How Not to Destroy a Relationship

(At first, this post is going to sound like it’s exclusively for married couples. But it really isn’t. Read it to the end!)

Many of you know that I’m a big fan of Dr. Willard Harley’s materials for marriage enrichment and divorce prevention. If you are interested, the best starting place is his book, His Needs, Her Needs. He also has a very comprehensive web site at

The most important human relationship you can have on earth is that of husband and wife. The Bible teaches that marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and His church! So certainly it makes sense that we would cultivate, study, and work hard at making our marriage as strong as possible. Yet, it always astonishes and dismays me when I see couple after couple just taking each other for granted, not really working very hard at all to meet each other’s needs, and spending all their energy on the job, hobbies, the kids, other relationships, etc. It’s tragic and unbiblical!

Harley lists ten emotional needs that most of us have. (Test yourself. How many of the ten can you name right now? You can find them here.) These needs form a heirarchy that varies from person to person. I may find one of them extremely important to me. You may find the same need to be fairly trivial for you.

Harley’s goal is to help us work on figuring out what our spouse’s top needs are and then dedicating ourselves to meeting those needs.

Harley also tries to help people identify what he calls Love Busters. These are behaviors that have an unpleasant effect on others (and our spouse in particular). Of course, they do great damage to marriage. He lists six of these. (Test yourself again. How many of the six can you name? You can find them here.)

Harley’s materials are aimed at married spouses. His stated goal is to help people build affair-proof marriages. Vickie and I often point younger couples to his materials.

Many of the needs he discusses are for marriage only (e.g., the need for sex). But some of his concepts can help any Christian become more Christ-like in learning how to meet the emotional needs of other people in general.

For example, while it really isn’t quite the same as meeting the needs of our spouse, we could certainly be used of God to minister to others by meeting their need for conversation or perhaps their need for admiration. Certainly we can meet their need for honesty. Perhaps, with some close friends, we might meet the need for recreational companionship.

But when it comes to the love busters, at least five out of the six busters are things that all of us can work to eliminate so that we can better meet the emotional needs of others in a Christ-like way. And, if we happen to have children or grandchildren, we can also work hard to help them eliminate these love busters from their own lives.

So I’ll list those five love busters here. And I’ll include a link to Harley’s site for each, in case you would like to his discussion of each item. But let me emphasize this as strongly as I can. Whether you are married or not (but ESPECIALLY if you are married!), if you are unwilling to get rid of ALL of these love busters, you will do enormous damage to your relationships with others. And you will ruin your Christian testimony.

1) Am I making selfish demands to get my way? (The attitude we tend to have when we allow this love buster is essentially, “Do what I want or I’ll make you regret it!”)

2) Am I making disrespectful judgments? (We do this when we put others down, ridicule, try to make them feel foolish, or try to straighten them out.)

3) Am I guilty of angry outbursts? (This one is pretty obvious. We are guilty of this when we use words designed to hurt another person. It includes an uncontrolled temper, rage, shouting, etc. It’s definitely a form of emotional abuse and horrifically destructive!)

4) Am I indulging in or excusing my annoying habits? (Most of us who have annoying habits have engaged in them so long that we need someone to help us identify them. They may include things like the way we talk to others, our tone of voice, our tendency to interrupt others, the messes we leave, the way we eat, etc. There is a tendency for us to selfishly expect othersto put up with  or simply get over our habits instead of disciplining ourselves to stop them.)

5) Am I guilty of dishonesty with others? (Honesty may be difficult and painful… that’s why it’s so easy to be dishonest! But in the long run, dishonesty is far more painful and destructive. By the way, don’t try to claim honesty as an excuse to use the first three love busters!)

When we refuse to conquer these things in our marriage, they will eventually destroy our marriage.

But it isn’t just marriage! When we refuse to conquer these things in the relationships we have with other people in general, we will certainly ruin any chance we may have had for being used by God to draw them to Himself!

Scroll back up and look at those five love busters one more time. Did you notice that each of them describes the behavior of a little spoiled brat? Kids learn to do these things very early in life! Why? Because we are all born selfish and self centered!

Sadly, many grow into adulthood having never conquered these things! Look around you! The world is filled with so-called adults acting like spoiled brats! It breaks your heart!

Perhaps we can at least understand that kind of behavior when we see it in unbelievers. After all, they are still slaves to sin. They have not yet been set free. We must love them in spite of their love busting behavior. It’s tough, of course, because we really don’t want to be around them at all! But we must.

But for someone who calls himself a believer, there is no excuse.

Let me add one last word to parents and grandparents… As you seek to lead your child to Christ, be sure to include some thorough instruction about the love busters. It may require the use of some strong disciplinary measures to get your point across! But, in time, those kids will grow up and offer eternal thanksgiving for you!

Stay in the battle!

Steve Hall