5 Traits to Cultivate for Future Relationships

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When we are single, it's easy to get sucked into trying to make ourselves more attractive or acceptable in order to gain a spouse. Yet, we often need to be reminded to cultivate our character to prepare for our future relationships. And you know what? Even if you never get married, these traits will serve you well in all relationships.

Oh, and as a bonus, this list can also serve as traits to look for in someone else.

The older I get, the more I have found humility before God to be a core trait to cultivate and seek in others. The Bible has a lot to say about pride and the damage it does to our relationship with God and other people. Cultivating humility doesn't mean thinking less of ourselves - that is false humility. True humility comes when we remember how holy, great, and glorious God is. 

Some helpful ways to cultivate humility I've found are:
  • Reading books like Humility by Andrew Murray or Breaking Pride by Heather Bixler
  • Purposefully meditating on the character of God (I find many Psalms helpful for this)
  • Recognizing situations that bring out my pride and praying during those times that God will cultivate humility in my heart 

I feel like one of the most neglected fruits of the spirit and yet one vital to a thriving relationship is gentleness. This is one I don't have naturally. I have a bold personality and I struggled for years because generally, gentleness is shown as weakness and a gentle person is someone who capitulates to others. It's not surprising that this is a distorted view of gentleness. Gentleness is not bowing to others, it is trusting God so deeply with your own needs that you can extend grace and mercy in the face of what others throw at you.

Gentleness is not denying your hurt or that someone has wronged you. It's handing those feelings over, knowing Jesus will provide for you so that you can extend kindness and mercy to that person. It's being silent or only saying kind things about those who've wronged you. It's watching someone you care about melting down, and instead of running away, you listen, and when the time is right, turn their attention to Jesus. 

Some helpful ways to cultivate gentleness:
  • Study how Jesus and many others responded to others. They are our guide. Jesus called himself gentle and lowly.
  • Identify people and situations that cause you frustration and bring out abrasive tendencies. Write out a plan to respond in gentleness. Review regularly.
  • Pray for discernment to know the difference between gentleness and capitulation. 

I have found that a key in relationships is knowing how to have fun. Does this surprise you after the first two items I mentioned? If your relationships (and this includes family, and friends as well as romantic relationships) are going to thrive, not just survive, you need to know how to have fun and help others have fun. Be careful of falling into the trap that it has to look the same for everyone. My husband and I love to hike. We find this fun and we talk easier when our feet are moving and we have a goal to reach. Other people would find this pure torture. 

In cultivating how to have fun remember it isn't about just what you find enjoyable. Reading and watching movies are great (I dearly love both) but when cultivating this trait with the thought of relationships, think about things that are interactive, bring out the best in you and in others, and build others up. This does not mean everything you find fun has to fit those categories, but when purposefully cultivating for future relationships, that should be your target.

Some ways to cultivate this kind of fun:
  • Practice trying new things with your friends or family you might not love at first sight. You'll cultivate learning to enjoy what others do.
  • Find two or three things that fit all three of the categories mentioned above (interactive, bring out the best in you, and build others up) that you love to do. Make space for them in your life. (Board games, singing with others, hiking, and hobbies are just a few ideas).
  • Set a goal for yourself to practice having fun with others each week. Pick a sibling who you struggle to get along with as a starting point or a friend who has been distant. Having fun can transform a relationship.

I have had some friendships that have meant a lot to me that have gone up in flames. It's devastating and leaves you with emotional scars. Sadly, even romantic relationships with amazing people are not safe from betrayal and hurt. Even if we are talking about something small like a spouse forgetting a date or not coming home on time it can feel like a big deal. So what do we cultivate in times like these? While there are many right answers, the ultimate one is to anchor yourself in Jesus. People WILL disappoint you. Even your best friend, the most amazing spouse, and your closest sibling will do something that hurts. If your soul is not anchored in Jesus and what He says about you, it will be anchored in other people's actions toward you. 

Ways to cultivate Jesus as your anchor: 
  • Spend time with Jesus daily. Read your Bible, pray, and meditate on Him and who you are because of Him.
  • Read good, biblically grounded books on who you are in Christ and what biblical friendship is. I highly recommend the book Friend-ish is a good starting point for what friendship is and isn't.
  • Identify what scares you most about relationships with others. Look at those areas as a starting guide to where you need to cultivate Jesus as your anchor.

One of the hardest skills, the scariest skills, to cultivate in relationships is reconciliation. Often, we talk about the importance of forgiveness, but in recent years, I've realized that forgiveness is one side of a two-sided coin. I have forgiven the friends who have cut me out of their lives. Am I still sad? Yes, but I've forgiven them. Forgiveness is something I can choose to do no matter the actions of another. Reconciliation, on the other hand, takes two. Reconciliation also takes action and discussion. It is harder than accepting an apology or letting go of something in your heart. It takes going to another person and discussing what happened or what was said so you can restore fellowship. 

Let me share a story from my own life. In my teens, I found a bathroom set that was rubber duckies I loved. My sister Rose and I shared a bathroom and I asked her if it would be okay if I got the set for our bathroom. She said yes. However, Rose thought the set was dumb and quickly discovered having to look at it every day frustrated her. She finally came to me and told me she hated the set. It was not an easy conversation. She had to confess she resented me for that bathroom set. I felt like she had lied to me and then was angry at me when I didn't just know what I had done wrong. It took a lot of time to talk through how this had happened and find better ways to communicate so this didn't happen again. However, by the end of that, we were reconciled. She hadn't just forgiven me for buying that set and making her bathroom trips horrible and I wasn't having to continually forgive Rose for the frustration she directed my way. We had worked through a problem and dealt with the heart of it, extending and receiving forgiveness.

This skill is very, very hard to cultivate. You will sometimes try to reconcile with someone who has no interest in doing the work it takes. You will share how something someone did hurt you and they will roll their eyes and walk away. You might open a discussion only to meet with a silent wall someone has built. Conversely, it means when someone comes to you and tells you about how your words or actions hurt them, instead of justifying yourself or crumbling with the weight of it, you forge ahead with repentance where appropriate, and conversations that lead to better understanding. It means choosing to seek the best for others.

How to cultivate reconciliation:
  • Learn about how your personality works and how other personalities work. Understanding people on some level is helpful in difficult situations.
  • Strive to ask questions instead of making assumptions. Ascribing motives for the actions of others is a slippery slope. On the flip side, learn how to gently correct when people make assumptions or fail to ask questions of you.
  • Practice the small things. Small issues are often a little easier to tackle. Try talking to a sibling, parent, or friend about something small you feel is hindering the relationship. Explain you're cultivating reconciliation and you want their help to learn to do it well. 
  • Know the process will be different for different people. I have one sister I have to wait until we are both a little past a situation to be able to deal with it well, while I have to deal with things in the moment with my Mom. Learn what works for each relationship. 

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  1. Hi Sarah!
    The blogging website failed to notify me when a new blog was posted...so I decided to check and see.
    Another good post! I liked what you shared about true humility. I'm currently working on that as I observe believers around me and remind myself that I have my own flaws. And the Holy Spirit is in the process of sanctifying each of us.
    And a wonderful reminder you gave to stay anchored to Jesus!!! I too have lost a friendship years ago and it hurt me as I tried reaching out. I really had to cling to the Lord and know that He won't fail me. :)
    Thank you for sharing, Sarah! All good points and suggestions you made! God bless you!