4 Elements of Healthy Family Relationships

4 Elements of Healthy Family Relationships

Estrangement appears to be on the rise.

Increasing numbers of parents, children, and siblings are cutting off or putting restrictive "boundaries" on their relationships.(1) 

This used to be caused by serious problems like abuse. But as our culture grows increasingly narcissistic, people are beginning to sever relationships for petty, selfish, hypocritical reasons.

Even in Christian circles, people are more critical and less willing to consider the desires of family members.

Healthy relationships require:

1. Seeing things from the other person’s perspective (Matthew 7:1-4).

2. Placing value on the desires of others (Philippians 2:3-4).

Many families are dealing with estrangement. These 4 biblical principles can help us restore family relationships.

3. Willingly working through problems even when it takes time and effort (Matthew 5:23-24).

4. Repentance and forgiveness.(2) 

Christians can’t honor the Lord while refusing reconciliation with others:

"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift." Matthew 5:23-24

💙Beyond 1-minute for those who want more 💙 

Boundaries. Be aware of this popular teachings and learn to judge it biblically. See Are Boundaries Biblical?

(1) An area that is especially prevalent is adult children neglecting, rejecting, marginalizing, and hypocritically judging their parents. This is accepted and promoted in our culture, but it will result in loss of well-being for the adult child and his/her family (Ephesians 6:2-3). God does not expect adult children to obey their parents, but He does expect them to listen to their parents and treat them with high regard. Their parents may not "deserve" honor, but God's commands do. If you are struggling with your attitude toward your parents, I encourage you to read the 1-minute devotions in the archive Honoring Parents. Do it for the Lord. 

Note: Children who have been physically or sexually abused by parents must seek godly Christian counsel in handling their relationship with their parents. 

(2) It's important that we repent even if we are not completely responsible for problems -- even if we are only 10% responsible. And we should repent whether the other person repents or not. Full reconciliation requires that both parties repent of any wrong, but we should do what's right even if the other person refuses, even if reconciliation cannot be reached. We don't repent of things we haven't done wrong, but neither do we excuse our sins based on the sins of the other person. We repent because God tells us to do it. See 4 Things That Happen When We Fail to Repent and I Doubt They Genuinely Repented.

Many families are dealing with estrangement. These 4 biblical principles can help us restore family relationships.


  1. After years of psychological abuse by a narcissist mother, i have distanced myself. I do not believe God wants his children continually abused.

    1. Hi Shan,

      God wants His children to grow, mature, and deny themselves, and sometimes He uses difficult people in our lives to refine us.

      And God commands us to honor our parents.

      That goes beyond simple respect, and it requires contact and consideration, not distance. He tells us to honor them, not because they deserve it but because He deserves it.

      I know a great many people, even those who have been physically abused by their parents, who are able to honor them in safe ways.

      And I know of people who have honored narcissistic or difficult parents and ended up realizing that one reason their parents behaved as they did was because they had never genuinely honored them.

      If you study the lives of God's men and women in Scripture, you will find that many - perhaps most of them dealt with narcisistic, ungodly people and did so with respect and honor. Joseph with his ungodly brothers (Genesis 50:20), David with ungodly King Saul (1 Samuel 24), Ruth with a mother-in-law who was bitter and took her for granted, etc.

      I don't see God's goal as keeping us comfortable or surrounding us with wonderful family.

      Faith isn't the easy way. It's the hard way but we do it in God's strength, not our own.

      If I were to advise you from my human understanding, I would tell you to have nothing to do with your mother. But God's wisdom is different. He cares about our spiritual growth, not just the ease of our lives.

      I am speaking to you from my experiences and the experiences of others I know personally. There are many difficult parents and in laws in this world. We can't change who they are, but we can change who we are.

      And I believe that is why God attaches a promise to his command to honor our parents.

      You may think that your well-being is best served by distancing yourself from your mother, but God says your well-being is best served by honoring her.

      “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
      Ephesians 6:2

      I pray you will at least consider these things and try to think of at least one things you might do this week that would honor your mother....and do it for the Lord.

      God bless you.

  2. How should someone like Shan have a relationship with a mother who is narcissistic and continues abuse their adult child? How do you keep a relationship like that? It's not healthy for the mental state and also physical health as well in some cases due to the trauma and stress of it all. I am in a similar position as Shan, and I have wondered, should I continue to have a relationship and be in contact with my mother even though she still continues to be narcissistic, negative, and obsessive over money, etc the list goes on. Does God not say to stay away from people like that? Bad company corrupts good morals. Right? I understand she is the way she is for numerous reasons based on her up bringing & life experiences. I love my mom, and I am working on forgiveness L, but I just don't feel like I can keep in touch with her and have a relationship with her, and be involved with someone who is negative all the time, and just brings drama & gossip, & bad energy around. I pray for her, and hope God can change her heart, but how do I honor my mother when it's difficult to be around such a person? Please help me answer this dilemma of mine and still obey God's command? Thank you Gail.

    1. Dear Mamabear,
      I am not without sympathy for you. I have dealt with some very narcissist people in my family, and I would like to protect myself from these people, but I have grown more through these difficult relationships than through my healthy relationships. I strongly believe that if we don't learn how to deal respectfully with difficult relationships, we become a difficult person ourselves.

      One problem with narcissists is that they only surround themselves with people who build up their egos. They demand that other live up to their standards.

      We do the same thing when we refuse to be around difficult people.

      No one should allow themselves to be physically abused, and there are definitely times when people should set down positive guidelines in a relationship, but cutting off our parents is definitely can't be justified with Scripture.

      The Scripture you quote is about making ungodly people our close friends (companions). Honoring our parents doesn't mean we have to consider them our close companions. It means we show them reasonable attention and respect.

      When God tells Children to bring them up in the nurture of the Lord, He doesn't tell them only to do it if their children give them positive feedback. If we think God wants us avoiding difficult people, we'll have to delete about 100 Bible verses to get to that belief.

      In the end you and Shan will make the decisions in your relationships, but I believe you will miss the blessings and well-being that come with forgiving and returning good for evil. If we can love our enemies, we should be able to love ungodly parents.

    2. Sorry for the typos: The second to the last paragraph should read: When God tells parents to bring up their children in the nurture of the Lord ...

  3. Thank Gail for your wise words! I love that God has put your ministry in my life, I have learned much reading your Bible love notes. I'm truly grateful for your words. God bless you and your family ❤️

    1. I've prayed for you and your situation, dear Mammabear, and I know God will give you comfort, peace, and wisdom as you navigate this difficult but important relationship.

    2. Thank you mama bear! I have forgiven and will be open to reconciliation but I decided not to allow the continuous abuse.
      @Gail- I appreciate your opinion but each situation is different and without fully understanding the dynamics, you shouldn't encourage people to stay in abusive relationships. I am at peace with my decision .

    3. Hi Shaun,
      As I said, you and Mammabear will have to make your own decisions, but I have to wonder if you are honestly accessing your situation since you've dishonestly represented me in your comment.

      I never encouraged people to stay in abusive relationships. I said, "No one should allow themselves to be physically abused, and there are definitely times when people should set down positive guidelines in a relationship but cutting off our parents definitely can't be justified with Scripture."

      I’ve done a lot of research on modern “Christian” counseling methods and found that the trend is to use words like “toxic” and "abusive" when it would be more accurate to describe the situation/person as "difficult" or "annoying." In addition, passages like Romans 12 and Philippians 2 are virtually ignored. The focus is often on "protecting" ourselves instead of denying ourselves, more focused on cutting people off than doing the hard work of reconciliation.

      I’m 70 years old, and I’ve dealt with some very difficult family members, and I admit that I rarely changed others by applying biblical principles to our relationship, but God has changed and strengthened my heart and soul by obedience to His commands. I completely trust God’s commands, and I will continue to encourage people to obey them, even when it’s hard…in fact, especially when it’s hard.