How to Lose a Relationship in Four Steps

We’re beginning a brand-new series on one of my favorite topics, relationships! There’s no area of our life that carries greater impact. Relationships are our greatest source of joy and sorrow, stress and satisfaction. 

So, why do relationships get broken? No one ever goes on a date, into a marriage, or has kids intending for those relationships to fail. The only way to avoid a break is to see with a new set of eyes.

Abraham and his wife Sarah were the two God chose to establish the Jewish race. Abraham is called the ‘Father of Faith’ because of his unflinching confidence in God. The irony is, as faith filled as Abraham was, he was one of the most relationally dysfunctional people in scripture. 

In Genesis 12, God called Abram and Sarai (later renamed Abraham and Sarah) to move from their homeland to start a new people, one that would display for the world what it is like to follow the one true God. Although they were in love and the invitation to follow God was exciting, the journey quickly took an unfortunate turn. A severe famine struck the land of Canaan forcing Abram to Egypt. As he was approaching the border of Egypt, Abram said to his wife, Sarai, “Look, you are a very beautiful woman. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife. Let’s kill him; then we can have her!’ So please tell them you are my sister. Then they will spare my life and treat me well because of their interest in you “ (Genesis 12:10-13 NLT). Did you just read that? Abram convinces his wife to act like his sister so that he won’t be a target. Abram’s priority was saving himself. 

Based on this passage, we see four steps that are destructive to a relationship:


In some, selfishness is undeniable (in the form of dominance or abuse), but for most it is covert, so disguised that we even fool ourselves. Check yourself with the following test to see if you’ve slipped into selfishness. Selfishness is active in your heart if:

  • Serving someone else is just a means to getting something for yourself. 
  • You hold a disproportionate amount of control in the relationship.
  • You avoid a disproportionate amount of blame
  • You fail the “test of 1st thought”: Is my first thought how a given situation will affect me, or the person I love? 

Being self-centered kills any relational dynamic. By definition, a relationship is something shared by two people. Selfishness takes something meant for two and reduces it to only serve one. Selfishness strangles the life out of any relationship.

In Luke 9, Jesus said if we want to be his follower we must give up our own way and follow him. Kill selfishness before it kills you! Put it on the cross. Crucify it. Crucifixion was a very specific type of capital punishment where one was fixed in a position that restricted certain things. You can’t serve yourself when you are on a cross. Your hands are positioned outward, toward others. You can’t focus on yourself on a cross. The rotation of your head is restricted, meaning you are forced to look outward. 

Imagine how much your relationships would improve if you walked into every conversation asking how you could encourage the other person, with your hands always offering to help, not looking at your own needs or wants, but looking at the well-being of those around you. 2000 years ago, the cross mended the most broken relationship in history between God and man. Today the cross still has the capacity to mend relationships, but you have to get on it! 

  1. No Plan for STRESS

Along with His call, God also gave Abram a promise that he and Sarai would have a son. The problem was they were both very old. And though they tried to match their expectation to what God promised, they struggled. The clock kept spinning, people kept snickering and the pressure mounted. 

Every relationship will endure seasons of stress. Unfortunately, we tend to be at our worst under pressure. We make bad decisions. We say hurtful things. In pain, we choose unhealthy ways to cope. In the pressure of challenges, we try to make things happen, usually making things worse. “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had not been able to bear children for him. But she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, ‘The Lord has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.’ And Abram agreed with Sarai’s proposal“ (Genesis 16:1-2 NLT). Bad idea. Hagar got pregnant, and Sarah despised them both. Handling stress poorly always produces a worse situation. 

There will be stress. Get prepared and make a plan to deal with it. This will avoid dysfunctional patterns. When stress is increasing, resist insulting one another. Remember, stress is just a temporary thing. Refuse to tackle the problem when you’re tired. Agree that pressure will not pull you apart, but will push you together. The Bible says you and your spouse were made one in marriage. That means God put 50% of everything your marriage needs in each of you. When you handle problems alone you are only using half the wisdom, insight, and gifting God intended for you to have.

  1. SETTLE in Your Effort

Over my years of coaching and counseling relationship issues, I have come to believe that complacency is a much greater threat than conflict. When a relationship gets put on cruise control, a crash is inevitable. Abram settled in, grew wealthy and did not watch over and protect Sarai. Meanwhile, King Abimelech decided he would take Sarai as his wife. Fortunately God intervened. ”But that night God came to Abimelech in a dream and told him, ‘You are a dead man, for that woman you have taken is already married!’” (Genesis 20:3 NLT). 

God kept Abimelech from death, and Abraham from regret, with a wake-up call. I've seen many who woke up the minute they lost their relationship. What God gave Abimelech and Abraham is called mercy. You need to realize how valuable something is before you lose it!  Wake up to the fact those kids are going to be gone in a few years and you will alone in the house with your spouse. Wake up to the fact your office can replace you, but your family cannot. If anything deserves our full attention, it’s the people we love most! 

  1. Not SEEKING God's Help

As I read Abraham’s story, I noticed that every right step can be traced back to prayer, and in every misstep, prayer is missing! Every problem we have is born from prayerlessness. Marriages are anemic because our prayer lives are anemic. Relationships are empty because our prayer lives are empty. Homes are filled with conflict and chaos because we have failed to give God the green light to enter and establish His peace.

Recently, I had a flat tire. I hadn’t thought of my spare in the trunk until I was stuck on the side of the highway. Too many of us pull out prayer like a spare tire. It’s something we think is only relevant once the relationship is in trouble. Prayer is not meant to be our last hope. It's how we invite God to protect, prosper, and propel our relationships forward. The guaranteed way to bolster a relationship is to make it God-powered through prayer.

Here’s my challenge. For the duration of this series, I want you to pray each day for your relationships. Keep it short and if you miss a day, start again. Intentionally take note of how it affects you. God created the world in seven days. Imagine what He will do in your relationships when you give Him several weeks over the course of this series.