What Is My Most Important Relationship?
written by John C. Maxwell
January 27 2013
Succeed at home, and all other relationships become easier.
Did you know that according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, families
dissolve at a greater rate in the United States than in any other major
industrialised country? And we also lead in the number of fathers absent
from the home US divorce laws are the most permissible in the world,
and people are using them at an alarming rate. To some people, marriages
and families have become acceptable casualties in the pursuit of success.
But, more than ever before in our history, people are now realizing
that the hope of happiness at the expense of breaking up a family is an
illusion. You can’t give up your marriage or neglect your children and
gain true success. Building and maintaining strong families benefit us in
every way, including in helping us become successful. Family life expert
Nick Stinnet asserted more than a decade ago, ‘When you have a strong
family life, you receive the message that you are loved, cared for and important
The positive intake of love, affection, and respect ... gives you inner resources
to deal with life more successfully’ (emphasis added).
Working to Stay Together
Fairly early in our marriage, Margaret and I realised that in my career, I
would often have the opportunity to travel. And we decided that any time
I got the chance to go someplace interesting or to attend an event that
we knew would be exciting, she would come along with me, even when
it was difficult financially. We’ve done a pretty good job of following through
on that commitment over the years.
Margaret and I, with our kids Elizabeth and Joel Porter, have been to
the capitals of Europe, the jungles of South America, the teeming cities
of Korea, the rugged outback of Australia, and on safari in South Africa.
We’ve met wonderful people of every race and a multitude of nationalities.
We’ve had the chance to see and do things that will remain in our
memories for the rest of our lives. I decided early on, what would it profit
me to gain the whole world and lose my family?
I know that I wouldn’t have experienced any measure of success in
life without Margaret. But my gratitude to her and the children doesn’t
come from what they’ve brought me. It comes from who they are to me.
When I reach the end of my days, I don’t want Margaret, Elizabeth or Joel
Porter to say that I was a good author, speaker, pastor or leader. My desire
is that the kids think I’m a good father and that Margaret thinks I’m a
good husband. That’s what matters most. It’s the measure of true success.
Steps to Building a Strong Family
Good marriages and strong families are joys, but they don’t just happen
on their own. Dr RC Adams, who studied thousands of marriages over
a ten-year period, found that only 17 percent of the unions he studied
could be considered truly happy. And Jarle Brors, former director of the
Institute of Marriage and Family Relations in Washington DC, said, ‘We
are finally realising that we have to go back to the basics in order to reestablish
the type of families that give us the type of security that children
can grow up in.’ If we want to have solid families and healthy marriages,
we have to work hard to create them.
If you have a family – or you intend to have one in the future – take
a look at the following guidelines. They have helped to develop the Maxwell
family, and I believe they can help you to strengthen yours.
Express Appreciation for Each Other
I once heard someone joke that home is the place where family members
go when they are tired of being nice to other people. Unfortunately,
some homes seem to work that way. A salesman spends his day treating
his clients with the utmost kindness, often in the face of rejection, in order
to build his business, but he is rude to his wife when he comes home.
Or a doctor spends the day being caring and compassionate with her patients,
but she comes home exhausted and blows up with her children.
To build a strong family, you have to make your home a supportive
environment. Psychologist William James observed, ‘In every person from
the cradle to the grave, there is a deep craving to be appreciated.’ Feeling
appreciated brings out the best in people. And when that appreciation
comes in the home and is coupled with acceptance, love, and encouragement,
the bonds between family members grow, and the home becomes
a safe haven for everyone.
What would it profit me to gain the whole world and lose my family?
I’ve heard that for every negative remark to a family member, it takes
four positive statements to counteract the damage. That’s why it’s so important
to focus on the positive aspects of each other’s personality and
express unconditional love for each other, both verbally and non-verbally.
Then the home becomes a positive environment for everyone.
Structure Your Lives to Spend Time Together
It’s been said that the American home has become a domestic cloverleaf
upon which family members pass each other while en route to a multitude
of places and activities. That seems to be true. When I was a kid, I
spent a lot of time with my parents, brother and sister. We went on family
vacations, usually in the car. As a parent, it’s been harder for me to
keep that tradition alive. We’ve been good about planning and taking vacations
together, but sometimes we’ve had to be creative to have time
together. For example, when the children were younger, I always tried
to drive them to school in the morning to spend some time with them.
But with all the things going on in our busy lives, we found that the only
way to get time together was to plan it carefully.
Every month, I spend several hours examining my travel schedule, figuring
out what lessons I need to write, thinking about the projects I have
to complete and so on. And at that time, I’ll plan my work for the whole
month. But before I mark any dates for work, I write in all the important
dates for family activities. I’ll block out time for birthdays, anniversaries,
ball games, theatre performances, graduation ceremonies, concerts
and romantic dinners. And I’ll also schedule special one-on-one time with
Margaret and each of the kids so that we can continue to build our relationships.
Then once those are set, I’ll plan my work schedule around them.
I’ve done this for years, and it’s been the only thing that’s prevented my
work from squeezing my family out of the schedule. I’ve found that if I don’t
strategically structure my life to spend time with my family, it won’t happen.
Deal with Crises in a Positive Way
Every family experiences problems, but not all families respond to them
in the same way. And that often separates a family that’s close from one
that’s barely holding together. I’ve noticed that some people pursuing
success seem to avoid the home environment. I suspect that one reason
is that they are not able to handle family crisis situations well. They find it
easier to try to avoid the problems altogether. But that’s not a solution.
M Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, has offered some remarkable
insights on the subject of problems and how we handle them:
It is in this whole process of meeting and solving problems that
life has meaning. Problems are the cutting edge that distinguishes
between success and failure. Problems call forth our courage and
wisdom; indeed they create our courage and our wisdom. It is only
because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually ... It is
through the pain of confronting and resolving problems that we
learn. As Benjamin Franklin said, ‘Those things that hurt, instruct.’
If we are to grow as families and be successful at home as well as in the other
areas of our lives, we must learn to cope with the difficulties we find there.
Here are some strategies to help you with the problem-solving process:
• Attack the problem, never the person. Always try to be supportive of each
other. Remember, you’re all on the same side. So don’t take your
out on people. Instead, attack the problem.
• Get all the facts. Nothing can cause more damage than jumping to false
conclusions during a crisis. Don’t waste your emotional or physical
energy chasing down a wrong problem. Before you try to find solutions,
be sure you know what’s really going on.
• List all the options. This may sound a bit analytical, but it really helps because
you can look at emotional subjects with some objectivity. Besides,
if you had a problem at work, you would probably be willing to go through
this process. Give any family problem at least as much time and energy
as you would a professional one.
• Choose the best solution. As you decide on a solution, always remember
that people are your priority. Make your choices accordingly.
• Look for the positives in the problem. As Dr Peck said, the tough things give
us a chance to grow. No matter how bad things look at the moment,
just about everything has something positive that comes from it.
• Never withhold love. No matter how bad things get or how angry you are,
never withhold your love from your spouse or children. Sure, tell them
how you feel. Acknowledge the problems. But continue loving family
members unconditionally through it all.
This last point is the most important of all. When you feel loved and supported
by your family, you can weather nearly any crisis. And you can truly
An article in the Dallas Morning News reported that the average couple married
ten years or more spends only 37 minutes a week in meaningful communication.
I could hardly believe it. Compare that to the fact that the
average American spends almost five times longer than that watching television
every day! No wonder so many marriages are in trouble. Just like
anything else, good communication doesn’t develop by itself. It must be
developed, and that process takes time and effort. Here are some suggestions
for helping you do exactly that:
• Develop platforms for communication. Be creative about finding reasons to
talk to each other. Take walks together as a family where you can talk.
Call your spouse a couple of times during the day. Meet for lunch one
day a week. Offer to drive the kids to soccer practice so you can talk.
Communication can happen almost anywhere.
• Control communication killers. The television and the telephone probably
steal the most family communication time. Restrict the amount of time
you give them, and you’d be amazed by how much time you have to talk.
• Encourage honesty and transparency in conversations. Differences of opinion
are healthy and normal in a family. Encourage all family members to
speak their minds, and when they do, don’t criticise or ridicule them,
causing them to feel stupid.
• Adopt a positive communication style. Be conscious of the way you interact
with your family members. You may have adopted a style that stifles
open communication. If you’re in the habit of using any communication
style other than a cooperative one, begin working immediately
to change. You’ll have to do that if you want to build your relationship
with your family.
Share the Same Values
Today, families don’t give values the same priority or attention as they
once did. Boston College education professor William Kirkpatrick said,
‘There is a myth that parents don’t have the right to instill their values
in their children. Once again, the standard dogma here is that children
must create their own values. But of course, children have precious little
chance to do that … Does it make sense for parents to remain neutral bystanders
when everyone else from script writers, to entertainers, to advertisers,
to sex educators insist on selling their values to children?’
Common values strengthen a family and are especially beneficial to
children as they grow up. A study conducted by the Search Institute showed
that in single-parent homes, children whose parent expresses and enforces
standards thrive at twice the rate of children who don’t have values
promoted in a similar way. And that doesn’t even take into account whether
the values are what we would consider positive.
The best way to get started in working toward sharing common values
in your family is to identify the values you want to instill. If you’re
like most families, you’ve never done that before. But to be able to live
them out, you first have to find them out. They are the three to seven
things you’re willing to go to the mat for.
Let me list for you the five we’ve identified in the Maxwell family so
that you have an idea of what I’m talking about:
1. Commitment to God
2. Commitment to personal and family growth
3. Commonly shared experiences
4. Confidence in ourselves and others
5. The desire to make a contribution in life
The values you choose will undoubtedly be different from ours, but you
need to identify them. If you’ve never done it before, set aside some time
to talk about your values with your spouse and children. If your kids are
older, include them in the process of identifying the values. Make it a
discussion time. And never be reluctant to take on the role of model and
teacher of your family’s values. If you don’t do it, someone else will.
Build Your Marriage
Finally, if you are married, the best thing you can do to strengthen your
family is to build your marriage relationship. It’s certainly the best thing
you can do for your spouse, but it also has an incredibly positive impact
on your children. My friend Josh McDowell wisely stated, ‘The greatest
thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.’ And the
greatest thing a mother can do for her children is to love their father.
A common missing ingredient in many marriages is dedication to make
things work. Marriages may start because of love, but they finish because
of commitment. Sexuality researcher Dr Alfred Kinsey, who studied 6 000
marriages and 3 000 divorces, revealed that ‘there may be nothing more
important in a marriage than a determination that it shall persist. With
such a determination, individuals force themselves to adjust and to accept
situations which would seem sufficient grounds for a breakup, if continuation
of the marriage were not the prime objective.’ If you want to
help your spouse, your children and yourself, then become committed
to building and sustaining a strong marriage.
NBA coach Pat Riley said, ‘Sustain a family life for a long period of
time and you can sustain success for a long period of time. First things first.
If your life is in order you can do whatever you want.’ There is definitely
a correlation between family success and personal success. Not only does
building strong family relationships lay the groundwork for future success,
but it also gives life deeper meaning.
I believe that few people have ever been truly successful without a
supportive family. True, some people are called to be single, but
they are rare. For most people, a good family helps you know your purpose
and develop your potential, and it helps you enjoy the journey
along the way with an intensity that isn’t possible otherwise. And when
it comes to sowing seeds that benefit others, who could possibly derive
greater benefit from you than your own family members?
This is an extract from The 8 Pillars of Excellence by John C. Maxwell. To buy the book now, click here