Why are we so ready to walk away from people and never look back? What thinking has convinced us that people aren't as important as we thought?
When it comes to relationships these days, it seems just about everyone is packing around a lighter and a stick of dynamite.
“I’m just protecting myself”, our internal voice whispers. But all we’re really doing is shrinking our world one relationship at a time, living in an ever-diminishing sphere of our own “rightness”.
Without meaningful relationships, people can still grow, they just can't mature.
When we pause to consider what is truly involved in discovering meaning and purpose in life, wisdom teaches us that, in the end, the only things that have lasting, intrinsic value, are the relationships we have.
Closing that great deal, the “amazing” vacation, that extra 20 hours you spent in the office last week, that awesome golf swing . . . any or all of it eventually won’t matter. What will matter are the people who will be there to celebrate your victories and console you for the losses that life inevitably calls every person to face.
We need people.
We need each other.
I need you.
You need me.
It's a fact of the human condition – genuine, lasting joy can’t be found outside of relationship. And that is why the wisest of people endeavor to turn around even damaged relationships.
Let’s keep it real. Some relationships aren’t worth having. Some people need to get out of your life. And while it pains me deeply, I had to do this very thing recently. I had to tell someone who refused to change after five long years of my emotional investing, that I wasn’t (again) going to import into my family the relational and moral chaos he chose to live in.
But then there are the other relationships – those that have been damaged by us – a disagreement, a misunderstanding, a wrong action . . . our pride.
How do you humble yourself to repair such a quandary? How do you win back that person’s trust? In my experience, It won’t happen unless you make the first move.
1. Cross the broken bridge
Ask the person you’ve wronged to meet with you. Be aware of the wounds at play, don't go into details (when you're asking to meet) beside showing a heart of restoration, and be prepared for them to refuse.
2. Start with humility. Commit yourself to the soft answer before “going in”
Whatever happens in the conversation, never answer with a sharp edge. Speak with a gentle, humble tone. In the book of Proverbs, the wisest man who ever lived, King Solomon, says, “A soft answer turns away anger.” Answer softly.
3. Purpose beforehand that you won’t “take the bait”.
Every emotional relationship serves up more “bait” than a Bass Pro fishing competition. Don’t take it. What is the bait in this situation? Those comments and statements thrown at you in a way that builds your anger. They are going to happen in the conversation – guaranteed. Determine beforehand you won’t respond to them. When people are hurt they say all sorts of hurtful things they don’t really mean. Stay on message, point them back toward the solution, choose not to react.
4. When the accusations coming your way are true, humbly acknowledge that you’ve been wrong.
You can be defensive or you can be determined to win back the relationship. Take ownership of what belongs to you and acknowledge the truth of what is said. “You have every right to bring that up. I did that… and it was so wrong. I can see why that I really hurt you. I'm sorry.”
5. Don’t go into the conversation looking for the 50/50 deal.
It’s the relationship, not the scorecard that matters here. People often make the mistake of trying to get the other person to admit they are wrong, too. Or that the other person is more wrong than they are. You are here because the relationship is broken because you did something wrong. Stay focused on that.
6. Remember “Sorry” is never enough when trying to restore a relationship.
Lots of people say “sorry”. Instead, humble yourself by asking this question, “Will you forgive me for (fill in the blank).” And, if you did something that cost the other party money or damaged something of value, offer a generous restitution.
7. Don’t forget, some people need a little time.
Be satisfied that you did everything you could to rectify the situation. Give the other party time to collect their thoughts and get their emotions under control.
8. What do you do when the person refuses to receive your genuine apology?
Let it go. Remain polite and kind regardless of how they respond, and always hope for change. But, in the end, your conscience is clear. You’ve done what is right and that’s a good place to be.
It's steps like these that remove the dynamite/lighter mentality and hopefully, rebuild the damaged relationships we have. Remember this, a restored relationship is often stronger and sweeter than before the problem arose and what’s even better, it indicates we’re headed for a rich, fulfilled, meaningful life.
Have you turned around a damaged relationship? What worked for you? Let me know in the comments below.
~Matthew L. Jacobson
About Matthew L. Jacobson
Matthew is a family blogger, husband to Lisa, father of 8 children, and a professional literary agent by trade. Matthew's mission is to strengthen marriages and families by teaching how to build and enjoy healthy, loving relationships. You can read more from Matthew on his blog or follow him on Facebook or Twitter