How to Break Destructive Relationship Patterns

How to Break Destructive Relationship Patterns

Whitney Hopler Contributing Writer

Editor’s note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Tim Clinton and Pat Springle’s new book, Break Through: When to Give In, How to Push Back: The Moment that Changes Everything (Worthy Publishing, 2012).

Are you caught in a dysfunctional relationship with someone? Perhaps you’re letting others control you, such as by tolerating an abusive marriage or enabling a friend’s addiction because you’re afraid of losing the relationship if you speak up. Or maybe you’re trying to control others, such as by making unreasonable demands on a coworker or rescuing your children when they make mistakes rather than letting them learn from the consequences. Such “one up, one down” relationships are built on power instead of on the trust and respect that God wants people to have for each other.

The good news is that your close relationships don’t have to be painful. If you’re willing to change destructive relationship patterns in your life, God will help you break free from them and enjoy healthy relationships. Here’s how you can break destructive relationship patterns:

Get to know what true love is like. Study how Jesus related to people during His life on Earth to see what true love in action looks like: Jesus neither manipulated nor deceived people, and He never tolerated others trying to manipulate or deceive Him. Instead, Jesus spoke the truth to people and let them freely make their own choices about how to respond. Jesus valued people for who they were rather than for what they could do for Him. Make Jesus your role model for how to relate to all people in your life.

Answer God’s wake-up calls. God will often allow crises to come into your life to wake you up to the fact that one or more of your relationships is dysfunctional and needs your attention to heal. If you’re going through a crisis that’s causing heartache in your life (from a divorce to a financial collapse), ask God what He wants to teach you about your relationships through that crisis. Let your crisis draw your attention to the fact that your unhealthy relationships are actually costing you more than they’re giving you. Decide to begin the process of changing the way you relate to people so you can enjoy more peace in your life.

Repent of idolatrous relationships and choose to love God the most. Realize that any relationships in which you tie your identity to either someone else’s opinion of you or your ability to fix or rescue them reflect the fact that you’ve made that other person an idol in your life. Only God truly has the power to shape your identity or fix or rescue another person. God alone can meet your deepest relationship needs. So confess and repent of idolatry in your life, and move God to His rightful place at the center of your life as the one you love most. Invest more time and energy into nurturing your relationship with God than you do into any other relationship. When God becomes your top priority in life, all of your relationships with people will become healthier as a result. Enjoying a close relationship with God will make you sensitive to any sin (such as destructive ways of relating to others) that interferes with that relationship, and motivate you to grow closer to God every day.

Pray to break relationship strongholds of sin in your life. Ask God to help you identify specific strongholds of sin that are affecting your relationships. Then pray about each of those strongholds, confessing and renouncing the sins that relate to them and exercising your God-given authority over evil. Ask God to release you and the people you’re in relationships with from all negative spiritual forces associated with each stronghold. Thank God and receive the forgiveness He offers you. Follow God’s guidance to make appropriate restitution to any people you’ve wronged through your past sins.

Hold up mirrors of truth and love to your relationships. Evaluate the state of your relationships regularly by considering how well they do or don’t line up with biblical principles, by asking the Holy Spirit to give you wisdom regarding your relationships, and by discussing your relationships with some trusted friends who support your healing process and will speak the truth to you. Each of these practices is like holding up a mirror to relationships so you can see them more clearly from God’s perspective.

Base your identity on your relationship with God through Jesus. When your identity is rooted where it should be – in God’s love for you – you’ll gain the confidence you need to develop a more secure style of relating to others, such as boldly identifying and communicating your thoughts and feelings to them.

Choose to trust wisely. Ask God to give you the discernment you need to know when to trust people and when they’re not worthy of your trust. Decide to trust the most important people in your life to God, who has much more power than you do to help them.

Take responsibility appropriately. Pray for the wisdom to know which responsibilities are truly yours to handle, and which are not. Then take back responsibility for your own decisions from others who have inappropriately tried to control you, and set boundaries to protect yourself from taking on responsibilities that other people should be handling.

Confront people with whom you want to change your relationships. You must speak the truth to people with whom you’ve shared dysfunctional relationships, so you can work to change those relationships for the better. Don’t expect the people you confront to be happy about it; they’ll likely be upset at first and try to convince you to stop your efforts to change your relationship with them. Stay strong, however, and eventually they may learn new, healthier ways of relating to you. Prepare a written agenda for your meetings with people, and focus only on a few major issues in your relationship instead of every way you all have hurt each other. Speak calmly, listen carefully, and clarify what people say to you. Apologize for what you’ve done wrong and ask people to reflect on how they’ve wronged you and pray about what God may want them to do about it.

Pursue forgiveness. Ask the people you’ve hurt to forgive you, and follow God’s command to forgive the people who have hurt you. But keep in mind that, while forgiveness is a gift you give people, people must earn your trust back over time.

Look toward the future with hope. You can be hopeful about the future as long as you remain committed to renewing your mind with thoughts that reflect biblical truth and relating to others in healthy ways. Over time, you can fulfill more of God’s purposes for your relationships.

All in His time

This lesson can be an incredibly hard one to learn but so worth the answered prayers once understood.

Requirements of Waiting

Charles Stanley

Psalm 25:3-5

Waiting for God’s timing is neither passive nor idle–it takes discipline and commitment. I can think of four basic requirements for successful waiting.

Faith. The Lord’s ways and timing are nothing like ours (Isa. 55:8-9). From a human standpoint, He usually does things in a totally different way than we expect. But as we trust Him more, we’ll discover that His approach isn’t so strange after all. And when we live in harmony with God’s will, His timing starts to make sense.

Humility. To wait for the Lord, you must be convinced of your need for Him. Submission to His divine will requires humility–you cannot charge ahead with your own plans and at the same time be fully surrendered to God.

Patience. Are you willing to remain in your current position until you receive clear divine direction? Pausing for clarity from God does not mean that you disengage and allow circumstances to fall apart around you. Waiting upon the Lord is a deliberate decision that requires patience.

Courage. Waiting for God often takes courage, especially when there is pressure to act. If you’re not careful, you might stop listening to the Lord and follow other advice. So keep your ear attuned to the voice of Almighty God, and you won t go wrong.

Waiting upon the Lord is one of the wisest, most important decisions we make in life. And contrary to popular assumptions, it is an active endeavor that requires faith, humility, patience, and courage. When you rely upon God and wait for His timing, the various facets of life fall into place.


Henry Blackaby

There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil. (Job 1:1)

There is a tremendous sense of freedom in living a blameless life. Job was blameless. Neither Satan nor any person could accuse him of wrongdoing. Even through the most rigorous tests, Job remained above reproach.

The apostle Paul said he diligently sought to relate to others in such a way that he would never regret his actions (Acts 24:16). This desire should be ours as well. The Book of Revelation indicates that those in heaven will be blameless (Rev. 14:5). This condition does not mean they never sinned on earth, but that God forgave their sins and granted them His righteousness.

Blameless does not mean perfect. It means that in every situation you do the correct thing. If you sin against someone, you confess your sin and ask for forgiveness. If you sin against God, you repent and begin to obey Him (Prov. 28:13). Often the way you handle your sin is as important as the sin itself. When you become aware of your transgression, seek to be blameless in the way you deal with it. If you attempt to conceal your sin, deny it, justify it, or blame others for it, you make the original offense much worse.

Have you been blameless in your dealings with God and others? When you have failed to treat people as you should, have you responded with integrity as you reconciled with them? If you are to be blameless, you must do everything in your power to correct any wrongdoing and reconcile any broken relationship. There is a profound sense of peace for the one whose way is blameless!

For my kids…

Sometimes I sit down to write and my thoughts are so jumbled that the attempt to write a coherent sentence is never finished. I find myself frustrated at my lack of ability in communicating the thoughts flooding my mind that I push my laptop away ready to give up.

It is typically in those moments, when I’m flooded with frustration, that I begin searching for the answers that will calm my doubts and settle my fears.  I begin searching for that quiet place within my heart. It is a place where I discover a stillness that allows God to speak truth into my life.  In the quiet of my room, I hear His still small voice proclaim in thunderous roars the promises He had spoken over my life. For that time I am full of His confidence and I completely trust His ways. 

I’ve spent a fair amount of time writing out my thoughts  and what I want to share with my children about the God I so adore. Right now it is still a jumbled mess but today God led me to this article and the jumbled mess in my head became clear. I’m sure I’ll eventually sit down and find a way to write for my children something as inspiring as what this writer wrote but for now, I’ll meditate over her words and thank God for His amazing timing and faithfulness.

If I Could Teach My Children One Thing…

Elisabeth Corcoran

Well, there are a thousand things I would teach them. So much I still want them to know before they have to handle life on their own. And Jesus knows, I’m trying.

But I’ve watched my kids navigate a tough few days, both for totally different reasons, and if there were one thing that I would want them to know how to do above all else, it would be this:

When hurting, when life throws you a curveball, when a relationship is painful or ends, how to find comfort in Jesus, how to let God tend your soul.

The tricky thing about teaching this, is that this is one of the most elusive spiritual disciplines I’ve ever attempted to master. And I’ve been working on it for all of the twenty-six years I’ve been following him.

So I would start by telling them when your heart is broken, God promises to be even closer in ways we don’t understand. How can he be closer than he already is? I have no idea, really, but he is. He loves the brokenhearted in special and specific ways. Maybe it’s because he totally gets the feeling of being brokenhearted; I’m not sure.

I would tell them that the word of God is the key to his comfort, especially, I’ve found, the Psalms. There isn’t one emotion left uncovered in that book. David and the other writers went through it all. Bad for them, good for us. Betrayal, unfaithfulness, sinning, being sinned against, being chased, having enemies, feeling far from God, searching for him and not finding him, searching for him and finally finding him. Relational strife. Love, loss of love. Friendship, loss of friendship. Life, loss of life. You name it, it’s in there.

I would then tell them that there is a voice that whispers amazing things to you, especially when you’re hurting, but it comes after time and time and time in God’s word, learning what he would say to you, discerning his voice from yours, discerning his voice from the enemy. (As my dear friend Charlotte once told me, “If {the words you’re hearing} are being said with condemnation, that’s not the voice of Jesus”). It’s the Spirit of God bringing Scripture to your mind, perhaps even words you don’t remember ever reading, let alone memorizing. And it’s the Spirit of God speaking distinct and intimate things to your heart, things that only God could know would mean something to you.

And then I would tell them that it’s a different kind of comfort from the human kind, to not let that surprise them or mystify them or discourage them. There are no human arms holding you when you are in the embrace of God. He doesn’t magically and physically appear. There aren’t gentle eyes looking back at you. There aren’t hands to wipe away the tears. It’s different, but it’s just as real. It’s different but it can heal, even more than human comfort.

When you let it. And I would say when you let it because there is a surrendering that comes when you go to God for something, especially when you go to him to have him put the pieces back together. It’s an admission that you can’t do it on your own. It’s an admission that you believe in an invisible God, that you believe he is good, that you believe he is loving. And it’s an admission that the comforts of this world fall short – even the gentlest words and hugs and touches from mothers and friends – they can only do so much. When you come to God for comfort, you are in essence saying, you are it for me. You are my only true hope of feeling better, getting better, healing up from this. You are it.

There is so much more to this. So much more I haven’t even learned or experienced on my own. But I would tell them that I have known the comfort of God when no one or nothing else could comfort me, that it is a true thing, that it is something they can have and own for themselves. And that once they do, they’ll be changed, and they’ll be healed, and they will know it to be true.

I am trusting You to save me

But I will call on God,
and the LORD will rescue me. Morning, noon, and night
I cry out in my distress,
and the LORD hears my voice. He ransoms me and keeps me safe
from the battle waged against me,
though many still oppose me. God, who has ruled forever,
will hear me and humble them.
For my enemies refuse to change their ways;
they do not fear God. As for my companion, he betrayed his friends;
he broke his promises. His words are as smooth as butter,
but in his heart is war.
His words are as soothing as lotion,
but underneath are daggers! Give your burdens to the LORD,
and he will take care of you.
He will not permit the godly to slip and fall. But you, O God, will send the wicked
down to the pit of destruction.
Murderers and liars will die young,
but I am trusting you to save me.

Psalms 55:16-23

No Hiding

People may be pure in their own eyes,
    but the Lord examines their motives.
Commit your actions to the Lord,
    and your plans will succeed.
Proverbs 16:2-3

Take it off! Take it all off.  Get rid of your mask! It does not disguise you. You cannot hide.  No matter what mask you choose, you cannot hide.  You can deceive people.  You can trick them into believing you are something that you are not but in the end, you CANNOT hide who you truly are from God.

I used to find that truth to be scary.  The thoughts of nothing being hidden from God.  The God of the Universe knowing my every intimate detail.  My every thought.  My every need.  My every desire.  My every hurt.  My every pain.  Then I asked the question.  Why would I not want the God who created me to know my innermost thoughts, desires and needs?  What I realized is that humans in our finite thinking cannot see past our own noses.  We have no idea what another individual is dealing with and so we make judgment calls based on the things that only our eyes can see and our ears can hear.  I have learned that many things in this life can be deceiving.  People are not who we often think they are and leave us broken hearted and disappointed.  Our eyes and ears trick our minds into believing things that are truly not real.  This is not the case with God.  God sees into our heart.  He knows who we really are and what road we have traveled.  He looks at us through total knowledge of all things. 

Knowing that God knows me completely is no longer scary.  I recognize it as a blessing now and am reaping the many benefits of living a life that allows Him all access to area of my life.  I now have the ability to walk in His truth and trust Him in every circumstance.  My life is being used because is it being driven by the only One with the ability to take the reins and lead me in the right direction. The commitment of trusting His hand in all things, leads to a path of restoration, healing and freedom.  Do not be afraid to let go and allow God into the innermost places of your life.  Trust His promises completely.  He will never fail you. He is the only One who knows your past, your present and your future.


What Comes out of Your Mouth?

-Henry Blackaby

“But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.” (Matthew 15:18)

The Bible stresses that what you say is an accurate indicator of what is in your heart. If your words bless and encourage others, they give evidence of a compassionate heart. If you often share the good news about Christ, you demonstrate a heart that is grateful for your own salvation. When others are in a crisis, do they know they will find peace and comfort in your words? Do you frequently and spontaneously offer prayers for others? Do your words and the manner in which you say them reveal a patient heart? All of these behaviors indicate a heart that is like the heart of the Father.

Or do you often regret your words? Are there people even now who are hurt or angry because of something you have said? Do you enjoy gossip? Do you tend to criticize others? Do you feel that you are not responsible for what comes out of your mouth when you are angry? Does your mouth spew grumbling and complaints? These behaviors come from a heart that is unlike God’s heart.

You may say, “Oh, but that’s just the way I am! I’m always saying the wrong thing!” Yet Scripture clearly states that an abusive tongue is not under the control of the Spirit (James 3:3–l0). A sanctified mouth is a wonderful instrument for the Lord. A heart like the Father’s heart will produce only pure and loving words. Without making any excuses for your words, ask the Holy Spirit to forgive you for any words that have brought harm. Then ask Him to discipline your mouth so that every word you speak is used by God to encourage and edify others.

Wait patiently

What sorrow for those who say
    that evil is good and good is evil,
that dark is light and light is dark,
    that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.

Isaiah 5:20

“He (she) who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he (she) who helps to perpetuate it. He (she) who accepts evil without protesting against it is really co-operating with it.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

Take a step back.  Take a deep breath.  Refocus.  Breathe again.  What do you see?  A picture that started out blurry and unrecognizable is becoming clear.  The colors no longer smudged together become defined shapes and images that create a magnificent work of art.  The shapes make sense as the story jumps off the canvas at the realization that God was there and at work the entire time.

I cannot divulge all the details of my story now.  One day, God will present me the opportunity to share the amazing story of how He intervened in my life and saved the day.  One day I will have the opportunity to share the great testimony of my God and His Word that never fails or returns void.  The day will come when I will be able to share how God made the way for me and that everything ended up ok but for now, I have been silenced.  I may be unable to share the details of the immense works done by my Heavenly Father but I do have the ability to share God’s great faithfulness to His promises. 

Evil and injustice constantly have the upper hand in this world leaving those who attempt to do right feeling defeated and discouraged.  Left wondering just when and if God will step in and save the day, He faithfully makes His presence known.  It is incredible as I sit and map out the events of my life over the past few years.  Each time I believed I was defeated was only a moment when God increased my faith in Him.  Each time I wanted to give up was only a moment when God grabbed a hold of me tighter and would not let go as He confirmed to me that His plan is so much greater than my finite eyes can see. The realization that moments of defeat were created by moments of choosing to do right that turned into moments in which my faith increased as I recognized Him as my only source of hope and trust. There were moments of going against the grain of what the world would have me do and choosing to be obedient to God.  Those moments left me feeling hopeless, as if I had lost but God’s truth penetrated my heart leaving it full of confidence and peace. As each day progresses and I experience the many blessings of my faithful God, I realize that not all is lost. 

I revisit the story of Habakkuk and a specific verse that says,
This vision for a future time.
It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled.
It is seems slow in coming,
wait patiently,
for it will surely take place,
It will not be delayed.
Habakkuk 2:3
Waiting for God to save the day has been a slow process from my perspective.  I have waited and waited and may wait much longer but I trust His promises.  He tells me that justice will take place.  His plan will be unveiled in His appointed time.  Though I may feel there has been a delay, once the outcome reveals itself, I will see with my eyes as will the world that it in fact was the perfect time.  It was His time.  I will witness a work done that only His mighty hand can accomplish. He will have every moment of glory and all praise will go to Him alone. I wait with enormous anticipation for this moment. I wait for the moment in which the world around me witnesses the majesty and awesomeness of the God I follow and adore.  The day is coming.  On which side will you be standing?


When friends betray us

When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not our home
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise -Laura Story, Blessings

I first heard the song Blessings over a year ago when my mom had me listen to it. (If you have never heard this song, I recommend clicking on the heart at the bottom of this post.) I sat broken hearted, crying as I absorbed each word.  The words screamed out that this is my life.  I identified with every line. The hurt and the loneliness were too much but I listened anyway. I soaked up every word and allowed God to record each of my tears into His jar marked with my name.  I gave my broken heart to Him.
Recently, I chose to listen to this song after a year of purposely staying away. As I listened to the words, I was reminded all over more of the enormous hurting I experienced. I reread the words of the song. As each word filled my lips, I revisited every moment of heartache over the past few years and reflected on exactly how far God brought me.  No one ever knows what it is like to walk in another person’s shoes.  No two people ever experience the same kind of pain but pain is pain nonetheless.  I am learning to be thankful for my pain.  I am learning that every moment of pain I experienced was God doing a work within my life in some form or another.  Each moment of loneliness was a reminder that He is the only Living Water that can quench my thirst. Each moment of pain was a reminder that He is the only source of healing for my broken heart. Each moment of defeat was a reminder that there is something out there so much greater than I am and He DOES have a purpose for my life.  What a blessing that I can cling His truth, His promises and hold out hope that through every heartache and storm, His mercies are new every morning though they might just be in disguise. 


We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering

All the while,
You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness,
We doubt your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough

All the while,
You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not our home
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

Follow Me!

Follow?  What does it mean to follow Jesus?  Sometimes I forget just how simple and sinful the men were whom Jesus asked to follow Him.  I live a stone’s throw from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  When I moved to this area ten years ago, all of the seminary students that surrounded me intimidated me.  I felt inferior to them in every way.  They sat in front of Bible scholars and professors while their minds were filled daily with extraordinary theology.  They definitely knew more than I did.  They definitely had to know God more intimately.
Is it not crazy the way in which our mind works?  Those thoughts could not have been further from the truth.  Yes, they are getting an education but they are not establishing a direct line to God that I cannot have myself.  Though it may feel that way at times, the truth of the matter is that Jesus did not call the great theologians of His time to follow Him.  He called the simple and sinful men to be “fishers of men”.  What a revelation.
Following Jesus means realizing who He is and being willing to trust Him enough to let go of everything else we know to be true. It is choosing to follow Him. It is recognizing that by choosing to follow Him is a true commitment to pursue His destiny for our lives instead of the destiny that we have planned in our heads.  To follow Him is a radical commitment and when we make that choice, it will forever change the way we see the world and the way in which we live out our life.