Repairing Damaged Relationships

posted in: Mindfulness | 4

Interpersonal relationships are hard. Things are said in the heat of the moment and feelings are hurt. Afterwards pride or stubbornness or the need to be right can squash any chance at reconciliation. Or maybe, you just don’t know what to do to make it right again.

Years ago, my son stopped talking to me over my reaction to something he said. It’s not important what it was, the fact is, I didn’t hear from him for months and I missed him so much. I was pretty much devastated, so it wasn’t my pride or my stubbornness that got in the way. I was at a loss as to what to do.

I tried sending him text messages just to let him know I was thinking about him. I was careful not to use guilt, not even saying how much I missed him. I sent him inspiring quotes and funny memes. Still, I didn’t hear from him.

It was a contemplative time for me. I needed to be able to see my part in this conflict and I knew that if I wanted a relationship with him, it would be up to me. And believe me, I would have done just about anything.

What I realized is this: It doesn’t matter what I meant by my reaction, what mattered was how he perceived it. His perception was the truth, so just because I didn’t mean to upset him, doesn’t negate the fact that I did. And so, I took ownership of it, accepted that I was wrong, and apologized with all my heart. Without defending my actions, I told him how I would change in the future and I thanked him for bringing it to my attention.

A sincere apology can go a long way in repairing damaged relationships. Extending an apology helps you take responsibility for your actions and hold yourself accountable. This helps you resolve to do better the next time you’re in a similar situation. And the very act of apologizing encourages the receiver to practice forgiveness. An apology makes room for mutual trust, respect and cooperation. I believe that my actions created a stronger bond between my son and me.

Understanding this dance of interpersonal relationships better has been one of the biggest benefits of my mindfulness practice. Taking the pause before responding to someone has helped me to choose the right way to respond. And when I do respond inappropriately, I am quick to notice and offer my most heartfelt apology.

If you are in a personal conflict with someone you love, consider these tips for offering your sincere apologies:

  • Generate remorse. Reflect on your actions and how they affected the other person. If the situation is emotionally charged, take time to calm down in a neutral setting. Talk with others if you need some objective input. Feel good about your courage in facing the facts head on.
  • Express your regret. State clearly that you take full responsibility for your conduct. Acknowledge the impact you had on the other person. Don’t try to defend your actions that led to the disagreement, just own up to them.
  • Propose a constructive remedy. Be prepared to state what you’re willing to do to right the wrong. It will demonstrate that you’re serious. Give the other person a chance to propose what they need so you can work together to patch things up. This turns your apology into an amends.
  • Listen to the other person. Be open to however the other person decides to respond. You can feel good about your willingness to make reparations, however things turn out. Sometimes you’ll enjoy an immediate reconciliation. But be patient if the other person needs more time.
  • Apologize in person if possible. It that’s not possible, then apologize over the phone. The person may not be taking your phone calls, so be prepared to start the conversation on a voice mail.
  • Don’t let too much time pass. Time has a way of tangling things up. It’s easier to untangle a knot while it’s still fresh. A prompt confession can prevent resentments from building.

The importance of a sincere apology can not be understated. That doesn’t mean defending your “side” or adding any “buts” (I’m sorry, but…). It means apologizing with intention, compassion, kindness and truthfulness.

As a side note: I’m so happy I was able to repair the relationship between my son and I before I lost him to a car accident just a few short years later. Life is short. Just love.

4 Responses

  1. John LaLonde

    Thank you Susan. I read this post as a letter written specifically to me. Thank you for your wisdom, advice and lovely openness.

  2. Deborah Smith

    Oh, the heartbreak of it all. And understanding the importance of acting on perceived hurts – so tough.
    Thanks Susan.

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