Off the Bench: Reconciling a break in key relationships takes a full measure of humility and grace

By James W. Dolan
Special to the Reporter

Reconciliation. What a marvelous healing word. It implies humility, understanding, forgiveness, and renewal. It affirms the repairing of a breach in a relationship. Most meaningful relationships will fray from time to time, and some will fracture for reasons that may at the time seem almost irreconcilable.

Friends will allow a disagreement or misunderstanding to break a bond. Hurt, angry, disappointed, they stop talking and withdraw into their respective corners while usually blaming the other for the rupture. A mutually beneficial connection is sacrificed to anger and blame. Rejection becomes the objective manifestation of the inner pain one or both feel.

Married couples are particularly susceptible, given the normal annoyances inevitable in such a close relationship. In the absence of accommodation skills, problems can grow and undermine the balance so important in sustaining a lasting relationship. It’s a shifting balance that recognizes and accommodates strengths and weaknesses as the parties together navigate occasionally tempestuous seas.

It’s easy to love people you don’t know. Love in the abstract requires little effort. It’s loving another imperfect human being – a spouse, a parent, a sibling, or a friend – that requires self-control, sympathy, understanding, and the capacity to overlook minor grievances and to forgive those who trespass against you as you would hope to be forgiven for your transgressions.

Reaching out to someone who has offended you or whom you have offended is a noble gesture. It says what we have is too important to let a disagreement or misunderstanding come between us. If it’s good, it’s worth saving. Why let pettiness and anger fracture a relationship. Who is at fault really is not that important. An apology, even when you believe you are the aggrieved party, is a small price to pay for peace of mind.

When friends stop talking, each tends to blame the other, finding it more comfortable to be the victim. Both have been wronged and, therefore, feel no obligation to bridge the gap. Pride prevents them from setting aside their feelings for a greater good, the preservation of the relationship. It’s not “Blessed are the peacemakers except when wronged,” or “Love your neighbor as yourself only if loved in return.”

Take the initiative and seek to reconcile with those with whom you have a grievance. A powerful example occurred several years ago when a number of Quaker children were murdered in their schoolhouse. When the perpetrator was apprehended and brought to court, the Quaker elders came to offer their forgiveness. Such examples of selfless love are few and far between. We can only marvel at such displays of grace and mercy.

While all marriages are not salvageable, some are. The ramifications of a breakup, particularly where there are children involved, should be strong incentives to overcome problems that threaten the union. There is that greater good to be considered. Will the children be better off emotionally, psychologically, and financially in the absence of a parent? Regrettably, in some cases, the answer is yes. To remain together requires sacrifices, difficult accommodations, and adjustments. While, often with some effort, one spouse can control his/her behavior, it may not be enough unless the other party is also trying.

Reconciliation ends an estrangement and restores harmony in a relationship. It can occur between individuals, warring nations, and theologically (between sinner and deity). There is precious little reconciliation in Washington these days. Seemingly intractable hostility, discord, and partisanship have so crippled the system as to render it incapable of agreeing on anything controversial.

Grievances large and small are inevitable. To rise above them for the common good requires humility and grace. The humility to accept you may be wrong or have in some way contributed to the breach. And the grace to acknowledge that harmony is far more beneficial and productive than strife.

James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court who now practices law.