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10 Characteristics of Healthy Relationships

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Part of the essence of being human involves relating to other human beings. We relate to our parents, spouse, extended family, friends, church community, colleagues, acquaintances, neighbors, and those we encounter during our ordinary rhythms of life. Depending on the week, we all encounter or engage at least dozens, if not hundreds of people—and for some thousands. That’s a lot of relating going on!

I think we all know that our relationships—regardless of the kind—should be healthy. In fact, part of the creation mandate includes human beings being “fruitful and multiplying” (Genesis 1:28). Sure, part of being fruitful and multiplying involves procreation, but at the core, fruitful and multiply speaks of human beings having healthy relationships with one another. 

What constitutes a healthy relationship? 

In the first three chapters of Genesis, based on the way God relates to mankind, I observe at least ten characteristics of a healthy relationship. And I believe that, if embraced and enacted, these characteristics will lead to healthier marriages, families, staffs, small groups, churches, and communities. 

1. Work towards the good of others.

Before fashioning man from the dust of the ground, God had spent the early days of creation building out the framework and the environment that would house the humans. Before they were even brought into existence, God was working for their good. By creating a functioning environment, Adam and Eve would have everything they needed for flourishing. 

Are your actions and activities working to bring about a healthy and functionable environment for others to flourish? 

2. Breathe life into others.

After being fashioned from the dust of the ground, man lay there lifeless—devoid of breath. Yet, in his most intimate act of creation, God personally and intimately breathes into Adam the breath of life and instantly Adam became a living being. In addition, the Bible says that God “blessed” both man and woman. God’s blessing precedes his missional statement for humanity. Thus, the act of blessing is God’s way of breathing his presence, power, and purpose into man so that they might become who they were made to be and do what they were made to do. 

Are you breathing life into others? In the way you engage others, are they becoming more of who they were made to be and what they were made to do? How well do you give words of affirmation and encouragement to those you are in relationship with? 

3. Be present with others.

God creates a dwelling place, the garden of Eden, where he will dwell with humanity. Thus God will be in close proximity to his prized creation. 

How present are you with those you are in relationship with? Are you physically, emotionally, and mentally present? Do others feel as though you have time for them? When you engage, are you distracted? 

4. See (anticipate) and meet the needs of others.

One of my favorite scenes in Genesis 1 and 2 is where God sees Adam’s need before Adam sees his own need. Adam was perfectly content in his relationship with God. However, God notices it’s not good for Adam to be alone. Adam needs a companion; Adam needs community. To meet this need, God causes a deep sleep in Adam, takes one of his ribs and fashions woman. He then brings the woman, the greatest gift outside life itself, to Adam at which point Adam belts out the very first love song. 

How are you doing in anticipating the needs of those you are in relationship with? Especially in beginning year three of the global pandemic, are you anticipating the physical, emotional, mental, even financial needs of your family, staff, church body, community?

5. Celebrate the goodness of and in others.

At the conclusion of each day, we see God verbally say, “This is good.” However, at the conclusion of day six, after he fashions both man and woman in his image and likeness, he emphatically declares, “It is very good.”

How well do you celebrate others? Their accomplishments? Do you take the time to note the goodness you see in them? Good deeds they do? 

6. Communicate expectations.

God clearly communicates the expectations he has for human beings. He tells them to “be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on earth” (Genesis 1:28). Also, according to Genesis 2:15, Adam was given the responsibility “to work and keep the garden.”

Expectations typically revolve around the reception and execution of one’s role(s) and responsibilities. Years ago, I had a good friend tell me that I couldn’t get upset at people who failed to meet my expectations of them if I hadn’t clearly laid them out. 

Do you have expectations of others? How well do you communicate your expectations to your spouse, children, staff, church members?

7. Communicate healthy boundaries.

Not only did God outline clear expectations for Adam and Eve, but he also communicated clear boundaries for how they were to live in the garden. God gave much freedom to Adam (and Eve); they could eat of any tree in the garden with the exception of one—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Thus, God told them as long as they are living in his garden, breathing his air, and enjoying his creation they will respect this one boundary.  

Boundaries ultimately help to establish the rules of one’s (personal) space. However, once again, people typically don’t communicate with others their personal boundaries. Yet, they get upset with those who cross the boundaries they have never communicated. 

What are your personal boundaries? At home? Work? What are your small group boundaries? Have you shared them with those you are in relationship within those spaces? 

8. Pursue.

When Adam and Even crossed the boundary God established, sinning against him, they experienced deep shame and guilt and went into hiding. Yet, God didn’t leave them in their hiding. God pursued them—gently and graciously. 

Healthy relationships involve pursuers… initiators. In Genesis, the healthy being (God) does the pursuing. Just think, once a sinner is redeemed and reconciled to God, they become a pursuer of God. Therefore, there’s mutual pursuit by both God and man.

How do you pursue those you are in relationship with? Are you sitting around waiting on an invitation, or are you doing the inviting? 

9. Practice Forgiving and Dying.

Although there are consequences for Adam and Eve’s sin, God ultimately forgives them. He doesn’t rage at them with vengeful fury—kicking them out of the garden. He mercifully and graciously covers their nakedness with a sacrifice. In healthy relationships death occurs.

Do you practice forgiveness? In what ways are you dying for the health of your relationships? 

10. Love.

Finally, these characteristics are founded upon love. Without love, none of these characteristics would exist. Love is the fertile soil by which relationships bloom and blossom. Where there is no love, relationships will be dry and barren. 

If you find yourself struggling in a relationship, ask yourself, “Do I love him or her?” 

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Josh serves as the Co-Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center in Wheaton, IL, the Co-Regional Director of Lausanne North America, an Adjunct Faculty at Wheaton College’s Graduate School of Ministry, Mission, and Leadership, as well as a Teaching Pastor at Wheaton Bible Church in West Chicago, IL. He holds a PhD in Missiology and loves mobilizing the church to participate in God’s mission. He and his wife Joannie live in Wheaton, IL with their three kids.