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3 exercises you can do to deepen your relationships

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by Christie Browning

I have the privilege to teach a group of girls, ages 16 to 18, most Sundays at church. We discuss certain themes each month and August has been focused on family. Last Sunday, our discussion turned toward dealing with relationships in our families, especially the harder ones. 

As much as we all would love for family dinners and holidays to be re-creations of Norman Rockwell paintings, some family dynamics are more volatile than others. There are relationships that are easier to foster than others -- yes, even under your own roof. Just think about those lovely sibling rivalries! Sister Sledge had the 70s hit "We Are Family," sometimes you gotta wonder how that song would go if the Sledge sisters had your family, right? 

I grew up with a sister and brother who were five and six years younger than me. For the most part, we were close and got along, but there were those moments when I just couldn't deal with them! My sister and I were polar opposites, while my brother and I had a lot more in common. So naturally, she got the lion's share of sibling torture and cruelty. I hate to say it, but we did some ganging up on her on occasion. 

As I prepared for my lesson for these teen gals, I thought of a few practical exercises we can do to help us nurture relationships -- especially those that come with our same last name. Be it a husband, wife, sibling or other extended family members, these steps can help you learn to love greater and intentionally grow the relationships that matter most. 

Exercise #1: Identify those special things you bring to the table: What talents, gifts or traits do you have that enhances, strengthens and betters your family and those relationships?

Why ask yourself these questions? Sometimes jealousy, insecurities, feelings of insignificance and so forth get rooted in our hearts when we feel like we don't matter, we aren't important or we have nothing to offer. You may feel like you are being compared or measured against others in your family, but when you stop to recognize what makes you great, you can push off those feelings that make you feel less than. If you are easily overlooked in your household due to other, more dynamic personalities, stop to identify how your specific makeup can add to the positive vibes in your relationships. This recognition allows you to be more comfortable being your authentic genuine self while allowing your family members to do the same. I've heard it said that if two people are the same, one is not necessary! Of course, we are different and those differences exist even in our closest relationships. Let's learn to embrace them by feeling confident and secure in what makes us, us! 

Action #1: Grab a journal or notebook and take stock of what makes you great. What great things do you bring to your family, to your relationships? Jot it down so you can see it on paper and refer to it if you start to forget!

Exercise #2: What makes them so great? You've identified what you have to offer... now it's time to identify what each person in your family has to offer.

Whether it's each of your siblings, your spouse,  your parents... when you start to think about the great things they bring to the table,  you start to feel your heart grow and swell with pride, love, and appreciation. It's hard to be mad, jealous or frustrated when you start to think of each person individually in this light. You might be the type that brings deep conversation, quiet insight and intuition to your family. And that loud, sometimes obnoxious, sister just really steams your peas. But when you see that she brings laughter to the house, when she breaks the tension of the day, when you see her for the full-of-life type of gal that she is, all of a sudden her life-of-the-party, larger-than-life personality becomes a gift. Parents, this is a fabulous thing to do for each of your kids! It's easy to compare one to the other, wondering why she can't be like her older brother .... but that seemingly wayward child or difficult kid may bring something so unique and special to your family -- and I would venture to guess it's exactly what your family needs!

Action #2: Take a page of your journal or notebook and jot these gifts, talents and special traits down for each family member -- especially those that live under your roof or those you might find more exhausting and difficult. Seriously... write it down! When you are about to have a blow-up over that frustrating sibling, child or parent, refer to this list and get your heart focused on what makes them great.

Exercise #3: Brainstorm specific ways you can meet the needs of those in your family. What do they need most? What can you help them with? What ways can you communicate love, appreciation, and gratitude for them?

There's a great book written by Gary Chapman entitled The Five Love Languages. This was originally written for couples but has since gone on to be developed for so many other types of relationships. The concept is that there are five ways people feel loved - when someone gives them gifts, when someone spends time with them, when someone writes them encouraging notes or offers words of appreciation, when someone gives them physical touch, or when someone does something for them - like an act of service. The idea is to figure out which of the five languages mean the most to that person and then do as much as you can in that particular way for them. Imagine how our houses would feel if we did this for our kids? How much deeper would our marriages be if we learned and then communicated in that love language for our spouse? This can extend to other relationships as well. But the reality is when we identify ways to communicate love and appreciation, not only do we build that person up, we also soften our hearts for them, we grow in our compassion for them and our ties tend to bind us a little tighter. Again, it's hard to stay angry and bitter when you recognize something they need, something they need help with. And what a great way to love on that person.... just imagine how they will feel.

Action #3: Jot down those brainstorming ideas for the folks in your family. It doesn't have to be grand and over the top and it doesn't have to cost a lot of money... but simply realizing that your child needs to get an encouraging text message from you is a simple way to make a difference. Or maybe it's putting down the laptop or the game controller to play a board game or do some project with the person in your house that really craves your time and attention. Taking time to slow down and intentionally take steps to speak a language that matters to those that matter most will overhaul the environment in your home. 

Love, connection, intimacy, appreciation, compassion...these things just don't happen on their own. They need to be grown, fostered, nurtured. We need to make intentional moves on a regular basis to move the needle on the "love" meter so that those we love most are filled and fulfilled. Tina Turner asked, "What's love got to do with it?" Well, Tina... a whole lot and I hope you've found a few exercises and challenges you can do to start making the love train chug down the track! (OK... that was my last "love" song pun!)

Christie BrowningComment