How To Help a Relationship Die

coffee32.jpgSometimes relationships start and then quickly end.  Sometimes relationships exist and then gradually erode, perhaps after many, many years.  What happens quite often with some people is that the relationship finally dies a slow, lingering death.  

I am thinking this morning about a certain kind behavior that contributes to the death of a relationship. 


Have you known passive people?  The exist in their recliner, passing the time away.  They seem content to watch life happen from a distance while they refuse to initiate, risk, or make any overture toward investing in someones life.  They seem to wait for someone else to initiate, someone else to risk, and someone else to invest. 

  • Why doesn’t anyone call me?
  • Why doesn’t anyone come see me?
  • Why doesn’t anyone ask me to help?

I remember once seeing a man visit with a few distant relatives who he had not seen in almost twenty years.  He was visiting with these relatives because they had driven many hours to see his mother, their aunt.  Knowing that these relatives were coming to her home, she invited her son to join them for dinner.  They all visited that evening, shared some memories and then prepared to part.  The son turned to his relatives and said, "You all need to come see us more!  Come back sooner!  Don’t stay away so long"  Hmmm.  He had not sent a card, note, e-mail, or made a phone call to them in almost twenty years.  In fact he has shown complete passivity toward these people for many years.  He now, however, speaks to these people as if they are the ones who need to make this trip more often.

Passivity will kill relationships.  

Perhaps you have been to a dinner, where a family went on an on about life in their community, their children, their problems, etc. and never once asked you about your own life.   Perhaps you go home from such a dinner feeling as if you never really connected with these people.  Why?  There was not the healthy give and take of mutual interest and concern.  Passive people often talk as if their world, their city, their church is the center of life and express little interest in anyone else’s life.

Something I’ve noticed.  Passive people ask very few questions.  They ask very, very few probing questions or follow-up questions.  They don’t typically respond to another person by saying: "Say more about this, please."  Instead, they will often shift the focus of the conversation to themselves. 

Eventually, after years of family members, friends, church members, etc. showing little interest in one another, the relationship dies emotionally.  No, I don’t mean that it formally ends.  Rather, we just finally lose interest and disconnect emotionally from one another.

As I write this, I am thinking about some of my own relationships that need attention.  No, I cannot control the response or lack of response from others.  However, I can make sure that these relationships do not suffer from my own neglect.

Question: In what ways have you seen passivity erode relationships?  In contrast, how would you describe the behaviors that show interest, enrich, and deepen relationships?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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14 thoughts on “How To Help a Relationship Die

  1. Excellent post! I believe an aspect of passivity is complaints and grumbling. It seems that more people would grumble and complain that work to make things right. For example: It is easier to complain about our government than taking the action to pray for your government. Relationships need active people. For example: our relationship with God takes action on our part because God is always actively pursuing us. He provides the sunrise to draw us to him and the sunset to make us appreciate him. We must be active.Just my thoughts.

  2. Passive people read your blog and do not usually comment.  We think our thoughts are not that earth-shaking.  However, we should at least say ‘thank you’ for the time, thought, effort and prayer you put into these excellent posts to move us.  Thank you, Jim! (See, I even put an exclamation mark, something passive people don’t usually do.)

  3.  Great thoughts! I am usually a passive person.  In relationships, being passive has been both one of my strengths and one of my weaknesses.  The trick for me is know when to just let stuff slide and when I need to take action.   

  4. Thanks very much Darryl.  (Glad you commented–even as you describe yourself as a passive person–:)  I appreciate what you said regarding your thinking that your thoughts are not that "earth shaking."  I suspect that a lot of people might say the same.  Yet, I think sometimes those who lean toward passivity might think in terms of being engaged fully instead being silent with no contribution.  Far too often it is easy to go through life just looking on from a safe distance instead of being fully engaged.  (Not directing all of this at you personally but your words caused me to think more about this issue.)

  5. Chris– Good comment.  I had not really thought about complaining and grumbling actually being a form of passivity.  I like your point though.  Very good. 

  6. I was just thinking along these lines tonight. About why I live in a new place and just don’t feel like I am connecting. And it’s because I haven’t let myself be all here, I haven’t invested. I have been passive, not willing to risk, which is not normally where I find myself in relationships! This really reiterated what I had been thinking. Thanks for a good word!

  7. Jim, I appreciate your thoughts on this subject. I know that in relationships that I have been or become passive in, often I have also been hurt (or at least perceived that I had been hurt) and have become passive as a defensive mechanism. My actions entirely but maybe a reason why in some relationships a friend (or even oneself) has become passive. Thanks for your blog and the words of wisdom.

  8. Dale–Thanks very much.  Your comment adds a dimension to this that is very important.  As you express so well, passivity can be used as a defense mechanism.  One response that some of us make to such hurt is passivity.  (As I read your words, I could recall several instances in the past when this was my response to a situation that had been embarrassing or hurtful.)(For all of you reading this– it might be possible that the passivity which you see in yourself or in a family member or friend is a defensive mechanism against some sort of hurt.  That hurt may or may not have anything to do with your relationship.  Nevertheless, it may have become a part of that person’s way with people.) 

  9. Angie,I appreciate your honesty and candor about your experience where you are living. As you decide to engage more fully, I would enjoy hearing more about your experience adjusting to this new place.Thanks very much.

  10. I think what you’re talking about is not really about us having the, ‘right stuff’… so to say in order to deepen our relationshiops… i find that many of my relationships are shallow because even though i persist and persist in trying to communicate, then i still end up self-focused quite a bit…my brain to be honest with you, just won’t come up with everything it needs to to form relationships like they should be and engage in one-to-one valuable conversation… HOWEVER, i think what you’re getting at is having one foot in the ‘soil’ which is grounded in Christ and PURPOSED in Christ…. that way, when you start to initiate conversations and deepen them, you have a reason for it… you can always remember HIS purpose… relationships that i’ve had in the past seemed to flow better when i had this in mind… it’s been a while since i’ve had quality talk with other christians… or quality time, however you call it… many of my friends, including myself, really bothers with it anymore. just got back from huntsville a little bit ago with a dear friend of mine.. and we talked the whole time coming back… but i know little of his true identity and personal walk with Christ that i did when we started the trip… this is bad! Gosh Jim, i think you’re onto something…. that i and many of my friends have forgotten… our christian lives and conversations should be purpose filled!! not just idle and passive…been quite a while since i asked someone, ‘how are you doing spiritually’ for instance..i don’t even think i nor any of my friends ever have quality time like this anymore…. it’s not that we’ve forgotten, because we had good training…. it’s just thatsomewhere, we have forgotten our identity in Christ… 

  11. Stan,I appreciate your comment.  I love your point at the end regarding our forgetfulness of our identity in Christ.  This is a real problem on a lot of fronts. Thanks so much Stan.  Good to see you when I was in Alabama.