Valentine’s Day – what we can learn from athletes about facing relationships fears

I’ve heard several friends lately talk about fear in relationships, and the damage that lack of their resolution can cause. Fears from exes who kept secrets, fear of commitment, fear that God won’t bring them the type person they pray for. These hold so much power that they can lead to sabotage and keep people from the exact dream for which they’ve been longing. For most, that means marriage and family.

Then, the other morning while I was at the gym, I read an article in Oxygen magazine about Olympic athletes, and realized that the parallels between overcoming physical and emotional fears are vast.

Relationships and dealing with fear are some of the most common topics I hear with girlfriends. So, what can we learn from athletes about successful relationships on this Valentine’s Day which is taking place during the Olympic games??…..

I’ll use a few key points from writer Karla Dial and  in this article to guide us:

1. Keep the Faith

  • Multiple Olympic athletes have suffered devastating injuries, and come back from them. Their mental attitude to push past it, “is what separates winners from everyone else” (91). Athletes who have a goal in mind will recognize an injury for the delay and grief that it is, but stay determined to rehabilitate and come back. If their pain can be overcome, so can our emotional pain.
  • A broken engagement, divorce, lying significant other, etc, does not mean that every other relationship will bring the same experience. Still, the brokenness does need to fully heal and be given time to come back to full strength. A broken bone will not remain weak forever if it properly set and protected. Often, with time, it returns to good as new.
  • I believe God can heal our hearts in the same way if we’re willing to put in the time, rest, and intentionality to be restored so we can experience relationships in a fresh new way without an injury weakening the new person we become. In other words, no “new wine in old wine skins” (Mark 2:22).

2.Know Your Identity

The loss or lack of a relationship is not your identity.”Anytime there’s a traumatic event, the first thing that gets attacked is the sense of identity…for athletes it’s so tied to their physical being that it can threaten all their dreams” ( Howard Falco, 91).

  • Especially for women, a broken relationship or wounds from men can threaten our identities, just like an injury for athletes. When a person hurts someone out of what is probably their own pain and fears, it creates an identity of “I’m not good enough. Something’s wrong me with me. I’m not pretty or desirable. I’m never going to find someone who loves me.” I talked to a girlfriend recently who told me about a guy who, in his fear, began to speak things over  her about what she was not in a subconscious attempt to justify his fears. But because she has a solid identity in Christ and as a woman, she refused to let his words take any root.
  • We cannot get our identity from relationships, and must speak life about who we are and who God says we are. Like Olympians, “The time frame of healing is impacted by their outlook, their state of mind and their optimism” (Falco, 92). Determined to “compete again” and defy what even others say is “normal”? Healing comes more speedily with the right words and perception of what is possible.

3. Understand injury, harness fears, train to prevent, and adjust to do better than before.

  • “Instead of focusing on [re-injuring yourself], hone in on the present and what you’re doing to prevent that from happening” (Shaw Bronner, 92). I hear a lot of the same mistakes and hurts over and over in relationships. If there’s a pattern of the same type of guy or girl, or same reasons for break-ups or misunderstandings, maybe your “training method” is off. If there’s a fear that God will never bring the amazing guy you’ve dreamt of because all you meet are jerks, it may be time to focus on preventing on future injury by adjusting the training and honing your skills. 
  • Meaning, if you keep meeting guys in bars, getting physical right away, and then stop hearing from them, consider where you’re going to meet people, who you give your number to, and setting some physical boundaries. Or if you want a godly man, but only respond to eHarmony requests from guys who have not one word about a relationship with God on their profile, rethink even starting the conversation with them.

4. Watch and Learn from Others

  • I’d guess most athletes have motivational music, posters, videos of others who inspire and remind them of what’s possible.Observation is an important part of renewal because seeing the examples of correct and incorrect form assist in the re-education process” (Bronner, 95). When you’re not in a relationship is the perfect time to train and perfect your skills.  Most of the wisdom I’ve learned about relationships came from many, many years of being single and watching healthy marriages. If we want good relationships, it is smart to observe those in the position we hope to one day be in.
  • My boyfriend has some of the most amazing foresight and wisdom about how to approach and build a healthy relationship that will set up a good marriage. He’s learned from spending years with married couples, asking questions, and gleaning from their lessons and examples. While we’re waiting, we can ask those who are ahead of us how to plan, prepare, and what we may not even be thinking we need to do that could actually be hurting us or  could set us up for great success. Surround yourselves with others who have relationships that you admire.

5. The Power of the Mind

  • “When you are aligned with the truth and belief in that power, you’re in the strongest place possible” (Falco, 95). Yes ladies, there are men who don’t struggle with porn, who tell you your beautiful regularly, who want to protect your purity, and who can commit forever. Men, there are women who want your best, who want to support you, who won’t cheat, and who will respect you. But we have to align ourselves with that truth, and we have to fight for that alignment, it won’t come without practice and purposeful reminders.

Then, with all of this planning, observing, and truth, we can face our fears like Olympian Lindsey Vonn and say, “Don’t worry, guys, this is only a temporary set-back. Nothing will keep me from picking myself back up and continuing to fight for my dreams.”

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