During a break at one of my seminars about relationships, I was talking with a businessman about our need for others. He said, “I really understand this concept you’re talking about. We need more than prayer and Bible study. And I don’t go it alone in my life. I do get my needs met. I have God, my wife, and my dog Max. God provides his love and guidance. My wife knows all my fears and failures and listens to me. Max accepts me no matter what. So I’m set.”

I said, “Yes, there are a lot of positives to getting your needs met by these three supportive sources. It’s also a positive for you that there is at least one human being in the mix. A supportive and loving marriage is a great thing. But if the only human you are truly vulnerable with is your wife, you are in relational deficit.”

He was a bit puzzled. “She’s really all I need. We trust each other implicitly and share everything. I have lots of friends, but she is the one I share my deepest concerns and fears with.”

“That is great, and congratulations on having a deep and solid marriage. But what if you don’t know what you don’t know?”

“Go on.”

“What if there are available to you more sources for acceptance, support, wisdom, and encouragement than your wife? Is it possible that because you don’t experience a need for more, you assume that you don’t need more? The Bible says much more about how we are all to relate to each other in general than it does about marriage. Just search in your Bible app for ‘one another,’ and see the many passages that regard how we are to treat each other and meet each other’s needs. That doesn’t take anything away from marriage; it’s one of God’s greatest gifts. It does mean, however, that we are designed to engage in healthy, deep, and meaningful relationships in addition to our marriages.”

Do you have the God, My Spouse, and Max Syndrome?

Whenever I mention the “God, my spouse, and Max” syndrome to an audience of couples, several wives will come up to me afterward and say, “I love him and we are very close, but I do get a bit burned out on being the only person he can be open with. I wish he had other guys to really relate to.” (Lately, a number of husbands have made a similar comment about their  wives.)

I was doing a life evaluation of a coaching client and identified him as having the syndrome: close to God, great marriage, and a great dog (not named Max). One of my conclusions was that he was in relational deficit.

“What does that mean?” he asked.

“It’s similar to having an iron deficit or a calcium deficit in your bloodstream,” I said. “You may not be aware of the impact of the deficit, but it’s there somewhere.”

He didn’t like getting the news, because it meant doing some work finding and implementing the right sorts of relationships, and he was a busy person. But he wanted to receive all that God had for him and realize his full potential. Within a few months, he told me, “I had no idea that things could be better in so many areas of my life. My joy, energy, creativity, career, family relationships, and even my marriage, are all better.”

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Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know.

So we are fuel for each other, great and necessary fuel. And our fueling comes through relationship.

The Gender Difference

I mentioned earlier that more women tell me their husbands need to branch out relationally than the converse. I think it’s just true that women have an edge on men in being wired for relationship, and men are more wired for activity. But it’s just an edge; we’re not talking about two different universes. I don’t believe in gender theories that state how totally different men and women are. The reality is that we are more alike than we are different. The genders have much more in common with each other than we have distinctions. We all are created in God’s image. We all need to be attached deeply. We all need to have our own identities and boundaries. We all need to accept our flaws and those of others. We all need to find our purpose in life and express our talents to accomplish that purpose. Women and men share all of this, and this encompasses the majority of life. If we put the genders in two circles on a Venn diagram, most of the space would be intersected space, and the minority of the space would be solely male and solely female.

The implications are that both genders need to work on this. Most men have to work harder on this than most women do. But all of us need to make sure we are getting our needs met, and providing those needs to others, in the best way.

Out of Balance

It is just as true that our relational needs are no less critical than our functional needs. Longitudinal studies have proven over and over that without significant supportive relationships, we have more psychological dysfunctions, we have more health problems, and we die sooner.

It is just as true that our relational needs are no less critical than our functional needs.Click To Tweet

Most of us are much more comfortable talking about our functional needs than our relational needs. You can make statements like “I need a job in which I can express my passions and skills” or “I need to lose weight” or “I need a break today” without angst or shame. There is no worry someone might think less of us.

When we move from the functional realm into the relational realm, we tend to be pretty comfortable as long as it’s the other person’s need. There is little insecurity in saying, “I’m meeting with Samantha for lunch; she needs to talk about some issues with her and her mom.” We are glad to help with that person’s need. Most of us feel compassion and want to provide in some way.

But when the relational need is our own, the conflict arises. It’s harder to be Samantha or Sam, the one calling for support. We shy away from feeling that way or expressing ourselves like that. But we need to push past this and learn that asking doesn’t diminish us. It provides others an opportunity to express their support for us. And that, in turn, brings them toward us and improves both parties.

Taken from People Fuel by Dr. John Townsend. Copyright © 2019 by John Townsend. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.Zondervan.com.

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