James Miller wrote a monumental scientific work titled Living Systems, suggesting all of life is categorized into seven living systems. Cells, organs, organisms, groups, organizations, societies, and the United Nations or a supranational organization share nineteen common characteristics. Just as an organ or a person has boundaries and can be considered healthy or unhealthy, so can a group or society. These boundaries protect and define the system, marking the distinction between the internal system and the external environment.
A system’s health can be assessed by examining the effectiveness and efficiency of how the system functions. In a healthy system, regulation, cohesion, and harmony among the different components occur because each part regulates itself, leading to overall growth and development. Conversely, an unhealthy system is characterized by dysregulation and a lack of cohesion and growth. Systems that are unregulated become pathological, invading other systems.
Honoring your relationships means as part of a system, marriage, family, business, or community organization, your contribution to the system is to be the catalyst of growth, vibrancy, and vision for the system. Honoring relationships involves comfort and challenge, fostering goodwill, believing the best about others, and operating in good faith. These provide a foundation for mutual respect, trust, and sacrificial love. Each healthy person is a living system with the unique ability to contribute to the larger system in ways that catalyze growth beyond the system; family, or marriage relationship.
Triangles: Basic Building Blocks
A cell is the basic building block in all animal life; human beings have a brain, liver, skin, and heart cells. The basic building block in all relationships is a triangle. Just as cells are organized and function together for health and balance, relationships are organized around the triangle’s A. B. and C. positions.
A, B, C: The Building Blocks
You are always in the A position and decide who or what is in your B and C positions. You meet your partner’s wants and needs by placing your partner in your B position. Placing your partner in your C position does not meet that person’s wants and needs.
Your partner is always in their A position and decides who or what is in their B and C positions. Placing you in their B position, your wants and needs are met. Placing you in their C position does not meet your wants and needs.
Because you are in your A position, you and only you decide who or what gets to be in your B position. If you keep your partner in your B position 90 percent of the time, meeting their wants and needs, don’t you deserve to be in your partner’s B position 90 percent of the time, getting your wants and needs met? No! Your partner is the only person who decides who or what is in their B position.
If you place and keep your partner in your B position, meeting their wants and needs, does that take their choice away regarding who they place in their B position? If your partner places you in their B position, meeting your wants and needs, are you obligated to do the same for your partner? No.
If getting your wants and needs met is important to you, why wouldn’t you be willing to meet your partner’s wants and needs to have them meet your wants and needs? Isn’t this just fair?
This thought process or approach to a relationship is common but does not consider that your partner is different. What if your partner does not want you to meet their wants and needs as much as you want to meet their wants and needs so they will satisfy your wants and needs? How do you meet your wants and needs if your partner doesn’t need you as much as you want and need them? This difference is a dilemma for most couples.
Application to Marriage
Let’s look at the triangle concept in marriage. A husband is A, in his life; he keeps his wife in his B, and everything else in his C. His wife is A in her life. She keeps her husband in her B, and everything else is in her C. Both people get their wants and needs met. They avoid adversity, and emotional reactivity is minimal, but this is not sustainable because they eventually have different priorities in life.
They have a baby. The new mother is A in her life; she keeps their newborn in her B and her husband in her C. The infant requires twenty-four-hour care and must be in her B for several months. Her husband and new father is A in his life; how he manages himself in her C and how she handles herself with their child in her B determines how they manage their lives together.
Their response to each position in their relationship triangle determines their relationships’ health, adaptability, and flexibility. Managing their reactions to the B and C positions in each other’s lives is important for individuals to honor their relationships, for couples to be on the same page in parenting their children, and for children to become healthy adults.
While emotional maturity is necessary for flexibly moving between B, or C in each other’s lives, the significance each person places in the B and C is determined by many factors, the least of which is how you grew up.
Children only regulate themselves and face adversity as responsibly as their parents.
Cells and triangles are the canvas upon which God paints His story. A canvas holds value once the artist places his work on it. Canvases come in all shapes and sizes. Some “A,” “B,” and “C” positions display more prominently than others, but all have their place in the body of Christ. Your place in the family of God gives you identity, meaning and purpose, belonging, and community.
From “B” to “C”: A Scale of Growth
Babys are born egocentric. Everything is about the baby in their parent’s “B” position, which we’ll call Door Number One. At this stage, our focus revolves around ourselves. We clutch tightly to what we perceive as ‘our life’ – getting our wants, needs, and desires met. We seek fairness in everything, believing the world should always reciprocate our efforts and satisfy our wants and needs. Every relationship is transactional, each interaction a barter. Love is an exchange of favors, and every ‘no’ we hear threatens our survival. Getting wants and needs met is the “B” position or Door Number One.
“B”: Door Number One
The threat of not getting what you want when you want it occurs at two years old when a mother tells her little warrior no to the candy bar in the grocery store checkout line. He throws a fit, telling himself, As long as you meet my every want and need, you love me, but if you don’t meet my wants and needs, you must not love me. This is not true, but this message persists as the two-year-old repeats it to himself and others in adult relationships.
The problem with this way of thinking is that it only grants value to those who can meet your wants and needs at “B.” By clinging onto Door Number One, we create reactivity that prevents us from growing and developing healthy relationships, dishonoring others, particularly our partners. So, the first step in moving away from transactional living is realizing that:
- Happiness is not the goal of life.
- Differences and disagreements Honor your partner, making room for them.
- Avoid conflict because differences are a close approximation to no as an answer doesn’t work, and
- Believing the worst about others isn’t a foundation for building healthy relationships.
These characterize two-year-old thinking and the thought process behind Door Number One: As long as you meet my every want and need, you love me, but if you don’t meet my wants and needs, you must not love me. This is the “B” position we must move through as part of life’s journey. The pursuit of fairness is where everyone’s relationship journey begins. This quest shapes the world around us, blinds us to meet the wants and needs of others, and puts our lives in search of a balance to give and take. These themes show up as adults as emotional fusion, emotional reactivity, and codependency. While we’re busy saving our lives, we lose our lives focused on what we want when we want it, the essence of immaturity.
“C”: Door Number Two
But there’s a turning point, a transition toward – Door Number Two. Eventually, you realize Mother is telling you no because she loves you, not because she doesn’t love you. Here, life takes on a new meaning. Instead of clutching our lives fearfully, we begin letting go, surrendering our self-protection, and embracing a journey toward cooperation. We find that in letting go of what we have to have when we have to have it, others have choices that we do not determine, and others expect us to be more self-directed. Receiving no as an answer takes on a whole new meaning.
Demanding what we want when we want it is no longer necessary because if our motive is to receive our spouse’s love, then we can receive love when we are told no as an answer. If, on the other hand, our demands are self-indulgent, they continue because we just want what we want when we want it.
The adversity of hearing no as an answer is an opportunity to persevere and develop character and confidence that ultimately contributes to self-esteem and self-worth. This is the process of growth and maturity behind Door Number Two.
- Growth is a far better goal for healthy relationships, and you find happiness along the way.
- Allowing others to be different and disagree honors your relationships.
- It recognizes that conflict doesn’t have to be a confrontation as much as it can be an invitation to conversations.
- Believing the best about your partner is a foundation for building trust, connection, cooperation, and love.
Interacting from an adult perspective is based on humility, cooperation, and growth. The journey here begins with the acceptance of ‘no,’ seeing it not as a threat but as an opportunity for growth. We no longer seek to control our lives but surrender control to God, the primary actor in His story. We become more aware of our motives and how they shape our relationships.
The Journey from B to C
In this journey from Door Number One to Door Number Two, we evolve from self-centeredness and immaturity to a place of selflessness, emotional growth, and maturity in Christ. It’s a transition from seeking to save our lives based on fairness to losing our lives in the pursuit of Christ – and, in the process, finding a life full of love, grace, and growth. This is the narrative of our spiritual and emotional journey. This transformative process takes us from saving to losing, from fairness to grace, and from Door Number One to Door Number Two.
Your Two-Year-Old Within
Using a one to ten scale, in which Door Number One represents a one and Door Number Two is represented by ten, where are you on the one to ten scale of growth, maturity, connection, and intimacy? If you don’t meet my wants and needs, you must not love me, characterize your attitude and disposition toward others – Door Number One (1). Or are you closer to Door Number Two (10)? The reason you don’t meet my wants and needs is my opportunity to grow because you love me. Two married adults must be closer to a six on this one-to-ten scale, especially when the subject matters, than a two on the scale. How can two-year-olds stay married?
Taking up your cross “C” and following Jesus means releasing your agenda to hear others, leave home, and lose your life for Jesus’ sake and find life. The “C” position holds life in the New Way of the Spirit. The entire framework of healthy or unhealthy relationships turns on a person’s ability to live, thrive, embrace, and be grateful for the “C” position in another’s life. Therefore, a healthy response to the “C” position requires a new reading of reality.