We have all found ourselves in the middle of difficult relationships, or at least difficult seasons in a relationship. The only way to ensure no further difficulty is to completely sever the relationship but that isn’t always possible or prudent. Working through offense, hurt and other dysfunction is more than likely going to become necessary for each of us at some point.
Maintaining the status quo where there is abuse or even ongoing offense is often not the best option as frustrations mount. There are three related reactions but distinct reactions that require wise application to walk through difficult relationships.
1. Forgiveness – releasing the need for justice. That doesn’t mean justice is out of the equation, it simply means that you won’t be the one that ensures it. God is a God of justice, but the timing and application of that truth isn’t up to us, it’s up to Him.
The biggest hurdle in getting to this point is often emotion as forgiveness is mistaken as a feeling when it is, in fact, a choice. We forgive despite the emotion, not necessarily in agreement with it. Forgiveness makes a way for healing to result in better feelings, not the other way around.
2. Boundaries – determining what you are and are not willing to be exposed to and clearly communicating those limits when they are threatened. The key here is to determine these boundaries from a healthy heart where forgiveness is sincere. If the boundaries are attempted from the fog of hurt and bitterness, they will only further the cycle of dysfunction.
Warning: healthy boundaries applied in unhealthy situations where one or more parties are abusive will not necessarily draw a healthy reaction. In fact, it can make things worse. That’s why the boundaries have to be set from a place of healthy identity to next steps can be determined without malice or fear.
3. Trust – allowing access to places that have previously been hurt. Where there has been hurt, forgiveness and boundaries, it may take time to restore trust. In fact, trust may never be restored but in those instances it’s important not to let bitterness creep back in.
Forgiveness isn’t telling the other person that what they did is ok nor is it saying that there are no consequences for choices that have been made. Trust isn’t saying it’s ok, either, but it is greater exposure to repeating the previous pattern. Premature or unwarranted trust will enable dysfunction.
God values and even requires relationship. Relationship requires self-awareness which also requires emotional maturity. When relationship is not healthy, there are things within us to be aware of, manage and grow in. If and when we do that, we won’t have to simply cut and run every time there is a relational challenge.