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How Can You Restore Broken Relationships?

November 12, 2010

How Can You Restore Broken Relationships?

I was speaking with someone a while back who I had newly met and we got onto the subject of family. He was preparing to visit an aging parent who lived some distance away. I asked if there were any other siblings. He said, “Yes, there are two. I see my brother often, and my sister and I… well, we don’t talk.”

I asked for how long that had been and he said for about five years. The two had a falling out and the result is that they are no longer in communication. I could see the anger on his face as well as the sadness beneath it when he spoke of it. It was also clear to me that he had no expectation that things would change. I asked him if he misses his sister, to which he replied, “Yes.”

Then I asked him the question that was filled with simultaneous hope and discomfort: “What would it take to repair that relationship?”

I could actually see the different thoughts pass through his mind, as they were evidenced in his expression: the hopefulness, the lack of faith that things could change, the resistance that he held on to, the light of possibility… all these crossed over his features in the next moments. I let him sit with his thoughts for a bit.

One of the key issues in broken relationships is that someone feels wronged. If someone feels wronged, that means they have a need to become “righted.” Arguments break out when two people feel that their perspective is right, and the other is not acknowledging this. So each holds to his or her position, and if the pressure builds enough, then the bottom falls out of the relationship.

Not everyone behaves in a good way. Hopefully, we all work to bring forth our best in our daily encounters and our deeper relationships, yet we all know that sometimes we act out of impatience, selfishness, a need for recognition, or even old family patterns that we fall into without conscious thought. They simply get the best of us. Other times we have been the one wronged, yet the result is that the relationship is still broken.

Apologize. Approach the one with whom you have to repair. State your mistake. Ask forgiveness. Acknowledge the other and how important he or she is in your life. Do this even when you are sure you are not the one in the wrong. There is a phrase I use to describe moments like this. I tell myself, “Eat it.” Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who is right and who is wrong. What matters is bringing yourself back into relationship with the one you love or the one with whom you work each day. In the grand scheme of things, what has more weight? Being right or having that relationship back in your life in a loving and functional way?

It bears stating that not every relationship will permit repair. Sometimes we will reach out and the other will still hold on to their feeling of wrongedness. They will not let you in. Do not despair, for you cannot change what is inside another. The important thing is that you take the chance and extend yourself. Walk away with the comfort of knowing that you have planted a seed that may sprout on its own time. In most cases, however, you will have success in renewing your relationships.

I offered this to my new friend. The idea made him both uncomfortable and excited. The discomfort was because he wasn’t sure if he would be received or if the entire argument would resurface. He also knew that approaching his sister would call up his vulnerability, and that he might experience his hurt all over again. But he missed his sister, and the gap inside his chest had been gnawing at him for five years. No holidays together, no birthdays celebrated together, no sharing of the little private jokes that had been between them since their childhood. It was a huge loss in his life.

I saw this man again recently, and he instantly lit up, telling me that when he went home to visit, though somewhat anxious, he went out of his way to see his sister. Right as he opened his mouth to apologize, she approached him and told him how sorry she was for the rift between them. The two moved through the repair stage very quickly, and began to fill each other in on the last five years. It was a blessing for both of them. Then they made joint plans for Thanksgiving.

To see his face when he spoke of it made my heart sing. He not only repaired his relationship with his sister, but he repaired a broken place within himself.

*             *             *

If you enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in: Unraveling Different Perceptions of Reality.”

We post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The topic on Monday will be Why Does the ‘Need to be Right’ Often Trump Doing What’s Best?

Robin Damsky

Robin Damsky is the rabbi of West Suburban Temple Har Zion in River Forest, Illinois, and co-author of Find-Fulfill-Flourish: Discover Your Purpose with LifePath GPS – a book, tool kit, and workshop series focused on guiding people toward more meaningful and fulfilling lives.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. laura Gratkowski (Groves) permalink
    November 22, 2010 10:32 am

    I have had some unexpected curve balls in my life. One of the most important things I have learned is, that information is key to maintaining a positive outlook. To this end I have read many inspirational books and have had many people offer their opionions on how I should be or shouldn’t be handling my life’s circumstances. And I can honestly say that the questions and comments and observations posed here concerning why we think and act the way we do, and relationships are among the most interesting and thought provoking I have read in a very long time .
    The post regarding having learned to love more because of a childs autism only further cemented my belief that an unexpected life can be an an extraordinary life.

    • November 22, 2010 11:04 am

      Hi Laura,

      Thanks for sharing your insights. I really appreciate your perspective. Thank you for your kind words about this blog.

      My best,


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