By Mary Reitano

Reconciliation always brings a springtime to the soul. Brother Roger Schutz

Spring means renewal in nature. Many people also launch into spring cleaning. This may also be an opportunity to refresh relationships. Houses and relationships need maintenance. Sometimes, we take people for granted, whether couples, family, friends, coworkers or neighbors. And, with today’s political climate, increased harmony is needed. Shane Claiborne wrote: “The work of community, love, reconciliation, restoration is the work we cannot leave up to politicians. This is the work we are all called to do.” Divisions arise from harsh words, mistakes, disappointments, disagreements.   So, how do you repair relationships?

Talking directly to the person involved, rather than to others, may resolve disagreements. Uninvolved parties hear only your side, and may escalate division with added criticism. Avoiding issues increases problems. Begin by saying “We need to talk, there is tension between us, and I want things to improve.” If resolved satisfactorily, everyone benefits. Think about the real issue. People often express what they don’t want, instead of what they do want. A fight about your outing with friends may simply mean someone wants more time with you.

Saying “I’m sorry” includes acknowledging how you affected someone. Ask how to improve the situation, then follow through. Ideally, reconciliation follows. Stay humble and forgive others. We have all received forgiveness from others and will need it again. Consider spiritual perspectives–if you believe you are graciously forgiven by God, it inspires forgiving others. Trust rebuilds slowly through improved behaviors.

Preventing estrangement is preferable to fixing it. Avoid escalating disagreements by asking yourself if your words would put water or gasoline on the fire. Anger is often a “secondary emotion,” preceded by fear, embarrassment, feeling disrespected or other vulnerable “primary emotions.” Expressing primary emotions feels risky, but reduces relational damage. For example: I was afraid that…, I felt disrespected when….

Improving communication reduces conflict. Watch non-verbal communication–negative body language like rolling your eyes or a sarcastic tone speaks louder than words. Increase active listening, which includes reflecting back what was said. This shows you care about others’ opinions and feelings, diffuses anger and creates “accurate empathy”—understanding another’s perspective.

Assertiveness means expressing requests in a manner that preserves relationships. Aggressive actions may get results, but may damage relationships in the process. Passive individuals seldom ask for or get what they want, preserving relationships now, but unresolved issues ultimately harm relationships. But seek balance between assertive negotiation and acceptance. Look for common ground. You can focus on mutual goals rather than accentuating differences. Accept personality traits, maturity levels and minor annoyances. Have realistic expectations.

All of these ideas can help repair or prevent relational difficulties. But, complex situations may benefit from additional assistance from a counselor, religious leader or arbitrator.

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I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning. J. B. Priestly

 

Mary Reitano is a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate focusing on positive psychology and a holistic approach that addresses emotional, relational, mental, physical and spiritual health.arffs