High-quality relationships never come about by accident.
Strong friendships and families are built intentionally. The best relationships must have a solid foundation in order to survive times of strain and testing. Here are five practical exercises we can apply to strengthen our relationships.
1) Compliment freely!
Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” According to Dictionary.com, the word “corrupt” can be used to define something that is “infected”1 or “tainted”1.
In our society, we are quick to speak words that are “infected” with condemnation or “tainted” with harsh criticism. We don’t think twice about criticizing but are painfully slow with compliments. Some people try to build themselves up by tearing others down, but this approach only damages both parties. Finding the good in someone else is actually a sign of humility because it forces us to acknowledge that we aren’t the only talented individuals on planet earth.
You don’t have to hand out compliments right and left, but when you notice a positive feature about someone, tell them! You will have to give constructive criticism at times, but as a part of that critique you can mention something positive about the person or their actions.
2) Challenge one another in love.
Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”
Friendships are supposed to help us grow. We can encourage each other in our pursuits, and gently correct when we notice something that is damaging our friend. Relationships not only give us joy, they also make us face our struggles and weak spots. The best kind of friend will not leave us to face our struggles alone, but will rather link arms with us and walk with us.
Just as iron sharpening iron, sparks may fly in our relationships, but that is not always a bad thing. Conflicts resulting from corrections may hurt, but sometimes a little bit of pain forces us to change. In our relationships, we always must remember to correct and challenge with love. In their discussion of Proverbs 27:17, Jason and David Benham wrote, “if these clashes are motivated by love, then we should embrace them, not avoid them.” (Living Among Lions, page 182)
3) Celebrate one another’s victories.
Did your friend pass their driving test? Or perhaps they baked a batch of cookies that weren’t burnt to a crisp? Maybe they can’t stop smiling because their cousin just had a new baby. Whatever the joyous occasion, partake in the celebration! As Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice”!
You may not understand how momentous this occasion is, but to your friend, it could be life changing. Besides, when something exciting happens to you, you will want your friends to be eager to celebrate alongside you.
4) Stay for the struggle.
The second half of Romans 12:15 says, “weep with those who weep.” Many people stick around for the party but quickly diminish when the going gets tough. This reminds me of the Prodigal Son. His friends stuck around as long as he had money, but once the money was spent—and he was left to starve—the friends vanished into thin air.
Being a friend during good times is easy, the real test comes when harder circumstances hit. Celebrating with our friends is a necessity, but we need to remind ourselves to be there when they are going through a rough time. This includes proactively contacting them as well as offering any support we can.
We regularly need to remind ourselves to be a shoulder to cry on as well as someone to celebrate with.
5) Be quick to forgive and forget.
Ephesians 4:32 says, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”
We can only offer God’s kind of forgiveness when we are acting in His strength. On our own, the urge to hold a grudge is simply too strong to overcome. Once we truly forgive, we will soon find ourselves forgetting the instance.
Forgetting a friend’s mistake doesn’t mean that you should immediately trust your friend again, but rather give them an opportunity to earn your trust back without holding their mistake over them.
Although building a strong relationship requires time and conscious effort, the friendships in our lives are well worth it. First, we need to remember to use our words to lift our friends up. Then, out of love, we can challenge and even gently correct our relations. We also must remember to celebrate during the good and comfort in the bad. Finally, we can offer forgiveness when they make a mistake, knowing that we will also need forgiveness in our relationships.