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February is often considered the month for love, but are we confused by our most prominent love stories? Unrequited love. Distance. Occasionally toxic. Although drama may be exciting, it might be time to turn away and transform our relationships. This month we’ll talk about ways to do that in the series No Points For Pain.

Drew was out of breath when we sat down for lunch. “So sorry I’m late – I just couldn’t get off the phone with my brother.” Her eyes grew wide. “He’s starting to talk about divorce.”

Mae had decided to freelance after her daughters started school. It would be the perfect arrangement – she could set her own hours and spend plenty of time with the kids. It was hard not to be swept up in her enthusiasm.

Two years later, she was still waiting for a steady stream of Marketing clients. Jon became anxious as their savings dwindled, but Mae felt confident things could work if she only had more time. They made a compromise – if business didn’t pick up within 6 months, she would stop freelancing.

Six months came and went without more income, and the fights worsened. Drew sighed. “How did paying the cable bill get so ugly?” She shook her head. “I don’t know how they’re holding it together – no one wants to cozy up to the person they’ve bickered with all day.”

As I listened, I remembered Sandra and Andy Stanley’s habit of building a guardrail around important issues. Jon and Mae hoped everything would work out if they breezed past the scary parts, just like a bad horror movie. However, they missed some crucial chances to connect.

Jon and Mae skipped the part where they set up a guardrail around their finances. They only talked about cash when the bills piled up. How many people have the right words at the right time when they’re drowning in debt?

Jon and Mae skipped the part where they set up a guardrail around their family. Freelancing was meant to bring more joy. Neither of them wanted to admit that their home overflowed with tension.

Jon and Mae skipped the part where they discussed their deepest dreams and how they might get there. Mae angrily defended consulting, even though her plans weren’t working the way she had hoped. Jon felt like he came home to a moody teenager whose words and actions were out of alignment. Stubbornness was so pervasive that no one could vulnerably and honestly say, “We’re partners – let’s work it out.”

This week, spend some time considering your subconscious relationship agreements. Are you talking past someone? Have you closed your heart in anger? Is something about to spiral out of control? Skip all those parts.

We don’t get extra points for enduring painful relationships. Invite Colishia S. Benjamin’s gentle idea in as your daily relationship practice in February: “Authentic love is soft, smooth, easy, it’s laughter to the soul, it’s communication, it’s respect, it’s an unconditional love without envy or malice.”