Steps Toward Healing Family Hurts

With age you may decide to reconcile with estranged family members or friends and restore relationships. Here are eight steps you can take to heal and restore broken relationships.

Start with an honest assessment

With years gone by, honestly assess what role you may have played in the conflict. Even if you honestly believe the other person was wrong, did you respond maturely and appropriately? Or did you make things worse by lashing out? The first step to reconciliation begins with honest self examination.

Accept responsibility

If you see where you were wrong, own up to it with yourself and be ready to do it with the other person. The six hardest words we will ever speak are, “I was wrong. Please forgive me”. But the healing power in those words is immeasurable.

Humbly make the call

Reach out to the person to arrange a meeting. The best healing takes place face to face. Apologies and mea culpas are not the stuff of emails and letters. Phone calls can work if distance makes meeting impossible, but nothing beats a face to face reconciliation. Be humble and gentle, making clear that you desire to be restored to one another. You may be amazed that she has longed for a chance like this in the broken relationship.

Make your apology authentic

Many people don’t know how to apologize and admit wrong. It is almost easier to demonstrate what a proper apology is by showing what it is not. Inauthentic apologies blame shift, make excuses and use manipulative behavior.

Blame shifting:  “I’m really sorry I did (blank). If you hadn’t done (blank), I wouldn’t have done it.” This inauthentic apology says that your behavior was bad, but that it was the other person’s fault.

Excuse making: “I’m sorry I did (blank). I was really tired that day (or some other justification).” This one minimizes your responsibility, as though you weren’t in your right mind and weren’t responsible for your choices.

Manipulating behavior: “I’m sorry I did (blank). If you’ll stop doing (blank), I’ll stop doing (blank).” This says that your behavior was wrong, but you’ll stop if the other person behaves like they should. You’re claiming that you are free to behave badly as long as the other person does. But each of you are responsible for your behavior regardless of the acts of the other.

What if the other person was really in the wrong

Don’t go into the meeting seeking to be justified. Go desiring healing. Be humble and gentle. If the other person justifies themselves for the past wrong, be patient and don’t rehash past arguments. It may take more time for him to see his error. Or he may never see it. But offer what you can to try to reconcile.

Don’t put expectations on the other person

You may have done a lot of soul searching to get to this place. She may not have, so don’t expect that she is in the same place as you. Meet her where she is and work from there.

Don’t expect to resolve years of estrangement in one sitting

Agree with one another, if possible, to keep the conversation going, and arrange future talks.

Take genuine interests in the other person’s well being

Ask about her life, career, other family members close to her. Offer sincere interest and appreciation for what her life is like.

Healing old wounds between family members takes courage and the willingness for someone to make the first move. But when reconciliation comes, the relationship regained can be one of the sweetest of rewards.