Mending Broken Relationships: Four Things You Must Give

Let's do a quick review of what it takes to mend broken relationships. There are four things we must Take: initiative; inventory of the relationship; ownership/responsibility for our part; and action. Last time we talked about the four things we must Get: an unbiased perspective; honest feedback; wise counsel; our own hearts 'right.'

Now let's look at what we must Give:

1. the benefit of the doubt

2. grace and truth

3. options/solutions

4. reconciliation

What does it mean to give someone "the benefit of the doubt?" It means to believe something good about someone, rather than something bad, when you could do either. It's believing the best of someone when not all the facts of a given situation are known. I heard recently on a Focus on the Family radio broadcast with a guest by the name of Shaunti Feldhahn, whose book, Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages (Multhomah) was based on an extensive research study she conducted with married couples. She wanted to find out if there were common factors among "highly happy married couples." 

One of the "secrets" she spoke about and has written about is this idea of "giving the benefit of the doubt" to your spouse in any given situation. I have to admit that this characteristic has not always been true of me in our 35 year marriage. My husband, Don, much more than me, has been the one who has extended more grace, when all the facts are not in. I am more likely to "assume the worst." I tell him it must be my former profession as a probation officer that keeps me skeptical!

This is so important in mending broken relationships because it requires that a person take into account the experiential history, character, and overall personal integrity of the person in question; it is more than just the immediate situation. In other words, you have to look beyond the specific incident that has caused a breach and look to the broader context of the entire person and their relationship to you. In essence, giving the benefit of the doubt means that we tell ourselves the "whole" truth about this person, not just zero in on this specific circumstance and then, make a judgment.

Some of you may be thinking about someone you know who tends to "give the benefit of the doubt" away like Halloween candy. They just "dish it out" indiscriminately. This is not what we're talking about.

Once you've considered the broader perspective, then it is time to give both grace and truth. I really appreciate the order of these two essentials. First, the grace; then the truth. My family knows I'm a truth person at my core. I've learned so much from my sweet husband who is much more a grace person than I. I guess the Lord knew he'd need more grace to live with me! 

Extending grace first doesn't mean we whitewash the truth. It just means that we approach the truth from a humble place, knowing that we too are broken and sinful. Giving grace and truth applies to both parties in the relationship. We can't demand both from others, but we can give both to ourselves and to the other person.

After we have given grace and truth, it is time to offer options/solutions. This means that you and the other person talk about ways in which you can do something differently in the future, or any practical steps that might need to be taken by both of you to correct the misunderstanding. For instance, it might mean that you sit down together and share from your perspective what happened between you and where things seem to go wrong. You may talk about how to avoid this scenario in the future by implementing some practical solutions. For instance, if the hurt centered around a written communication either by letter or email, you might agree together to not discuss any important issue via that form of communication, but instead, to do it in person. Or maybe the specific situation involved a third party who was feeding both of you different information which only inflamed the situation. You might agree together not to go to any third party known by both of you (which is known as 'triangulation') before meeting with each other. There are a number of options/solutions which may need consideration in your specific situation. If the two people involved seem to be stuck in coming up with some viable options, it may be helpful at that point to call in a neutral third party to assist you.

Finally, the last thing we give in mending broken relationships is the opportunity for reconciliation. I am saying opportunity for reconciliation because sometimes others are not willing or ready to be reconciled. I've seen this as a counselor and experienced it personally. Sometimes, no matter how willing you are to go through the process of mending the relationship, the other person may not be in the same place. Sometimes it may take years. In some situations, it may never take place this side of heaven. That is why it is so important that you are careful to do your part. I love what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:18, "As much as it is possible, be at peace with all men." Paul seemed to understand, that in some situations, peace may not be attainable.

As far as reconciliation goes, I cannot say it any better than how Dr. Dave Stoop said it in his book, Forgiving the Unforgivable:

"Reconciliation is a bilateral process requiring the participation of both parties. For there to be genuine reconciliation, I need to forgive and the other person needs to show godly sorrow over what he or she has done. Forgiveness is required of us as believers, but reconciliation is optional and depends on the attitude of the offender."