Offering a Repair in a Relationship

With Covid-19 causing an unusual amount of stress, it’s not surprising that some personal relationships are suffering. We’ve had to limit our contact with others and make hard choices about who to see and who not to see. Masking requirements and vaccinations have brought our values to the forefront. Many of us realize that some of the people close to us, don’t share our values. Arguments and hard feelings may have resulted and many of us find ourselves on the outs with those who once were close. It’s difficult sometimes to know how to repair a relationship once harsh words have been spoken and lines have been drawn.

The first step in repairing a relationship is evaluating the importance of the relationship to you. It may be time to let go of friends who are unreliable, demanding, hurtful, or who don’t share your interests or values any more. Family members may fit all of the above, but they play an important role in our history, and they connect us to other relationships within the family. Choosing to cut ties with a family member often has implications for other relationships. For many friends and family members, finding ways to repair the relationship is a better option than letting the relationship go.

To repair a relationship, whether friend, family, co-worker, or other, it’s helpful to focus on your part in the falling out. Too often we attempt to repair a relationship by re-iterating all the ways in which we were grieved. Not surprisingly, this approach tends to lead to a deepening of the rift between us.

To focus on your part in the falling out, it’s important to let go of thinking in terms of who is right and who is wrong. Right and wrong thinking is a trap that encourages us to judge, exaggerate, and build cases against ourselves and others. Instead, determine what your long-term goal is with this person, and whether your behaviour was effective in moving you towards that goal.

A good relationship repair is when we acknowledge the ways in which we weren’t effective, and admit what might have been more effective instead. We avoid focusing too much on our excuses and we don’t focus on the imperfections or wrongdoings of the other person. We leave it up to them to admit to their own ineffectiveness.

By focusing on our own ineffective behaviour, even if we believe we were only 5% of the problem, we pave the way for the other person to admit to their own short comings. And if the other person chooses to accept our repair without offering one of their own, that’s about them. The goal is to feel good about your own behaviour while decreasing your focus on the other person.

We have a new holiday now in September called the day of Truth and Reconciliation. This may be a good time to reach out to those we have inadvertently harmed or who have harmed us with an aim towards reconciliation.

Jenny DeReis, MC Psych, RCC
Walmsley EFAP