Connection and the Styles of Relating

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This month we are talking about connection.  As we have mentioned before, relationships are the foundation of our faith.  We first must have a whole-hearted relationship with God (vertical) in order to have a whole-hearted relationship with others (horizontal).  This month, I’d like to introduce a very visual tool that Jen and I have used for the past year or so.  It is a version of the Styles of Relating first constructed by Karen Horney back in the 1940’s.  They have been used in counseling and therapy ever since.  I find them extremely useful to help understand how we interact with one another.

I’d like to start with defining them a bit and then exploring how you can use them to deep your connection with others and strengthen your relationships.  Each one of the three can be expressed in a positive (true-self) way and a negative (false-self) way.  

1) Move Away

This style, when presented negatively, it is characterized by one withdrawing or retreating from others mainly in an emotional sense, but it can also manifest itself in a physical sense.  People using this style of relating will put up the emotional walls so thick and high that no one can get past.  They don’t allow anyone to see their true heart.  This is generally motivated by a fear of exposure.  “What will people say, think, feel if they truly know me?”  

When this style is presented postively, it is characterized by a calm, inner peace.  They have a contemplative, monastic heart.  There is no major sense of urgency to enforce their own will on God or others.  They rely on God’s timing and will.  They have good emotional boundaries.  They will practice good self care and invite others to do the same.

2)  Move Towards

Manifested in the negative sense, this is characterized by extreme compliance.  The person feels a strong need to be accepted and loved even at their own expense. Commonly called a “people pleaser”.  They may have a compulsive desire to serve others and/or a need to be liked.  They will help others feel good so that they will feel accepted and needed.  There is a strong danger of co-dependency.  

The positive manifestation of this style displays genuine care and compassion.  They have a tremendous depth and capacity for empathy.  They will come along others and generously open up their hearts and love them as they are without reservation.  They will have the ability to fully share in other’s pain and joy.

3)  Move Against

This style in its negative form is categorized by asserting one’s will over another.  An individual using this style will tend to talk over others and assert “it’s my way or the highway” mentality.  Everything and every situation is a battle to be won.  Relationships are a means to an end.  It’s about what can be obtained from the relationship, not about the other person.  

Used in the positive way, this style contains the servant heart.  One will sacrifice time and resources for the benefit of others.  The strength is giving freely to others for their benefit.  One will confront others in love and compassionate, looking towards the heart and not about the outcome.  It’s true that this style projects confidence and influence but it is also willing to let other lead as well.  It’s strength with humility and grace. 

Now that we are level-set on the styles and their manifestations, I’d like to explore their use and how you can use them to have a positive impact on all of your relationships:

You probably recognized yourself in one of these styles.  You also probably recognized your partner as well.  We all have a predominate style of relating—one that just comes naturally to us and that shows up in positive and negative ways. 

However, as we mature and become closer to the person God has designed us to be, we will begin to use our natural style in only the positive manner.  The idea also is that we will learn to use the other styles as well.  You might be wondering how that is possible.  I’m glad you asked.  

God provided an example for us to follow in Jesus.

In Matthew 21:12-18 we find Jesus using all 3 of the styles of relating.  This is the story of Jesus clearing the temple.  I’m sure you’re familiar with the story of Jesus grabbing some rope and using it as a whips to kick out the loan sharks and the merchants.  But are you familiar with why He did it?  Reread the passage.  What happened after he kicked them all out?  The blind and the lame could now come in.  Jesus used the move against style in the service of others.  Next what did Jesus do?  He healed those who came to him displaying the ultimate move towards attitude.  Finally, the religious leaders were upset by what Jesus had done and being exasperated, Jesus left the scene and went to Bethany.  That sounds a lot like move away to me.  There is so much more to say about this subject.  However, if I’ve left you wanting more, I strongly recommend checking out Morgan Snyder’s post on the same topic.  

Below are some questions to help you connect with your spouse about the styles of relating:

  1. Discuss the style of relating with which you both most resonate. Ask your spouse if s/he sees the same in you. 

  2. What are some of the positive ways in which you are engaged in your primary style of relating? What positive things do you see in your spouse?

  3. What is one of the negative aspects of your style? Why do you think that is?

  4. What is one thing you will chose to do in order to turn more towards the positive aspects? How can your spouse support you?

Jen and I are working on the March topic and we’ll be sharing that with you all very soon!