Effective Relationships: Part 5 (The Unavailable Hero)

What is a hero? We think of a hero as someone who is courageous, someone who is there at just the right moment and lays down his or her life for someone, rescuing them from danger.  In the presence of danger this person is the hero and, sometimes, in relationships as well. Most of the time, however, the true hero is the one who knows when to be unavailable and when to be present.

Many of us tend to step in, rescue, help, fix or resolve a crisis for our friends. Women tend to rescue and help, while men tend to fix the situation. The fascinating thing is that we often do this, not for the benefit of the person we’re ‘helping’ but rather to make our own life better. Especially if the recipient of our help is someone very close to us or part of our family. By helping them we often improve our quality of life.

The problem with this is two-fold. First, if we constantly play this role, it makes people dependent on us and does not allow them to become strong, independent individuals who are capable of making healthy decisions. Furthermore, it doesn’t allow them to face consequences for bad choices, making us enablers of negative behaviour. Secondly it demands so much of us that it drains us and causes burnout. There are times to step in and help but these times are far more rare than we perceive them to be. It is important to recognize this and find time alone to be refreshed, especially in our faith relationship with God.

One of my favourite sayings is: “Don’t look to me, look through me.” When people look to us to be something, we are placed under pressure. When people look through us, as believers, to see to the source of our strength, our faith, or our courage, they see God/Jesus in us and they can tap into the source rather than tapping into us. For them to do this, sometimes we have to choose to be unavailable and allow them to deal with their own circumstances.

Jesus knew when to be unavailable. He frequently slipped away from crowds to spend time alone with God. He took time apart to refresh Himself and strengthen His Spirit.

Mark 1:35
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

There are many other examples of Jesus slipping away from crowds and taking time out to take care of Himself. His primary call and responsibility was ministry and He did what He needed to do in order to be effective.

Other times Jesus told those closest to Him that He needed time without them.

Matthew 26:36
Then Jesus …. said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”

Healthy relationships take time apart and allow friends the same liberty without feeling hurt.  Co-dependent relationships, where one is needy and insecure and the other is the caretaker, are not healthy. We need to first be whole and then encourage wholeness in others. This is only possible with balance in relationships.

Beware of the friendships that ‘need’ you all the time and don’t allow you the space to refresh your spirit and tend to your primary responsibilities: The friendships that make you constantly feel the need to put your family on hold for their needs, spend time or money—especially if you don’t have it to give—doing what they want to do. These are dangerous friendships. They will drain you dry, destroy your spirit and suck the life right out of you.  You will short-change your primary responsibilities and find yourself stressed out and empty, eventually causing the relationship to disintegrate.

Years ago I had a friend who was constantly frustrated in her marriage. It seemed that every time we were together, she would have a new ‘negative’ to share about her husband. If she believed her husband had any qualities she rarely, if ever, mentioned any. For a while we spent a lot of time with them as a couple and during that time we witnessed strengths and weaknesses in both of them.  It was not hard to see that her constant criticism bothered him and his lack of appreciation for her made her feel unloved. Eventually the busyness of life kept us from socializing as couples but her critical phone calls and visits continued.

As her visits and calls became more frequent, it started to impact my personal life. I couldn’t keep up with my own responsibilities because it seemed that the almost-daily crises in her life were priority. I found myself spending time and money support her, while neglecting my family.

One evening as I ran the latest crisis past Tim, he looked at me and, with tears in his eyes, said, “Trudy, the way she talks about her husband is the way you have started to treat me.” I stared at Tim in disbelief for a moment and then, as scenes flashed through my mind of the weeks leading up to that moment, I knew it was true.

I attempted to address these issues but had no clue how to do it well, so our relationship disintegrated. If I could not give her what she ‘needed’ then, in her mind, I was abandoning her. Being young and not having the wisdom of experience on my side, I didn’t handle it well. I can’t say for sure who cut who out but it was the end of that relationship. We gave up because neither of us knew how to be unavailable in a healthy way.

In relationships where dependency has developed it is possible to turn things around and redefine the relationship without abandoning the friendship. It’s hard work and requires honest communication, but it’s character building for both parties.

With time and experience I have found that starting into relationships, planning to be unavailable at times, makes all the difference. If I never let myself get drawn into that position of rescuing and fixing, I don’t have to try to undo it later.

In the end, maybe it’s the unavailable hero that saves the day.