Learning How to Work Together

Tips for building stronger relationships from TV characters Pam and Jim

Robyn Stauffer Skur

It was perfect timing for the package to arrive. My husband and I had just finished a brutal round of exams at our language school in France and felt depleted.

Even though we had never before seen it, a friend sent us a dozen episodes of the American TV show The Office. After only one show, we were hooked. The belly laughs brought on by all the quirky characters and satirical situations helped the stress to melt away.

Aside from the sometimes bawdy humor, I found myself drawn into the long-running courtship of characters Pam and Jim. After one key episode where he tenderly expresses his love for her and then later goes in for the dramatic kiss, I felt compelled to look online for more information about these two.

Apparently, I wasn't the only one captivated.

Fascination with More Than Just Humor

I discovered that viewers (and budding film editors) had created a multitude of video-clip montages set to popular songs highlighting all the flirting, hammy humor and longing looks exchanged by these smitten office workers.

Multiple bloggers pined that they loved Pam and Jim so much that they yearned for them to "hook up" in real life.

It set me to wondering what was it about their romance that tapped into the longings of ordinary people -- people with jobs, who go to school, who are raising their kids and yet find themselves obsessed with this fantasy relationship.

Jim Coffield, an associate professor in the counseling department at the Orlando, Fla., campus of Reformed Theological Seminary, offers some insight.

At a recent seminar for Cru staff members, he shared pointers from his own years of marriage and of couples counseling. He underscored what makes relationships work, before wedlock and after.

And frankly, Pam and Jim are hitting on most of them.

Examining Both Sides of Relationships

Coffield asserts that the masculine side of a relationship answers the question: Is God going to do something?

In Jim's case, that surely has kept eager viewers hanging on episode after episode. Would the lanky practical joker act? Would he tell Pam his feelings? Would he pop the question?

Similarly, Coffield thinks that femininity answers the question: Is God good?

Besides her warm smile, Pam does seem to embody "good" as the receptionist who looks out for the needs of the whole office, holds her tongue in the face of insult and cleverly makes up for all the interpersonal short-comings of her bumbling boss.

So whether you need to focus less on water-cooler relations and more on warmer waters at home, or if you just want some tips to strengthen your relationship, here are some ideas for creating intimacy.

1. Common tasks

In Genesis 2, God invited Adam and Eve into a shared task. This created a deep bond. A shared vision for the same mission, even with different responsibilities, can help couples to stay bonded.

Unity was built when Jim slipped the "Rockin' Robin" ringing cell phone of an overbearing co-worker into the ceiling, with Pam continuously calling it. In another episode, they team up to encourage Dwight, whose heart is broken by a co-worker. And each takes a turn trying to talk their depressed boss down off the roof.

Are you and your spouse involved in a mission together? Is there a project you can share, whether in your home or community? A mutual vision draws spirits close.

2. New experiences

We are wired for novel stimuli. Too much routine kills intimacy.

As married couples, it's easy to become beaten down by demands and fatigue. Especially as children enter the scene, life becomes rote.

Are there ways you can inject fun, spontaneity, or the unexpected into your mate's day? One Christmas, Jim gave Pam a beautiful teapot filled with tokens of their inside jokes.

Do you seek to be flexible and original as you plan a gift, vacation, or night out, or do you always fall back on the more safe and predictable? For ideas to keep things lively, check out Simply Romantic Nights by FamilyLife staff members Dennis and Barbara Rainey.

3. Time

Pam and Jim enjoy the benefit of 8 hours together at work. Most couples don't have that luxury.

But are you making the most of the time you do have? Do you find yourselves drifting apart as a result of all the different hobbies, disconnected friends, or too much time wasted watching TV and surfing the Internet?

Evangelist Billy Graham once said, "If couples would put half the effort into marriage that they put into courtship, they would be surprised how things would brighten up."

4. Extending grace

When continual hurts and disappointments pile up, couples may start protecting themselves by hardening their hearts. Instead of honesty, forgiveness and restoration, we erect a wooden façade.

If we are vulnerable about our struggles and hurts and foster an environment where our partners can do the same, we feel tender toward them again, and the layers start to peel back.

The Apostle Paul was definitely including couples when he wrote, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger… Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:31,32, New International Version).

If only I could consistently apply the verse inscribed on the inside of my husband's wedding band, 1 John 4:19: "We love, because He first loved us." I've slowly learned that my commitment to the relationship cannot be based on how well I or my spouse loves or serves, as we are all prone to blow it sometimes.

This holds true on The Office, too. During season 2, Jim appears wounded after Pam nudges him toward a job in another state. She's quick to realize her insensitivity and apologizes for her careless words.

In another episode, Pam rebuffs Jim when some goofing around goes too far. He feels terrible and offers her favorite bag of Sun Chips by day's end.

We, whose lives are not scripted by clever writers, possess the capacity to extend grace again and again only as we respond to Christ, who continuously offers unconditional acceptance to us through His death on the cross.

5. Shared spirituality

As God appears to play no role in their everyday lives, Pam and Jim clearly lack a mutual spiritual base. But they are not alone.

H. Norman Wright writes in Communication: Key to Your Marriage, "Many marriage partners today feel close to their spouses in every way except spiritually. In that area they feel isolated."

In Revelation 2, the Risen Savior acknowledges the immense faithfulness of the church of Ephesus, yet He holds this against them -- forsaking their first love. He counsels, "Remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first" (v. 5).

This is a good word for us, as we resolve for a better year, look back at the joy or disappointment of Valentine's Day, and yearn for the warmth of spring. Let us each return to those things we did at first in our courtship, that drew us toward love and keep pressing in deeper.

By doing this, we reflect God's character to the world better. "Just as [Christ] woos us to follow after Him and express our love for Him, so a husband and wife attempt to win each other's affections," write Dennis and Barbara Rainey. "We believe husbands and wives are modeling what God is up to as He pursues individuals."

Honestly, I will keep tuning in to watch Pam and Jim. They're adorable! But they're fictional. I don't have to live vicariously through their relationship. In the real world, God gives me the opportunity to nurture -- or neglect -- my own.

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