Sunday, April 19, 2015
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Part 2: Relationship-busters



ILL: In 2007, John Brandrick, a British man, was experiencing abdominal pain.  He visited his doctor and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and told he had a year to live. Since he only had a year to live, he decided to live it up! He quit his job, quit paying his mortgage, and used his savings to give gifts to friends and family, go on vacations, eat out, and do all the other things he wanted to do.  At the end of the year, he was out of money. He was also feeling really good!

When Brandrick returned to the doc, he was surprised to learn his “cancer” was merely an inflammation of the pancreas. He was going to live—but he was broke, had no job and was way behind on his mortgage! 

Oops!  But what a year!  You can’t cure what ails you until you get a proper diagnosis!

So here is our question: What causes our relationships to break apart? Diagnosing our relational problems is the first step to discovering the cure.  If we’re going to fix our broken relationships, we need to know what broke them. 

So tell me in one word why relationships go sour.  Here’s what the Bible says:

James 4:1-3 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

What causes fights and quarrels among us?  They come from our desires, from our selfishness.  The one word I came up with that best explains why our relationships break up is “sin”, or “selfishness”.  Ultimately, it is our selfishness that undermines our relationships.  If we had no sin, no selfishness, we would have no fights, no quarrels, no break ups.  It is sin that has broken our relationship with God. 

Isaiah 59:2 “Your iniquities have separated you from your God, your sins have hidden His face from you so that He will not hear.” 

It was our sin that separated us from God, and to repair our relationship, God had to deal with our sin; He did that in Jesus. 

2 Corinthians 5:19, 21 “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them… 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”


It was sin that separated us from God, so God dealt with our sin to reconcile us to Himself.  It is also sin that separates us from each other, and to reconcile we must face and deal with those sins.

When I say that sin destroys relationships, we all think of the big and obvious examples:

  • The marriage destroyed by adultery.
  • The family destroyed by alcohol, drugs or abuse.
  • The friendship destroyed by deceit.
  • The business destroyed by embezzlement.
  • The church destroyed by petty squabbles and factions.

Sin ruins relationships.  But it does it in much more subtle ways than the obvious ones I just listed.  I want to focus on some of the more subtle and very common relationship-busters. 

The Big Idea: If we’re going to fix broken relationships, we have to know what broke them.  The diagnosis precedes the cure!

Maybe by identifying them and talking about them, we’ll be able to take some first steps in fixing our broken relationships.  Write these down, because at the end, you need to identify your next step.  This talk isn’t about information, but transformation.  I don’t just want you to know more; I want you to change.


1. Disappointment: unrealized expectations.

How many of you have ever been disappointed by someone?  Have you ever had hopes for a relationship that never came true?  One thing we encourage couples to do in premarital training is to verbalize their expectations.

ILL: These are the details of a pre-nuptial agreement signed by a couple about to be married—they were shared on the radio.

1. Sex 3-5 times a week.

2. Lights out at 11:30.

3. Up at 6:30.

4. Nothing on the floor overnight, except when taking trips.

5. Only Chevron High Test gas in car.

6. Gas tank always over half-full.

Guess who wrote those!  I’m glad they got them on the table ahead of time!  Many relationships go south because of disappointment.  You didn’t do what I expected you to do.  You disappointed me.  But if you didn’t know what I expected, I shouldn’t be upset.  So here’s the first cure:  (write it down)

Talk about your expectations.   Be honest with each other about what you expect, and then be ready to negotiate.  Don’t expect the other person to automatically agree with your expectations.  And here’s why: We may have unrealistic expectations.

For example, if you expect your spouse to meet all your relational needs, you’ll be disappointed.  You can’t expect one person to be everything you need—you’ll suck them dry! 

Another common example: many parents are disappointed in their kids because of unrealistic expectations.  We expect our kids to pull straight A’s, be all-state athletes in three sports, play the piano like Harry Connick Jr. and the cello like YoYo Ma, excel at art and drama and dance, find a cure for cancer in their spare time, and never, never ever make a mistake.  Or we expect them to behave like adults, when we can’t even do that half the time!

ILL: When Michael, our youngest, was two, we took him to his sisters’ kindergarten program.  The program lasted about an hour, and we expected him to sit quietly on our laps and enjoy his sisters’ mesmerizing talents.  Now this is a kid who at two was up every morning between 5 and 6 and running at full steam.  We would often be awakened by cupboards banging early in the morning, and would find Michael in the kitchen standing on the countertop rifling through the cupboards for food.  We had to deadbolt our doors during the day or he would escape.  One day, our neighbors called us to say that 2 year-old Michael was heading up the middle of our street chasing our dog.  And we expected this kid to sit quietly on our laps for an hour!  We had unrealistic expectations.  It was a long program!

Many parent-child relationships have been destroyed by disappointment due to unrealistic expectations. 

The truth is that we all do this to each other.  What are some of the expectations we have of others?

  • When I text or email, I expect you to respond now.  When I call your cell phone, I expect you to pick up.  And I expect you to like all my Facebook and Instram posts!  Unrealistic.
  • I expect you to live up to my standards.  Sometimes I even expect you to have the same tastes as me—you should like what I like!  Unrealistic.

So the first cure is to talk about your expectations, and the second is to Be willing to adjust your expectations.  (Write it down.)  But what if our expectations are realistic, and they disappoint us?

We need to extend grace when people fail.  (Write it down.)

We may have realistic expectations that others are not living up to, and we may need to extend grace.  Cut them some slack! 

ILL: Do you expect others to be punctual?  Is that a realistic expectation?  Yes.  But are there ever legitimate reasons why someone may be late?  Sure: car trouble, an accident, an appointment that runs long, or genetic tardiness—there are lots of reasons why people may be late.  So don’t get all wigged out and assume the worst—cut them some slack. 

Even if the other person doesn’t have a good excuse, we have to cut them some slack.  Why?  Because we’re all human and we humans fail at times.  Do you ever fail?  And do you hope others will treat you graciously when you do?  Then cut them some slack!

  Luke 6:31 “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Let me ask you this?  Do you think that you ever disappoint God?  Every day!  And what does He do?  He extends grace.  He holds our relationship together in spite of our sin by His grace.  God knows what I am made of. 

Psalm 103:13-14 “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; 14 for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”

He knows what I am made of, and He chooses to extend grace to me.  That other person is just dust…a human being just like you.  Cut them some slack!

Do you have any relationships that are fractured by disappointment?  Communicate your expectation.  Adjust your expectations—make sure they are realistic.  And when people fail, cut them some slack.  Treat them how you want to be treated.


2. Misunderstanding: misinterpreting another’s behavior.

Here’s another common cause of relational disintegration: misunderstanding.  So often we assume that we know what other people were thinking, what their motives were.  “You did that to hurt me.  You did that because you don’t care.”  We assign a motive to another person’s behavior without knowing all the facts.  Here’s the first cure: (Write it down.)

Admit that you don’t know it all.

We’re funny creatures.  We assume we know why other people act the way they do.  But we really know so little.  We rarely know what really happened, the bare facts, let alone know the motives behind the behavior.  But we assume we know, and our assumptions are often negative. 

ILL: In last week’s Bible reading, in 1 Samuel 1, we read the story of Hannah praying fervently for a baby.  She wanted so badly to get pregnant, and when Eli the priest saw her praying earnestly, what did he assume?  He thought she was drunk and he bawled her out.  But after she explained, he realized that he had jumped to the wrong conclusion and gave her a blessing.  Hannah soon got pregnant and gave birth to Samuel. 

Eli the priest assumed he knew and he didn’t.  It happens, even to holy men like Samuel…like this guy!

ILL: In 1993, while Laina and I were down seeing my dad, we stayed with my sister, Lyn.  Her landlord had a body shop next door to her house.  The air conditioner in our car had quit working on the way down, and the weather was hot, so we were talking about getting it fixed, and Lyn mentioned that Don, her landlord, could do it.  Providential!  Right next door!  So I took it over, and ended up visiting with Don.  He told me about his upcoming vacation in Alaska, and mentioned that he was taking his two boys, 5 and 7.  Don was 53 and looked every bit of it.  I immediately assumed that Don had married a younger woman, probably after ditching his first wife. 

Later that night, my sister told me the story.  The two little boys were Don’s grandchildren, whom he adopted.  Their parents were killed in a plane crash when the boys were babies.  The other grandmother wanted the older boy but not the younger, and Don thought it was important to keep them together, so he went to court for custody, and spent $37,000 of his own money to adopt those boys.  All this after raising his own six kids! 

After I heard the story, I was ashamed of myself, and realized how easy it is to assume the worst about others.

Have you ever done that?  I’ll bet you have when someone has done something to offend you.  I’ll bet you’ve made assumptions about why they did it, about their motives.  We’ll save ourselves considerable pain if we’ll admit that we really don’t know why they did it, and ask them.  “Why did you do that?”  Then let them explain.

What if you can’t ask them?  Here’s the second part of the cure for misunderstanding.  (Write this down.)

Give them the benefit of the doubt.

If you must assume, assume the best.  Most of time, people mean well.  Usually, people aren’t out to hurt you.

ILL: Several years ago, I was scheduled one day to play racquetball with a friend.  I forgot all about it and left Neal waiting for me at our meeting spot.  When I was 30 minutes late, he called.  I was so embarrassed; but Neal was so gracious.  I told him honestly that I had just gotten back into town the night before, and I’d just forgotten. 

Some people would still have a hard time with that: how could you forget?  We got back Monday night to a series of small disasters.  First disaster: our refrigerator had stopped while we were gone and all the food inside spoiled.  We paid a repairman $40 to diagnose and repair the problem: Michael, who was 3 at the time, had turned it off on his way out on 5 days earlier–thank you Michael!

Second disaster: our dog had discovered a marmot under the back deck, and was digging deep holes and was covered with dirt, so I had to bathe and trim him.

Third disaster: while bathing the dog, the faucet exploded.  I tried to fix it later that night, and couldn’t, so a plumber came out Tuesday. 
Can you see why I might have forgotten about racquetball the first thing Tuesday morning?  Neal’s response was so gracious: “It’s OK.  I’ve forgotten things before.  I understand.”  He gave me the benefit of the doubt. He assumed the best: that I just forgot, which was true, and usually is. 

This is so important in my marriage as well.  It’s easy to misunderstand Laina and assign a bad motive: “You meant to hurt me.”  But I’ve learned that I don’t know much, that Laina is a good-willed woman who truly loves me and doesn’t want to do me harm.  So I give her the benefit of the doubt.  I choose to believe the best.

1 Corinthians 13:7 Love always looks for the best. (The Message)

Do you have any relationships that are fractured by misunderstanding?  Admit that you don’t know it all, and give the other person the benefit of the doubt. 


3. Bitterness: nursing hurt feelings.

This might be the biggest relationship-buster of all.  You get hurt, you get mad, and then you get bitter—and the relationship is over.  Millions of relationships remain broken because one or both people can’t let go of the hurt and forgive.  We’ll talk more in depth about this in two weeks.  Here are two things you should know. (Write them down.)

You will get hurt.

Count on it!  You will get hurt.  It goes with the territory.  You can’t have a relationship of any depth without pain.  It will happen.  And when it does, you’ll ask, “How could they do this to me?”  But perhaps the more realistic question is, “How could they go so long without doing this to me?”  We’re all sinners—imperfect and flawed people—and we’re bound to hurt each other sometime.  You can’t play in the pigpen without getting muddy!  Relationships are tough—the pigpen’s muddy—but people are worth it!

I’m one of the nicest guys I know, but if you hang around me very long, I’ll disappoint you.  I’ll hurt you.  I’ll do something that will tweak your beak, or kink your hose, or hog your load, and make you mad.  Then you’ll have a choice to make.  It’s either “bye-bye Joe” or you’ll have to forgive me. 

What will it be?  It amazes me how many Christians end a relationship because of hurt feelings without ever trying to make it work.  I know people who have left here and refuse to come back because of something I said.  They didn’t give me a chance to explain, or apologize; they just left.  Do you know how hard it is to talk a lot and not say something wrong? 

Proverbs 10:19 Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.

The more you talk, the more you sin.  A guy like me is in deep weeds!  My point is that people will hurt you—I will hurt you—and you’ll have to decide: give up and walk away, or forgive me and make it work.  There is only one cure for bitterness.

You must forgive.  (Write it down.)

         You really have no choice.  If you are a Christian, Jesus commands us to forgive, and you must obey. 

Luke 6:37 “Forgive and you will be forgiven.” 

Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

You must forgive because Jesus says to—that’s enough for a Christian.  And you must forgive so that you will be forgiven.

You must forgive for your sake right now.  If you don’t forgive, you’ll go through life collecting grievances, not friends, becoming bitter and brittle.  You cannot maintain personal or social health without being a forgiving person.  Unforgiveness hurts you far more than the other person.  We think that if we don’t forgive the other person, we can punish them—make them pay for hurting us.  But you end up punishing yourself. 

I like to remind married couples that forgiveness is the glue that will hold them together.  You take two imperfect people and put them together under the same roof for a lifetime—that’s a wicked soup!  You have a prescription for hurt feelings, for relational pain.  You will fail; you will hurt each other.  You can count on that.  The real question is: can the other person count on you to forgive them?  Make up your mind that you will forgive every time, that forgiveness will be the atmosphere of your marriage.  You know that you are forgiven before you even ask, and vice versa.  You never have to wonder, “Will I be forgiven this time.”  It’s already decided.  Make forgiveness the climate of all your relationships. 

ILL: A grandma at her golden anniversary celebration told the secret of her long and happy marriage.  “On my wedding day, I decided to make a list of 10 of my husband’s faults which for the sake of our marriage I would overlook.”  A guest asked what faults she had chosen to overlook.  The woman said, “To tell you the truth, I never got around to listing them.  But whenever my husband did something that made me hopping mad, I would say to myself, ‘Lucky for him that’s one of the ten!’”

Make forgiveness the climate of all your relationships.  You must forgive, or you will destroy your relationships and yourself in the process.

Do you have any relationships that are broken by bitterness?  Let it go!  Let it go for your sake, if for no other reason.


4. Drifting: growing apart.

Many relationships don’t blow apart, they just drift apart.  We don’t have a big falling out, we just drift away from each other.  I see it happen spiritually.  I rarely see a Christian who falls away from God in a single cataclysmic crash.  But I do see Christians drift away from God. 

Hebrews 2:1 “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.”

Don’t drift away.  Don’t drift away from God, or from the people you care about.  Pay attention to your relationships.  Why do we drift away?   Relational drift—whether with God or people—happens for lots of reasons.  Here are a few:

We have wrong priorities.

We let other things become more important than our relationship.  We spend less and less time together, and one day we realize that we don’t know each other any more.  This is a big marriage killer: a spouse gets so caught up chasing vocational success or recreational pleasure that they drift apart.  People are God’s highest value and should be ours as well.  Your relationships are your greatest treasures—don’t let them slip away because you are preoccupied with less important things.

I also see a lot of this spiritually.  When God ceases to be #1, we begin to drift.  The Bible calls it idolatry—something or someone becomes more important than God.  It was Israel’s big sin, and it happens to lots of us today.  “You shall have no other gods before me.”  It’s the first of the Ten Commandments for a reason.  When we get this wrong, we drift.

Keep your priorities straight.  Jesus made it clear that loving God and people are what matter most.

We don’t communicate.

Many relationships drift apart for lack of communication.  We stop talking.  Good communication is hard work.  Often we are too tired, too busy, too distracted to invest in good communication.  But when that becomes habitual, we begin to drift apart.  Think of a relationship that has drifted; when was the last time you had a good talk?

This is true with God too.  When was the last time you had an unrushed conversation with God?  Make time for one this week!

We don’t take the initiative.

Many relationships die for lack of initiative.  We wait for the other person to take the first step.  Sometimes it may be out of hurt feelings or bitterness: let the other person come to me and apologize.  In Matthew 5 and 18, Jesus said it doesn’t matter who is right or wrong; if there is a problem between you and another person, you take the initiative.  You take the first step. 

But often, it’s not bitterness that makes us wait; it is just neglect.  We’re not upset, we’re just busy, and we wait for the other person to make the first move, to pick up the phone and call, or drop by and visit.  And if both of you wait for the other—well, you slowly drift apart. 

Is there a relationship that is just waiting for you to call, or write, or come over?

We change.

Relationships drift apart because people change.

ILL: Several years ago, a couple came to see me about their marriage.  They had been married fifteen years, but had drifted apart.  I asked them to describe what happened.  What they described was life: they had married young and they grew up.  When they got married, she liked camping in the back of a VW van; now she liked the Marriott.  When they got married, he was the footloose adventurer who drove the VW van; now he worked a 9-5 job to bring home the bacon. 

“He’s not the same man I married,” she said.

“She’s not the same woman I married,” he said.

And I said, “Well, duh!  Did you really think that each of you would stay the same forever?”  They smiled and got my point.

Change is inevitable.  In good relationships, we adapt to the changes and keep going, rather than drifting apart. 

We move.

The average American moves every couple years.  We are a transient society.  What do all these moves do to our relationships?  Often, close friends and family drift apart.  It requires an extra measure of commitment and work to keep long distance relationships alive.  But many of them are worth it.  I can’t keep every relationship current—there are too many of them.  But there are some that are so important to me, that I make the effort.

ILL: My mom and I haven’t lived in the same town since I was 18.  Sometimes, we’ve been thousands of miles apart.  It would be very easy to lose touch.  But she’s my momma!  I call my mom every weekend.  I try to talk with her at least once a week.  And I take every chance I can get to see her—in fact, I’m going to see her this week!  It’s worth it.

Are there some long distance relationships that you need to pay attention to?  Don’t let them drift away?

Not all of these are bad; some of them are just life.  But if we value relationships, we pay attention to these things and we don’t let our relationships drift apart…starting with our relationship with God!


Conclusion: So what is your next step?  What relationship came to mind this morning as I talked?  What step are you going to take to repair that?  Write it down.

Now tell the person next to you: “Here’s what I’m going to do.”