envelop spinner search close plus arrow-right arrow-left facebook twitter

How to Build Fulfilling Relationships

by Brian Flewelling on April 16, 2024

Last week, we discussed Essential Relationship Skills. If you can “seek first to understand, then to be understood,” as Stephen Covey puts it, that’s relationship gold.

This week, we want to look at how to connect more deeply with the people we care about so that we can experience emotionally fulfilling relationships with others. God created you with emotional and social needs. We are deeply programmed to desire feeling valuable, seen and understood, respected and cared for, and safe and provided for. When we don’t receive these adequately, our relational landscape can be tainted with abandonment, mistrust, isolation, shame, and emptiness.

Emotional Attachment

Some of our relational environments have not provided adequate experiences or have even set us up for failure. Emotions may feel scary or dangerous; maybe we grew up never learning how to safely express our feelings. Others think that emotions are a sign of weakness, unnecessary obstacles we have to shut off to survive in the real world. To be clear, we shouldn’t allow emotions to dictate our lives and control us like a three-year-old’s tantrum, but we do need to pay attention to what our emotions are communicating to us. Emotions are often like a meat thermometer indicating the temperature inside the meat. They are not the problem; they are just indicators. We can only ignore them for so long, but eventually, shoving them down or casting them to the side has adverse effects on our personal health.

Emotions are an essential part of the relational landscape. Feeling hurt or angry may indicate that we feel betrayed or that someone crossed our boundaries. Disappointment may indicate that an unfulfilled dream or expectation was more meaningful than we thought. Joy or contentment may indicate that our needs are being met and that our world feels complete. A sudden criticism may send us into a tailspin of anxiety triggered by traumatic memories growing up.

In Milan & Kay Yerkovich’s book, How We Love, they propose an exercise to help us tune in to each other’s emotions and styles of attachment. The purpose is so that we can feel heard and understood by the people who love us so we can provide emotional comfort for others as well. The exercise is called the “Comfort Circle.”

Emotional Awareness!

The first step in the Comfort Circle is to seek emotional awareness. James 1:19 says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.” What is the other person feeling, and what do they need? As partners, we are seeking to become sensitive not just to feelings and triggers but also to underline needs beneath them. Even if our friend or partner brings a grievance to the surface, we can train ourselves to respond with empathy rather than defensiveness. We are seeking to meet each other’s needs emotionally. We can practice validating and not discrediting their feelings or making them feel like you are at odds.

Affirmation of Emotional Needs

Instead of judging feelings as irrelevant or inappropriate, we can simply acknowledge them as facts. This may feel contrary to many people’s Christian theology or practice. If you grew up hearing how evil the “sinful nature” is or that we should die to “self,” it can be very difficult to learn to tune in to emotions.

Remember, we are not allowing our feelings to dictate our lives. That can lead to ungodliness. Rather, we are listening to what our feelings are telling us we need, and we are affirming that it’s okay to have needs. Having needs isn’t selfish, and having emotional needs, such as a longing for security, comfort, or respect, is a part of being social creatures. The Apostle Peter encourages the church, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). Love one another deeply! What does it look like to love—not superficially, but deeply, from the heart?


We do need to give each other permission to investigate our emotional needs. “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out” (Proverbs 20:5).

Probe the speaker’s thoughts and feelings. You don’t have to agree with what you are hearing to listen and explore. Ask questions that help them articulate what they are feeling. Listening continues to be a vital role in this stage. It also helps promote awareness. We shouldn’t disdain or neglect each other’s feelings. We are giving them a hearing. Ultimately, the question we land on is, “What do you need?”

The authors recommend learning how to name what you are feeling so you can differentiate and identify your needs. Here is a list of categories of emotions.

  • Categories of Emotions: Happy, Loving, High Energy, Amazed, Anxious, Confident, Peaceful, Afraid, Traumatized, Angry, Low Energy, Along, Sad, Shame, Betrayed, Confused

Each Category has any number of more specific words. Take the “shame” category, for example. Here are even more precise words to describe different kinds of shame.

  • Shame: Guilty, Mortified, Humiliated, Embarrassed, Exposed


Resolution is the final stage. Again, the goal of awareness and communication is to pursue healthy—instead of destructive or illicit—ways of meeting our needs. The person doing the listening may offer problem-solving, compromising, reassurance, forgiveness, negotiation, or may need to offer empathy, comfort, or nurture.

The goal isn’t to eliminate emotions. The goal is to be aware of our needs so we can feel loved, heard, cared for, and protected. Or so we can do all of those things for the people we care about.


Even the psalmist learned to find emotional comfort in the Lord. “Why so downcast oh my soul, put your hope in God…by day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me” (Psalm 42:5, 8). Notice he moved from emotional awareness to exploration and eventually to having his needs satisfied in God. The ultimate goal is to have our physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs met in ways that are healthy. And when we follow God’s designs, we most certainly experience a higher quality of fulfillment and peace through relationships.

A Few Helpful Resources:


Tags: listen, relationships, heart, connected, comfort, emotions, feelings, needs, authenticity, vulnerability, empathy, validate, defensiveness, heard

return to Blog

CHURCH OFFICE | 717-354-5394



© 2024 Petra Church   |   565 Airport Rd, New Holland, PA US 17557