man and woman holding hands

Forgiveness probably gets confused more with reconciliation than with anything else. More often than not, people resist forgiveness because they are afraid that it means that they have to have a relationship with the person who injured them. So, when they hear that reconciliation is not required to forgive…they breathe a sigh of relief and become interested in this mystery called “forgiveness”.

But, even after a person learns that forgiveness means love, reconciliation is often not an option for many reasons. I was first introduced to forgiveness while reading Robert Enright, Ph.D.’s self-help book, Forgiveness is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope. In Chapter 15, he outlines what I now affectionately call Rules for Reconciliation.

More accurately, he describes what it takes for a relationship that has been broken to be restored. Well, the truth is that it takes a lot of hard work and, opposite of forgiveness, it’s not all on you…it requires both of you.

For reconciliation to occur, forgiveness must occur first, often on both sides. It is not uncommon in this broken and fallen world for people to cause injury to one another. Often in our pain, we fail to see that we also caused injury to the person who hurt us. If forgiveness is complete, we are able to see our own faults and are willing to acknowledge and apologize for them. We also learn that it takes time and hard work for others to do the same.

Another important factor is trust. Depending on the type of injury and whether the other person has demonstrated any meaningful change, they may not be worthy of trust. A relationship that is not based on trust is nothing more than an illusion. You’re right back to being a pawn in the same game and it’s only a matter of time before you lose again.

Enright also talks about the importance of having open communication and rewriting the relationship contract. Typically, one person attempts to initiate this process. If the other is willing to listen, reconciliation becomes possible. It requires listening and understanding each other in regard to the unjust event(s) as demonstrated by an apology from the heart. Insincere attempts to initiate contact from abusers are examples of manipulation to gain power and control. It also requires discussing solutions in regard to the unjust event(s) and evaluating how the solutions are working. This is preventative. In other words, how do the two of you work together to be sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again and if it does, what will be done about it? It’s simply a way of setting healthy boundaries.

The last point for many to consider with reconciliation is the restoration of justice. For some injuries it is simply not possible to seek justice in this life and the person injured must trust in God’s perfect justice. The Catholic faith teaches that if the person repents before they die that they will pay for their sins and be perfectly purified in Purgatory, but if they die unrepentant that they will pay for their sins for eternity in Hell. In some situations, it is also not possible for the person to repay the damage that they have done because there is a statute of limitations under the law or the loss is permanent (loss of life cannot be restored or pain and suffering) or perhaps the amount of the loss is too large for the person to repay (sum of money) to name a few. In these situations, the person chooses to trust in God’s perfect justice and show mercy for the betterment of the relationship.If you have been estranged from someone that you love, remember that forgiveness is always possible because it only requires you. Reconciliation, on the other hand, may not. Trying to force someone to have a relationship with you will only drive them further away. If they are not willing to speak to you, then you have a responsibility to respect their boundaries. Remember to always pray for them and yourself so that even if reconciliation isn’t possible in this life, it may happen in the next, when it is most important anyway.