China is famous for the Great Wall.

The first Chinese emperor had the massive stone wall built to protect its people from the brutal Mongolian Huns who invaded and pillaged their homes and cities.

Building the wall was not only monetarily expensive, it cost hundreds of workers their lives. The wall stretches from the sea to the desert–several thousand miles–and has remained for centuries.

Ultimately, the wall proved to be ineffective and later, other more sophisticated strategies were created to deal with enemies.

As my wife and I climbed the Great Wall, I was reminded of the emotional walls we build in our relationships and our lives. Here are three lessons about climbing your own great wall:

1. We erect massive walls to protect ourselves.

It’s natural to protect ourselves from hurt, bitter betrayal, a deep wound, or unmet needs. Just this week I coached a successful business man who has built emotional walls in his marriage. Both man and wife have co-existed without emotional intimacy for 21 years, though they attempt to portray the American dream to their community.

2. Walls can extend for generations.

This husband and wife have also built walls with their parents and have continued the same walls into their marriage. Both of them were wounded and felt they were never accepted and unconditionally loved by their parents. The wife rarely heard, “I love you,” by her father, who was also a minister. The husband never felt like he measured up to his dad’s standards and, to this day, has no relationship with his father.

Now his teenage daughter is avoiding her father because she feels unloved, fearful of his disapproval and being attacked. She wonders if she will be able to trust enough to get married one day. Sadly, walls continue to create barriers to open, peaceful, loving relationships, from one generation to the next.

3. Walls are costly and mostly ineffective.

It’s been said, “Marriage is grand, divorce is a hundred grand.” Walls eventually create divorce, which divides and squanders assets. Divorce creates pain, fear, and disillusionment for happy relationships.

And people don’t only build walls in their marriages. As I coach family owned businesses, I’ve seen walls between siblings as well as parents and adult children. These walls cost precious productivity in companies and eventually cause a collapse. Customers pick up on the emotional distance, quiet hostility, and will leave looking for hope and happiness in another company.

There is a famous Chinese quote about the Great Wall: “Not been on the Great Wall, not a great Man.”

Everyone has erected walls in various relationships in their life, including me. But you cannot be great until you climb and get on top of your walls. I’ve learned to get on top of my walls with many important people in my life, including my biological dad, my wife, my children, and myself.

The question and challenge for all of us is how to utilize healthy boundaries to protect ourselves and create peaceful, productive, happy relationships with those that may hurt us.

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