Probably every one of us has experienced a relationship that's gone wrong, whether with a grade school buddy, a first love in high school, a marriage, a co-worker, a friend or even a family member. Since we're all adults here, let's talk about relationships in our 20s to 70s. I dare say the same remedies can often apply.
When you are clear that you can and want to fix a relationship, you've taken the most important first step. Clarity guides us to do what we know is possible. If you do not yet believe that you want and will fix the relationship, it would be wise to take as much time as you need for inner reflection. Whether you're going on a trip to Europe or are planning to renew your relationship, planning is required. Just as you probably wouldn't want to land in Paris without a place to stay and an itinerary, you will find the journey toward reconciliation more natural and workable if you have thought out a loving landing place ahead of time.
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Remember the words and actions that caused the rift, and plan how to respond if you hear blame, anger, or other undesired responses to your reaching out. Keep in mind that each of you, then and now, were and are doing the best you know how at any moment to try to meet your needs. You would want this person to respect your needs, so you will want to understand and accept the ways he or she tries to meet his or her needs. Certainly, if he or she tried to meet needs through force or violence, you will hopefully know that behavior is not to be tolerated. If you fear the two of you can't work it out on your own, engage a counselor.
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To start, if you want to be close again, share your wish to reconnect. You might call, email or send a letter saying one of these thoughts:
- I'm sorry we're not seeing _____________ in the same way. I truly want to stay connected. Could we meet or talk this week by phone, or might I come there or you come here and connect over coffee?
- Dear _______, I know I responded poorly when we talked about ______. I understand that you're feeling hurt (angry, frustrated) and I want you to know I am sorry. I would so like to talk (by phone or at each other's place or at a coffee shop) and share feelings so we can go back to the warm friendship we've had for so long.
- When a friend of mine criticized how I ran my shared housing situation, I listened to her and read her emails to me until I noticed I was avoiding contact with her. The next time I saw here, I told her "Please don't talk to me about ________." She agreed and followed with an email requesting the subject she didn't want to hear about from me. She ended with "Trucefully..." and now we can connect on any other topics. So when you are at a stalemate because you view situations differently, speak up, though softly and kindly, not belligerently.
- When it's a partner relationship you want to resolve, the most helpful thing to remember is that he is doing the best he knows how to try to meet his needs. So there's no reason to take personally what he said or did. He was simply doing what seemed most likely to meet his needs at that moment. That doesn't mean we need to keep quiet. We also get to do what we believe will meet our needs. When I was dating someone, he kept himself very busy while still wanting to have an intimate relationship. I told him I didn't feel very special when it was hard for him to find time to get together. We remain friends, but I do not want to compromise on what is important for me in a committed romantic partner.
- At times, when feelings are strongly negative, perhaps keeping silence is the best thing to do if you know you can't talk without accusation and blame. Two housemates of mine, after yelling at each other for perceived wrongs, didn't interact for a couple months. Recently, one of them saw the other's need to move some heavy things and pitched in. Sometimes it takes more time than you wish to communicate again. If it's hard for you to break the silence, keep open to a situation where it feels natural to reconnect.
- As with many families, some of my siblings see religion and politics differently. Since we all have the right to our beliefs (and since my efforts to change their minds haven't worked — ha!), I either grit my teeth (not useful) or give them the same tolerance or acceptance I'd like from them. There's nothing wrong with saying, "Let's not go there" if someone brings up topics I really don't care to discuss.
- Perhaps you have tried many ways over the years to seek resolution. If you are able to maintain inner peace, it's fine to keep reaching out every month or year. Perhaps "I'm thinking of you, and hoping you will accept my invitation to connect. We can talk about whatever feels good, and avoid whatever we don't want to talk about. Would you join me at _______ for coffee (or lunch) on the ___ or the ___? Please call ________. I really do want to see you." If you get upset when you think of that person, and know you've truly tried to reconnect, it's OK to say something like "I'd like to feel peaceful when I think about you, and because I haven't heard from you for so long, I only feel sad (hurt, disappointed). I would like to talk. I'm at _________, and (not "but") if I don't hear from you, I will leave it in your hands to contact me if and when you would like to."
- As you can imagine, it may take many patient efforts to fix a relationship that's gone wrong. Probably as important as anything is knowing and believing that you are (or are not) willing to do whatever it takes to restore trust and mutual positive effort. If you are not willing, know your limits and trust your boundaries. If you are willing, visualize how you want to see your relationship, and hold that vision with patience and understanding. Remember, if the loving relationship you want back is likely to happen, you will still need to negotiate. Make agreements to peacefully stop words or actions that either of you find objectionable. Try "Not now" or "Let's not" or "Let's try another subject."
- Is money an issue? Sex? For most concerns, another option might be writing notes. Maybe say something like "I really want us to be close as we used to be. Right now, I feel very vulnerable and need reassurance that you can hear me and I can hear you — calmly and openly. I am responsible for the things I said and did that caused (or deepened) the rift between us. I want to be responsible now for creating peace and caring with you." Be transparent and say things you hope they will be able to hear and agree with. Keep reading...
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