Reconciliation – Step 3.2

When I consulted with a large jewelry chain years ago, one of their executives told me that if a customer came in unhappy, nothing a store manager could do would make them happy until the customer felt the store manager understood WHY they were unhappy. He said, “We could replace the jewelry, give them their money back, and they’d still leave mad if they didn’t feel that we cared. They need to be able to tell us about their unhappiness with us and know that we heard it and understood it.”

Same with any relationship, including parent-child, married partners, romantic partners, and good friends. We all want to be validated in what we feel.

That leads us perfectly into our discussion of the third step of reconciliation: Forgiving.

If you read part 3.1 you remember that we are discussing Worthington’s REACH model of forgiveness. We’ve come to the second letter, the E.

Empathize

When I consulted with a large jewelry chain years ago, one of their executives told me that if a customer came in unhappy, nothing a store manager could do would make them happy until the customer felt the store manager understood WHY they were unhappy. He said, “We could replace the jewelry, give them their money back, and they’d still leave mad if they didn’t feel that we cared. They need to be able to tell us about their unhappiness with us and know that we heard it and understood it.”

Same with any relationship, including parent-child, married partners, romantic partners, and good friends. We all want to be validated in what we feel.

That means that the offended gets to explain how s/he feels about what happened.  Again, it’s the kind of thing the offender typically wants to avoid. “I know I hurt you. I can’t handle hearing again and again how much I hurt you.” However, the “again and again” part typically occurs because the offended doesn’t feel that the offender understands the depth of the hurt. They go over it again and again because it is important to them that the offender “gets it.” If the offended wants the repetition to end, communicating with the offended in a way that makes it clear that the offender understands works well. Saying, “I understand how you feel,” won’t accomplish much. Listening, looking into the other person’s eyes, and being able sincerely to articulate back to them the emotions they are trying to express will.

The offender provides empathy for the hurt he or she caused by restating the hurt and distress in way that the offended spouse feels there is understanding (as much as possible). The offender acknowledges the offended partner’s pain and distress. The offender validates the offended partner’s hurt and distress

This is not a listening trick or a technique to control the situation. It is an effort to TRULY understand and empathize with what the other person feels and why s/he feels it. It is extremely difficult for the offended to move on until s/he believes the offender understands.

To make this step clearly genuine and sincere, the offender should provide a well-organized plan that ends the hurtful actions and prevents him/her from doing the hurt again, even secretly. That means there must be complete cutoff from any offending person, action, or opportunity. For some, that means removing the Internet from their home, or, at the very least, making all Internet action clearly visible to others. For others it may mean changing jobs. In some circumstances, it even means moving to another location.

Additionally, there should be an accountability person that both the offended and offender trusts.

Finally, there must be permission given to the offended that for up to a year s/he may check to make sure that the offender is living up to the agreement. That means seeing emails, text messages, or whatever else may be required to rebuild trust.

Now for the harder part of this step. (I already dread the reactive comments to this one….)

For this step to work well, the offended should also empathize with the offender’s hurt.  That does NOT mean that the offended justifies the offender’s actions. It means that when the offended believes that the offender understands his/her hurt, it’s time to reciprocate. The offended listens to and tries to understand any hurts or motivations that may have helped lead the offender to the harmful action. This is the time where the offender’s explanations can look beyond the immediate actions of self to try to understand underlying problems, fears, dreams, or anything else that affects how or why s/he did the harmful actions.

This is most easily done by sharing stories from one’s life. For example, I worked with a couple that had been hurt by the wife’s affair. If you were to put a hundred people in a lineup and ask which was the least likely to ever be unfaithful, this is the lady you would have picked. As they tried to rebuild their marriage, they had done well in her empathizing with her husband’s pain. However, she still had no real understanding of why she had done what she had done. To help them, I asked her questions about her earlier life. Questions that required stories to explain. In the midst of one story, she suddenly had what is called the “AHA” moment. She suddenly recognized what her weakness was and where it came from. That gave her the opportunity to begin to share her feelings, confusion, shame, and more in deeper levels with her husband so that as she understood his hurt, he understood her vulnerability.

That does NOT justify what she did. Adultery is wrong.

The intent of for the offended to listens to and try to understand what the offender feels now about him- herself, as well as any underlying emotions that contributed to the bad actions. Similar to the methods used by the offender, the offended restates. acknowledges, and validates the emotions of the offender…including sorrow, shame, or whatever else. The offended does not justify or ignore the actions of the offender. This isn’t to make the actions okay in some fashion: It is to help the offender become okay in his or her healing.

Next blog, reconciliation 3.3, Altruistic gift of forgiving

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2 Comments

  1. Chuck Chapman

    Joe, how does reconciliation occur when the offender, even when given the opportunity by the offended, won’t “come clean” and accept the hurt they’ve brought about? How can the offended move on and get rid of that hurt when the offender doesn’t care about reconciliation?

    Reply
  2. admin0

    In a case such as this, reconciliation is unwise. Actually, it is likely impossible.

    Reply

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