Over the last couple of weeks, I have been reading a book that was recommended to me. This book has helped me to evaluate myself and the people in my life. It is called Safe People by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. I am only about 1/3 of the way through it, but it has opened my eyes to so much, that I have been recommending it to everyone. I couldn’t decide what to write about for my next perk of my single life, and then I realized the answer was staring me in the face. This book has showed me the characteristics of “safe” and “unsafe” people, and which friends and relationships to allow to be closer than others. It has even shed light on past friendships and relationships, and I see more clearly than ever the character traits I should avoid in the future.
Before I go on, I should mention that this book will also make you evaluate yourself to determine how safe or unsafe you are to other people. I think that is essential to know how to be a good friend or future spouse, and not to only focus on finding the fault in others. We all have elements of being unsafe, but knowing what those things are will help us to change those behaviors and become safe people for those in our lives. But I want to write today from the perspective of finding safe relationships, and recognizing or removing unsafe relationships.
As a single woman in her late 20s, it would be easy for me to listen to the voices around me that wonder why I’m still single, and why I “can’t seem to find a boyfriend.” I have had many people tell me that my standards were too high and possibly unrealistic. I recognize that some singles may have unrealistic expectations of what a relationship will be, and they seem to be waiting for prince charming (or whatever the female version of that would be) who will treat them perfectly. But I also think those people will be waiting for a long time. When people open their mouth and say that mr. perfect doesn’t exist and I need to stop waiting for that, or I need to adjust my expectations of what a relationship is going to be like, I’m sorry, but I wish I could slap those people in the face and say “do you know me at all?” Perhaps these friends are unsafe to have in my life.
I know that perfect people don’t exist, and I know that there is no prince charming. There are fallen people in a fallen world. Relationships are messy and I have my own crap that I am terrified will be the reason someone will choose to not be with me. But I also know that I am loved by God and so is that person I’ll end up with one day, and that we will hurt each other, be selfish with each other, and it will be messy at times. But that’s to be expected with imperfect people, and that is what I expect in a relationship. So no, I’m not waiting for perfection, and those that think otherwise don’t know me as well as they think they do. These people in my life believe this is my mindset because I’m single and in my late 20s and don’t serial date like some other people I know. I am careful, and I consider hard who I could see myself being compatible with. But guess what? I haven’t found that person yet. Why? Because God has not placed that person in my life yet. If His timing is perfect, and He is perfect, and He knows me better than anyone ever could, then I know (even if I don’t like it sometimes) that I will not meet that person until He makes it so. My standards are not too high, I am not waiting for prince charming. I am waiting for God to put in my life a messy, fallen, human being that I will love dearly and with whom I will go through wonderful and difficult times. The safe people in my life remind me of this. They do not tell me what I may be doing wrong and that is why I am single. Instead, they point me to the Lord. They tell me to trust Him, that His timing is best, and offer words of encouragement about me as a person. Those are safe people, and that is who you need in your life too.
God has allowed people in my life that have failed me and treated me poorly. I have seen in retrospect, especially now after reading this book, that these people are unsafe. Because I have experienced the unsafe, I can clearly see who will be safe and what I need to do to be safe in a future relationship. Let me break down the characteristics of safe and unsafe people according to this book:
- can't admit their weakness, and think they have it all together.
- are defensive in relationships, instead of open to feedback.
- are self-righteous instead of humble.
- only apologize instead of changing their behavior.
- avoid working on problems instead of dealing with them.
- demand trust instead of earning it.
- can't admit their faults.
- blame others instead of taking responsibility.
- lie instead of telling the truth.
- are stagnant instead of growing both personally and spiritually.
- avoid closeness with others instead of connecting.
- resist the freedom of others to disagree or have their own opinion, have own goals, etc., instead of encouraging it.
- flatter us instead of confronting us on our issues.
- condemn instead of forgiving us and others for how we wrong them.
- act as our parent or our child instead of relating to us as equals.
- are a negative influence on us.
- gossip instead of keeping our secrets.
- are empathetic to our pain, and act on that empathy.
- draw us closer to God and encourage and contribute to our spiritual growth.
- draw us closer to others in our lives, instead of pulling us apart.
- help us become the real person God created us to be.
- show us grace in our failings.
- speak the truth to us in love.
These are obviously not the only characteristics of safe and unsafe people. And this book does challenge the reader to evaluate himself first, then determine who is unsafe in our lives, and to not forget Matthew 7:3 which says, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” We have a prime opportunity, my single friends, to use this time to take a hard look at ourselves so that we can become the safest person possible for our friends, family, and future spouse. Then after we evaluate ourselves, take a look at the relationships in our lives, whether that be with friends, family, past significant others, or new relationships that may be forming right now. Ask for the Lord to reveal the people in your life that may be doing more damage than good. It is not easy to lose people you care about, but ultimately, God is concerned with us being safe, and surrounding us with safe people. I can honestly say that against my will God has rescued me from unsafe people. I couldn’t see it at the time, but in each situation, I can see his provision and His protective hand over the daughter He loves very much. He has saved me from a future of unhappiness, and from people that didn’t have had my best interest at heart. And I am so thankful for that.
So pray hard, and be open to God revealing what you may not want to hear, but understand that He wants you to be surrounded by safety. Put boundaries where you need to. Try to repair friendships and relationships with openness and honesty if you can, or if the unsafe person is unwilling to change, ask the Lord for direction in replacing that person with a safe person. This is not easy. There is no way it can be. We are relational people and investing in the lives of others takes time, and when we realize that the time we gave was not a good investment to make, that puts us in a difficult position with a hard decision to make. I hope that all relationships can be repaired, and that the unsafe people in our lives will become safe people, because that is entirely possible. But we are also sinful creatures, and some people just will not change. That’s just a fact of life. But this is your life and well-being at stake. If you are interested in reading this book, please do, because there is so much more to this multi-faceted process than I can share in one blog post.
I truly hope that for those not currently in relationships, that this will help protect you from those you should avoid in the future by recognizing the subtleties that may not be apparent at first glance. For those that maybe are in relationships, I hope that you will find that the person in your life is a safe person, and if not, that the unsafe person will be receptive to doing what it takes to become a safe person for you. But if that person refuses to change, hopefully you will be able to remove that unsafe person from your life. That sounds harsh, and I don’t intend for it to be. But better to hurt for a little while now, then be in a marriage with an unchanging unsafe person that causes deeper and longer lasting pain later.
I know this was a heavier post, but I truly believe all people deserve to have safe, godly, loving people as their closest companions. I don’t like hearing stories about people who have been hurt by others who couldn't care less how they have hurt them. I may not know you all by name, but I do care that every one of you finds the best people for you and live happy (though sometimes messy) lives. If after reading this, someone immediately comes to mind, maybe that is the person to start with. Allow God to move those relationships in the way He feels is best, and though it may be painful, trust that He is trying to keep you safe.