they never happened. But when your significant other keeps track of them in their memory like a hard drive back-up, it feels like a losing battle. As long as faults and past mistakes are brought up repeatedly, healing is impossible. Forgiveness goes much further as a motivator than derision. Don’t keep track of wrongs and especially don’t use those hurts to punish your spouse.
11 Poor Listening
A bad listener is one of the most frustrating people to be around. They’re the sort that asks you how your day was or what you’ve been doing lately, and two seconds after you begin to answer they switch topics. Being married to or dating a person like this can be very trying. Everything you say seems to trigger a self-centered story about them, and you can never get a word in edgewise. It’s important to listen to others and actually retain what they think about things important to them. Be sure to respond to your spouse with a comment or question every time they speak to show you care and are interested in what they are saying.
12 Being Judgmental
Judgment is a messy business, and no one likes to stick around someone who’s judgmental. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect rather than feel like their every move is being condemmed. Unfortunately, some people start believing their partner is inferior to them and they develop a superiority complex. Like Romans says, none of us is truly righteous. Stop judging your partner. Replace your haughty spirit with humility and grace to help your relationship bloom!
13 Money for Me
Having a double income is a great way to save money for fun trips and splurges. It’s a great feeling to spend money on things you love, and it can feel even better to surprise the person you love with something exciting. However, some couples really struggle becoming one financially by dismissing their spouse’s thoughts and feelings about finances. Not compromising with your partner’s values on finances can create a significant wedge in the relationship. Learn to work as a team financially where all money is combined and negotiated with how it is saved and spent.
14 Not sharing power
Some spouses really struggle sharing power with their mate. This person is usually strong willed and used to getting their way or calling the shots. Unfortunately, living on the other side of this type of person quickly makes you feel powerless and voiceless. Strong willed partners must learn the importance of sharing power and compromise. Part of building a successful relationship is learning the art of negotiation where both parties give and take in order to meet in the middle.
People tell lies for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it’s to save face after a big mixup, or to convince someone to do something for us. Regardless of the motive, lying has no place in romantic relationships. It tears people apart, breaks bonds of trust, and inevitably causes hurt. In the moment it may feel like a lie is saving your life or making things easier, but in the end it will most likely bite you in the backside. A person who tells white lies or half-truths can’t be trusted, just as someone who pathologically tells whoppers can’t be relied upon. Avoid lies, even “small” ones, like the plague. Sure, it might cause some discomfort to own up to your mistakes right away, but after some practice it’ll lead to a healthier relationship.
Attractive people are everywhere. They’re on magazine covers, on the big screen, and walking the streets. It’s hard to avoid looking at them, but it’s completely possible to look at them appropriately. Lust is often a matter of no self-control. Those who have self-control can escape lust’s temptation and stay faithful to the one they love – both in body and in mind. Don’t let “I was just looking” fool you into thinking that “just looking” is harmless. It can cause damage that goes deep into the self-esteem of the other person, eroding trust and causing deep hurt. After all, Jesus said “….that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28, NIV). Practice purity in public and online to honor God and your spouse.
One of the best ways to combat your brokenness is by reading the Bible. God’s Word reveals our sin, not so He can prove there is yet something else wrong with us, but so He can help us heal by pulling us free from the things that entangle us. No one can ever be truly exempt from all of the ways sin can get in the way. Most of us bend toward them, even when we don’t want to. It’s simply a fact of life. Paul’s struggle wasn’t just for Bible times – it’s the human condition. Even back in Psalms 14, the psalmist exclaims that everyone is corrupt and that no good people are left (verse 3). The only way to beat sin is to recognize where you struggle, just like Paul did. Search out what sins you fight against in your romantic relationship, own it, and confess what you’re doing to your partner. Forging this humility-oriented heart and open communication will bring you closer to one another and create a safe environment for sharing and growing together as He intends.
For more incredible resources on improving your marriage go to Growthtrac: Build a Better Marriage
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What areas of brokenness do you feel impacts relationships the most and why?
Wyatt Fisher, Psy.D. is a psychologist and faculty member at Liberty University. His blog can be found at /relationship/
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