Relationships are essential to a meaningful, enjoyable life. They can also cause anxiety, pain and loneliness. How can a broken relationship be repaired?
The average person has between three and five close friends. Friendships and other relationships take time and effort to nurture, and they take even more effort to repair. But they are a vital aspect of life, and they are well worth the investment.
God designed relationships. He created human relationships to help us prepare for eternal relationships in His family.
From time to time, our relationships become strained, stressed or even broken. If a relationship is broken, what can be done to mend it?
Examine the relationship
The first step in dealing with a broken relationship is to give it an honest assessment. If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you might be in a toxic relationship:
- Is the other person selfish, manipulative or demanding?
- Is the other person unstable in the relationship due to mental illness or addiction?
- Is there violence or abuse in the relationship?
- Is the relationship leading you away from God and doing what’s right?
Pray for God’s wisdom (James 1:5) when examining a broken relationship. Ask God to show you if you should be in the friendship or if you should get out of it. Ask God to make the answer very clear. Even as you’re looking to God for guidance, seek wise advice from trusted counselors.
If you determine the relationship to be toxic, then you should minimize or end contact with the other person. For more information on toxic relationships, see our article “Toxic Friendships: The Signs and Solutions.”
Assuming the relationship can be mended, the next step is to examine our expectations. We are bombarded with stories of idealized, happily-ever-after relationships that set unrealistic expectations. Unrealistic influences promote a dreamscape rather than real life.
Life has ups and downs. That’s why marriage vows often include phrases like “for better or worse,” “in sickness and health” and “in good times and in bad times.” The apostle Paul learned how to be abased and how to abound, knowing that he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him (Philippians 4:12-13).
Another source of expectations is our life experience. Not only do we have unique personalities, but we have unique life experiences that shape our perception of reality. A person from a loud, demonstrative family might not understand a person who holds in his or her emotions, and might mistake that person’s stoic responses as uncaring.
What one person may see as obvious, another might be oblivious to.
God says to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39), but we need to understand our neighbor to truly show love in a way he or she will recognize and appreciate. Understanding others takes time and patience because our perceptions and emotions can be difficult to express in words.
We can expect relationships to influence our emotions. Broken relationships can trigger strong emotional reactions. Emotions can also mislead us. Are the emotions about the current situation, or are they symptoms of a larger problem? Are the emotions directly related to the other person or to older wounds?
Seek to understand why—not just how—you are feeling. Emotions by themselves are not truth.
If a relationship is broken, expect that it will take work to mend. Expect to learn about the other person and yourself. Realize that learning may be painful. But mending broken relationships can also teach us valuable lessons and change us for the better.
Even if we have differences of opinion, we must agree on core issues if we are to walk together (Amos 3:3). We need to share a direction to be close.
We may need to “agree to disagree” on some controversial topics to get along. People with different perspectives on matters of opinion can broaden our view of the world and enrich our lives.
Close relationships with fellow Church members require unity with God. Paul admonishes us to show godly love in Ephesians 4:1-3:
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
When choosing an overall direction, we need to choose God’s direction over what some people might want us to do (Matthew 10:37).
Broken trust and other relationship problems
Trust is critical to a successful relationship (which is another reason to beware of toxic relationships). To rebuild trust, we must be willing to let ourselves be vulnerable. As we share ourselves with others, we can and will get hurt. The people closest to us can hurt us the most. We can also hurt our dearest relationships without intending to. (Study more about this in our article “A Question of Trust?”)
Worse yet, the person causing hurt and offense may not even know he or she is causing a problem. If someone offends us, we can go to him or her alone and explain the situation, seeking to restore the relationship.
God can see the potential of humanity despite all our relationship problems. He is working patiently with mankind to change us into His children.How and when to approach the person takes wisdom. For best results, we should come to the person with meekness and kindness. We should ask questions rather than accuse or assume. Discussing how we feel can be a way to reach the person and start a dialogue. For more information, see our blog post “Conflict Resolution: How Do I Say Something?”
Also, we must realize that we can hurt others in ways we do not perceive. If your friend comes to you to discuss a hurt or disagreement, be willing to listen and ask questions to gain understanding. Be willing to consider the possibility that your friend is right and you are wrong.
Prayer can help us understand our errors and cleanse ourselves from secret faults (Psalm 19:12). God understands our motives better than we do, and He can show us our intentions (1 Chronicles 28:9). If you are wrong, own up to it and take responsibility to change. If you have sinned, be willing to repent.
Healing takes time
We can only change ourselves, not other people. God, the Master Potter, can change people, but it often takes a long time.
Consider the story of Jacob, who conspired with his mother, Rebekah, to steal his brother Esau’s birthright blessing (Genesis 27:5-19). When Esau found out, he hated Jacob and planned to kill him (verses 41-42).
Many years went by before it was safe for Jacob to see to his brother again. During that long period of time, Jacob went through many trials and became a different person, and the story ended with a reconciliation.
Forgiveness and healing
After Jacob sent gifts and used a humble approach, Esau was able to reconcile with his brother (Genesis 32:13-21; 33:1-16). We must be willing to forgive others and to seek forgiveness. Matthew 18:21-22 lets us know that we may need to forgive many times. We must also be willing to ask for forgiveness if we have sinned against someone, and resolve to live a changed life with God’s help.
Consider the example of Saul (later called Paul), who was literally attacking members of the Church (Acts 9:1-4). Yet, God could see Paul’s potential and turned his life around.
At first, the Church was reluctant to accept Paul (verse 26). Just imagine what it must have been like the first week Paul walked in to church. But after Paul completely changed course, he went on to selflessly serve the Church and write much of the New Testament.
See relationships through God’s eyes
God said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). We are made to have relationships with God and each other. God created us after the God kind (Genesis 1:27) to become children of God (Romans 8:14-17).
God can see the potential of humanity despite all our relationship problems. He is working patiently with mankind to change us into His children.
During our human lives, we will experience relationship problems. It is important that we learn to mend broken relationships when possible. We need to learn how to show love to our fellow man. Paul learned these lessons, and he summarized this way of life in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
For more information about mending broken relationships, see our blog post series, starting with “The 5 Rs of Healing Relationships.”