My wife, Holly, and I have precisely zero broken bones between the two of us. So far, 2 out of our 3 kids have broken bones, and we still have some time to get the full set! (What does this say about our parenting??) Here’s what I know about broken bones: they can be big, ugly, obvious breaks or tiny almost imperceptible breaks. However, big or small, broken bones still need to heal. You can’t ignore them or pretend they will treat themselves.
How to heal a broken relationship: Broken relationships are a lot like broken bones. Whether in marriage or parenting or friendship or at work — broken relationships are painful, sometimes traumatic, and need healing. If you ignore what happened or what was said, it will not fix itself. Time may dull the emotional energy of the break, but without an active process of healing, the relationship will never recover much less grow stronger.
Two Phases of Healing
If you break your arm, there are two distinct phases of healing: 1) the cast and 2) physical therapy. A cast provides a temporary safe space for healing. But when the cast comes off, your arm will be weak and in need of physical therapy to regain function and strength.
When you fight with your spouse, friend, child, or coworker; when words were said that can’t be taken back and when trust disappears; the relationship needs a cast and physical therapy just like a broken arm.
1. The Cast: Healing
What things might take place during the temporary “cast” healing time?
- Give Space: Separating isn’t supposed to further drive a wedge between two people. Increasing space temporarily can help provide perspective on the conflict and can reduce the emotional heat of a disagreement. The motive of space is love, and the goal of space is reconciliation — not to continue to drift apart or punish the other person.
- Pray: Have you invited God into the conflict? “Father, would you bring healing and peace? Would you forgive me and help me forgive those who’ve sinned against me? Help me to see how I can love my enemy in this situation.” Never underestimate the power of prayer. Pray and keep praying.
- Self-reflect: Ask yourself, “What, if anything, did I do to contribute to this break? Do I own my part? Can I ask for forgiveness without reservation for my sin? Have I forgiven what was done/said to me?” Pain is always an opportunity to learn. What is God teaching you about yourself at this moment? What truth do you need to remember and believe at this moment? If you have trouble with this, talk with a professional counselor.
- Reach Out: Don’t be afraid to take the first step toward reconciliation. This requires humility and courage. After giving space and taking the time for prayer and self-reflection, send a text or make a call and initiate the conversation. If you are afraid for your physical safety, don’t do this alone.
2. Physical Therapy: Grow Stronger
What things might take place during the “physical therapy” strengthening time?
- Go on a Date: This is for the couples after a conflict. Do you want your marriage to survive or do you want it to flourish? The choice is up to you. Intentionally invest time and money into the relationship. Put it on the calendar, weekly or every other week, get a babysitter, and make it happen! Show your kids that mom and dad really like spending time together. This can have a generational impact.
- Make New Memories: Book a hotel, go on a road trip, try a new restaurant, go paintballing, go to a concert, serve/volunteer together, go camping/hiking, experience something new together. New memories bring joy and fun to a relationship. This is what life is all about!
- Have Clear Expectations: Are you both clear on what led to the break and how you will avoid that in the future? When someone has been deeply wounded, forgiveness can be immediate, but it takes a great deal of time to rebuild trust. Do you both have reasonable expectations for how long it will take to restore the relationship?
- Serve Each Other: What do they really like/appreciate? What do they need help doing? How could you be a blessing to them? How could you practically love them? Words are necessary for healing a broken relationship, but actions speak louder than words. Find ways to show how much you value the relationship.
- Worship Together: Make your relationship with God primary. Loving God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength results in a growing love for all people made in the image of God. The Holy Spirit will guide you and correct you (when needed) in any relationship you have. God is our great Healer.
Healing a broken relationship — whether it’s a big, ugly, obvious break or a tiny, almost imperceptible break — is not usually easy or fun. But remember, if nothing changes…nothing changes! It takes humility, courage, and action to pursue healing. But amazingly, a restored relationship can be far better and stronger than ever before. I’ve seen it. There is hope for healing any relationship. I firmly believe that.
For more resources, check out our Reconciliation Sermon Series.