Mediation and the Perfect Apology

27 - Mediation (iStock_000002604667XSmall)A genuine, sincere apology can become a powerful catalyst for healing the emotional wounds caused by an offense and perhaps even bring about reconciliation in a bitter dispute. In fact, deeply satisfying apologies have been known to cause injured parties to set aside legal action against their offenders. A study conducted in 1994 reported that 37% of patients and the families who had filed medical malpractice suits indicated that “an explanation and apology were more important than monetary compensation, and that they might not have filed suits had they been given an explanation and apology.”[1] In 2002, the University of Michigan Health System began to encourage employees to apologize for mistakes, and saw its annual attorneys’ fees cut from $3 million to $1 million as the number of cases dropped from 262 in 2001 to roughly 130 annually.[2]

One attorney described the dramatic impact of apology in a case he litigated on behalf of the plaintiff: Continue reading “Mediation and the Perfect Apology”

How Can Marital Separation Save a Marriage?

Some things in life are best described as “counter-intuitive.” For example, Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Luke 9:24).

Give up your life in order to live? That sounded like a lot of nonsense to His hearers until He defined His terms. “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?” (v. 25). Astute listeners recognized that Jesus wasn’t asking for ritual suicide or foolhardy martyrdom. He was describing His Father’s life-exchange program. He said, in effect, “Stop your futile pursuit of life on your own terms, which inevitably leads to eternal death; accept in exchange a brand-new kind of life from Me, which can never end.”

Sometimes, a marriage has to come to a kind of death before it can really begin living. Sometimes, a failing marriage brings a couple to a crisis point at which the Lord offers His marriage-exchange program: “Stop trying to make this marriage work on your own terms, and accept in exchange a brand-new marriage made by Me.”

Unfortunately, many couples rush to the courthouse to sign the marital death certificate (otherwise known as a “decree of divorce”) and then pull the plug while the potential for recovery still exists. Then, after they’ve had time to rest, deal with their own personal issues (hopefully, but not always), reflect on their own contributions to the breakdown of the union, and face the future, they wonder if perhaps they acted too hastily. But, by then, the pain inflicted on one another during the divorce process overshadows any hope of restoration, so they console themselves with a solemn oath to do better next time.

Divorce recovery experts will affirm that a major obstacle to moving forward is a nagging sense of doubt about the past, compulsive second-guessing, reconciling the present with the possibility that past decisions were made impulsively or under duress.

Once Charlene decided to break away from her abusive husband, she began a healing process under the guidance of her divorce recovery group. Continue reading “How Can Marital Separation Save a Marriage?”

For Enduring Relationships, Respond Rather than React

 16 - Conflict (iStock_000006932860XSmall)

You’ve probably seen or experienced this yourself: one person in a relationship does something dramatic to upset their harmonious balance, which prompts the other to react, which in turn triggers a reaction to the reaction. Pretty soon, a series of escalating reactions shatters the relationship into a million pieces, leaving both partners feeling helpless, misunderstood, victimized, and even bewildered. If their relationship survives and neither learns how to behave differently, they are doomed to endure lifelong drama—perpetual conflict occasionally interrupted by episodes of remorse.

Relationships survive when at least one partner understands the difference between responding and reacting. Relationships thrive when both partners learn how to take a deep breath and then respond, rather than react, to the actions of their mate.

What’s the difference between responding and reacting? Consider the following comparisons and their corresponding truths:  Continue reading “For Enduring Relationships, Respond Rather than React”

Ten Characteristics of a Great Apology

A great apology can be a powerful agent for healing, both for the person you harmed and your relationship. It’s a crucial first step toward rebuilding trust. A lousy apology, on the other hand, can be like acid on an open wound.

To be certain your next apology heals rather than harms, review these ten characteristics of a great apology. Then, choose your words carefully and let your humility do the talking.

A great apology fully acknowledges all wrongdoing.

A great apology accepts complete responsibility for wrongdoing.

A great apology empathizes with the offended person.

A great apology gives priority to the good of the offended person over self.

A great apology rejects excuses and avoids defensiveness.

A great apology refuses to presume upon grace.

A great apology places no expectations on the offended person.

A great apology accompanies restitution, when possible.

A great apology strives to heal the offended person’s injuries.

A great apology embraces humility.

Share your most memorable apology story with us. Were you healed or harmed by it?

Learning to Forgive by Learning How to Be Offended

Knight.I remember a time when I didn’t carry grudges. I had the uncanny ability to absorb the most outrageous offenses with barely a flinch and then return unconditional love without resentment. In fact, my armor-like invulnerability to pain and my remarkable freedom from bitterness became a curious source of pride. I could forgive-and-forget with almost supernatural ease. But then something changed all of that. A bizarre combination of circumstances I had never faced before. First, an offense so great, so destructive, I actually wondered if it were possible to die from grief. Second, an apology. Not your run-of-the-mill, mealy-mouthed “I’m sorry.” But a request for forgiveness laced with such deep, empathetic sorrow, I thought my offender might die with me. Still, I struggled to forgive.

Sorrow weighed heavily on my heart while resentment coiled around my chest like a python. To survive, I had to learn why I couldn’t simply shrug off this transgression like I had so many before. This forced me to learn about the true nature of forgiveness, and I soon discovered that I had never actually forgiven anyone of anything before. Instead, as I examined my past, I discovered a number of clever coping mechanisms in my relationship repertoire. Here are a few examples: Continue reading “Learning to Forgive by Learning How to Be Offended”

How to Recover from a Fall

10 - Falling Down

Let’s face it; we’ve all done it.

Fallen.

Morally, I mean.

Theologians refer to the first sin—the original sin—as “the Fall.” And it’s an appropriate image. God did not intend for humanity to crawl like beasts. Animals don’t bear His likeness. Nor did our Creator intend for us to slither like the archetype of evil. He designed our bodies to walk upright, a posture befitting our dignity as the crown of creation and bearers of the divine image. But sin makes us less than human. When we fall—morally, I mean—we are closer to the earth and further from our created purpose. Rather than ruling over the world, we become subject to it.

Fortunately, God did not leave humanity to crawl in the dust. After pronouncing curses on all of creation—the forewarned consequences of disobedience—the Triune God pronounced the gravest curse of all upon Himself. One day, the Father would send His Son to suffer the same evil that plagues all of humanity and to be “attacked” by the author of sin (Gen. 3:15).

In the person of Jesus Christ, God fulfilled His promise by becoming one of us. And, as one of us, He bore the penalty of sin. Unjustly, because He had never fallen. Voluntarily, because He loves us. Completely, because he is almighty God. He did this on behalf of all humanity and now offers complete restoration to any who would receive it. He invites us to stand upright again. No longer by our own strength, but in trusting dependence upon Him.

If you have placed your trust in Jesus Christ to save you from the penalty of your sin, you never need worry about condemnation—not from others and not from God (Romans 8:1). Therefore, sin has become a fundamentally different matter in the life of a believer. We are no longer subject to condemnation, so guilt and shame have no place in the life of a believer. Nevertheless, we remain vulnerable to temptation and prone to sin. We will stumble. We will fall.  Even as we earnestly attempt to honor God, we will inevitably harm others by the poor choices we make and the sinful acts we commit.

While we never have to fear the eternal consequences of wrongdoing, unresolved sin can complicate our lives with earthly consequences, frustrate the Lord’s desire to bless us, and cause others immeasurable heartache. Despite our secure relationship with God, sin is still a deadly serious matter. Thankfully, the Lord has given us a means by which we can clear away the clutter of wrongdoing.

If you have unresolved sin in your life, consider the following actions: Continue reading “How to Recover from a Fall”

“I’ve Accepted the Apology, So Why Can’t I Forgive?”

Reconciliation

 

Many people who have suffered because of another’s sin—especially habitual or repeated sin—assume their inability to move beyond their pain and their reluctance to embrace their offender’s repentance are due to an inability to forgive. They wonder why they can’t accept a sincere apology, forget the past, and move on, so they remain stuck in a confusing emotional cycle that heaps shame on top of suffering.

We received a letter from “Carrie,” whose experience illustrates the depth and complexity of this problem. I have her permission to share her story, although I have altered her name.

On her wedding day, Carrie gave herself completely to the man of her dreams. She had no reason to doubt her marriage would be a lifelong fairytale—yes, challenged as all relationships are, yet “happily ever after” just the same. It was a reasonable expectation. But after the birth of their first child, her fairytale turned into a nightmare. Her husband turned away from his family, losing himself in work . . . and methamphetamines. As he spiraled out of control, his wife and child were pulled in after him, losing almost everything to his addiction.

By the grace of God and the help of supportive friends and family, he broke his habit and appeared to be on the path to lifelong sobriety, “one day at a time,” as they say. Carrie appeared to have recovered her dream until her husband relapsed, which led to another destructive binge and an adulterous affair. In describing the episode, she wrote, “It almost killed me.”

The story has a happy ending. At least nearly so. After sharing the horror she endured for nearly five years, she faced yet another challenge, and she had no idea how to meet it. Here is how she explained her newest trial:

A few years have gone by and my husband has again broken his habit, this time for good, and he’s given his life to Christ. He wants to recommit to our marriage and promises to become a better father. And I believe it’s real. I really want to forgive him, but the pain is almost more than I can bear. Every wedding promise, every little girl’s dream, every expectation has been shattered along with my trust. After the lies, the infidelity, emotional abuse, and false accusations, I feel completely used up and totally worthless.

I thank God that my husband has finally repented and wants to do what is right, but I stopped caring a long time ago. As terrible as it sounds, I don’t want him near me anymore. I don’t want to feel this way and I have begged God to help me, but I don’t feel like He hears my cries. I searched myself and asked the Lord to take away any barriers to His healing. But I just don’t understand why He has allowed me to be hurt so much.

Sometimes I feel like God loves my husband more than He loves me. I was wounded so deeply, yet I must forgive while my husband gets away with causing so much harm. I know this isn’t the right way to see it, so I keep looking to Christ to help me forgive and overcome all of this.

Please continue to pray for me and my family.

Carrie

What keeps Carrie in her anguished cycle is a relatively common misunderstanding of forgiveness. She has unwittingly combined four separate issues: forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, and restoration. They are interrelated, yet distinct stages of a process by which two people rebuild their relationship after an offense. The only way to escape the cycle is to address each issue in turn.

The Issue of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is not a feeling. We tend to think of forgiveness as the ability to have a relationship with our offender without feeling angry, sorrowful, fearful, resentful, or any other negative emotion. In other words, we tend to confuse forgiveness with healing or the ability to trust. Forgiveness is a lot of things, but it is not a feeling. Forgiveness is a choice, something we decide to do.

Put simply, “forgiveness is agreeing to live the consequences of another person’s sin”[1] without seeking justice, or restitution, or empathy, or anything else. To forgive is to release one’s offender from any and all expectations.

Unfortunately, forgiveness is an incredibly difficult choice. It goes against our very nature, which we receive from God, a nature that craves justice. Our innate sense of fair-play rebels against the idea that the innocent should suffer the consequences of another’s guilt. Nevertheless, that is the injustice God has called us to accept. It’s a voluntary injustice He calls “mercy,” the first indispensible step in the right direction. As Neil Anderson warns:

If you don’t let offenders off your hook, you are hooked to them and the past, and that just means continued pain for you. Stop the pain; let it go. You don’t forgive someone merely for their sake; you do it for your sake so you can be free. Your need to forgive isn’t an issue between you and the offender; it’s between you and God.

Forgiveness is costly; we pay the price of the evil we forgive. Yet you’re going to live with those consequences whether you want to or not; your only choice is whether you will do so in the bitterness of unforgiveness or the freedom of forgiveness. That’s how Jesus forgave you—He took the consequences of your sin upon Himself. All true forgiveness is substitutional, because no one really forgives without bearing the penalty of the other person’s sin.[2]

The Issue of Healing

Carrie has genuinely chosen to forgive her repentant husband. She has made the difficult choice to live with the consequences of his sin without seeking revenge or requiring him to suffer as she had. Yet she still suffers the pangs of rejection and struggles to put away resentment—even toward God. Carrie doesn’t lack forgiveness; she needs healing.

Time will eventually heal Carrie’s wounds. How much time will depend upon what kind of guidance she receives and how safe she is from further injury. Like physical wounds, emotional wounds require careful attention and a protected environment if they are to heal properly. And when the wounds run deep, nothing short of physical separation will provide adequate protection. Therefore, it would be wise for Carrie to say to her husband, “I completely forgive you and I do want our relationship to be restored. In order for that to happen, I need some time and space to heal.” Then, she should arrange for that time and space.

At this point, a good counselor will guide her through the process of grief, which could include the help of a support group. This would also involve regular contact with her husband, who can contribute greatly to her healing, mostly by participating in the process of reconciliation.

The Issue of Reconciliation

Reconciliation occurs with the offender completely repents. Repentance is one’s decision to admit wrongdoing without making excuses, accept complete responsibility for his or her actions, and then seek the forgiveness of the person he or she harmed. The article by my friend and colleague, Dr. Bryce Klabunde, explains the six signs of genuine repentance. And nothing possesses the power to heal like genuine repentance.

To adequately deal with the past, Dave Carder, an experienced family counselor and best-selling author, would encourage Carrie to communicate what she needs to hear from her husband. He would also have her husband make a list of his offenses and rank them in the order of least to worst. Then, he would have Carrie’s husband begin confessing and apologizing for each offense. Furthermore, Carrie’s husband must understand the internal forces that contributed to his making the choices he did and learn how to manage them differently. Carrie, for her part, must learn how to express the depth of her sorrow in terms her husband can understand and to communicate what behavior will allow her to extend trust to her husband again. She must also discover and “own” her contribution to the breakdown of the marriage. This is sometimes a controversial notion, but it is crucial to rebuilding. Carder’s book, Torn Asunder: Recovering from Extramarital Affairs, is the best resource I know for couples healing from this kind of devastation. In fact, his principles are very helpful for couples challenged to overcome any breach in trust.

Reconciliation naturally leads to the possibility of restoration.

The Issue of Restoration

When people speak of “forgiveness,” they often mean “restoration,” the ability to enjoy intimacy with someone who has caused injury in the past. Forgiveness can lead to restoration, but that restored relationship must rest upon a solid foundation of forgiveness, healing, repentance, and reconciliation. And if any one element is missing or incomplete, the rebuilt relationship may be compromised.

Put simply, restoration is the rebuilding of trust, a key ingredient in any relationship. Carrie must learn to trust in her husband’s continued sobriety and faithfulness. His taking responsibility for his actions and his empathy with her suffering will feed her ability to trust him again. Conversely, her husband must have reasonable assurance that he has been truly forgiven, that she will not use his offense against him in the future. He must also have a reasonable hope that her sorrow—which causes him great shame—will subside as time passes.

Step-by-Step

Rebuilding a relationship that has been reduced to rubble by sin is a process. Forgiveness is an indispensible decision, but it is only the first of many steps toward restoration. Many find relief in this truth because it explains why healing, trust, intimacy, and reconciliation don’t immediately fall into place. Nevertheless, the process of restoration is not easy for anyone. The upright partner must open himself or herself to the possibility of reinjury. The repentant partner must endure the excruciating process of self-examination and reformation. The rebuilding of trust and intimacy will be fraught with danger and marked by setbacks. And, truth be told, few couples make it. Either one partner or the other is not up for the challenge.

Still, redemption is possible, not only for individuals but for couples. Given the right environment and expert guidance, God can raise a temple of extraordinary grace from the ashes of sin.


[1] Neil T. Anderson, The Bondage Breaker (Eugene, OR.: Harvest House, 1990), 195.

[2] Neil T. Anderson, The Bondage Breaker (Eugene, OR.: Harvest House, 1990), 195.