“We will live together in peace to the extent that we understand the love and grace of God.” – John Alexander, Being Church
Most days I do not feel like I’m a “divorcee.” It’s hard to accept that the one thing I worked hardest at, failed. Without a doubt it was my most painful experience. And without any doubt, the single greatest learning experience of my life.
I want to write about reconciliation. My friends are wrestling with it. And it is an important conversation in the downtown Fresno CCD circles. I’d love to hear others’ reflections as well!
Simply put, we either learn how to reconcile, or our relationships eventually break down.
The more time you spend with someone, the more likely it is you will have conflict. The more conflict you have, the more likely you may feel resentment and hurt. Therefore, the longer you know someone, the more issues you probably have with them. Either we work through these issues or they poison the relationship.
“When you think of love, do you think of pain?”
The more deeply you love someone, the more deeply they can wound you. Love requires vulnerability, but vulnerability opens us to hurt. “Love is not a victory march; it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.” The “hallelujah” of love is found in forgiveness. Without it, you are left only with the pain and hurt of love.
As I have processed my divorce (and continue to), here are some things I wish I knew about conflict and reconciliation:
- Feel your feelings. And be honest.
I think the first step is to acknowledge your feelings. Recognize your hurt, your sadness, your frustration and anger. So often these “negative” emotions are repressed or ignored. When people hurt you, don’t brush aside those feelings. They are important. Most of us, especially men, have no idea how to process feelings.
- Evaluate whether you need to say something.
As hard as it is, forgiving someone does not require their penitence. Resentment and bitterness occurs when we give others control of our feelings, which is a mistake. Only you are responsible for your emotions.
Second, to say, “You hurt my feelings,” usually means, “You didn’t meet my expectations.” Before confronting someone who has hurt your feelings, first identify your expectations, and ask, “Are they fair?”
If you tend to have lots of conflict with others, you may need to focus on the personal work of identifying your expectations and explore whether you give others control of your emotions. If you have little conflict, you likely are avoiding important conversations.
- Lean in toward your discomfort. Name the brokenness.
I think it’s easier to avoid conflict, at least a first. That just means things will worsen over time. The hard, crucial conversations are a foundation for the future. The less we talk about our shame or the “scary thing,” the more power we give it. Name it. Through purification, we find redemption.
- The “where,” “when” and “how” of confrontation are more important than “what.”
Be intentional about confrontation. Don’t confront people when you are upset. I have found it helpful to begin with questions, to start with a learner’s posture. If it is obvious you want to understand their position first, before expressing your own, they will usually be more open to hearing your perspective. Also, and perhaps more importantly, be authentic and be vulnerable. Anger is a secondary emotion. If you can express the sadness behind your anger, usually compassion follows. When you wear a mask, you prolong the hurt.
- Acknowledge your fault.
Particularly in marriage and friendship, it is rarely (maybe never) just one person’s fault. You almost certainly have contributed to this conflict. Admit it. Apologize. Sometimes others want us to apologize for things we don’t think are wrong. Or we expect that of others. This is sometimes an example of projecting feelings. But it is always a good time to…
- Bring in a third party.
Conflict can be dreadfully complicated. Having a counselor, mediator, or even a trusted friend, can work wonders. Don’t be so prideful or cheap to avoid getting one. You will regret it. There is a point at which relationships become irreconcilable.
- Recognize that forgiveness is a mind and heart struggle.
It’s so easy to say, “I forgive you,” much harder to feel it. In your mind, you may have forgiven someone, but your heart may still hurt. Lean into these negative emotions – journal, listen to music, exercise, talk about it (appropriately). To feel the forgiveness you profess takes time.
- Forgive again and again.
Feelings are not linear; they cycle. Your anger and hurt will probably return. As there are steps of grief, I think it’s the same for forgiveness. When deeply hurt, there will be anger, sadness, pain, and then slowly acceptance. And in time you will experience all those feelings again.
- Most conflicts cannot be completely resolved. Don’t expect it.
Despite our desire for full healing, often that isn’t possible. Wounds create scars, and scar tissue can still cause problems. Imagine bad conflict like a broken hip. Though healed and walking again, there may be tender areas and a limp.
- Learn to laugh at your previous shames.
It’s easy to take yourself too seriously. “Laughter is really carbonated holiness.” You can usually gauge your healing in a certain area by how much you can laugh about it. That, or you’re repressing your pain.
These four statements are important for reconciliation:
- Thank you.
- I love you.
- Forgive me.
- I forgive you.
What would you add? Or push back on? How do we forgive and reconcile through conflict? How do we keep our relationships from accumulating brokenness?