If reconciliation is the process of bringing balance back into a relationship, then there must be steps to take. What are the steps of reconciliation? How can we practically walk through them to mend the trust that has been broken?
What the Steps of Reconciliation in Relationships Are NOT
Okay, so before I share how to reconcile a relationship where trust has been broken I need to be sure we are talking about the same topic.
This article is specifically addressing the steps of reconciliation in a relationship.
- Family relationship
- Friend relationship
- Marriage relationship
Some people may be looking for the steps of reconciliation Catholics walk through after sin.. this is not that – sorry.
Reconciliation to God
But, while we are here, let’s chase this squirrel for a moment.
Reconciliation with God is hugely important. Often, when a relationship with another human is broken there is sin on both parts. We can be quick to focus on the other person and their sin and not address our own sinful part of the situation.
Sin separates us from God. I break trust in that relationship. Part of reconciliation in a relationship must be me and God dealing with my issue of sin.
What are the 4 Stages of Reconciliation with God?
Traditionally the church teaches that there are 4 steps in the sacrament of reconciliation. You may learn then when learning how to say confession:
And while I am not Catholic, the process has its roots in the Bible. The specific steps are not always something we think about as we work through the process of getting right with God.
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20 ESV)
Comparing the Steps of the Reconciliation Process
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17 ESV)
The Holy Spirit brings to light our sin and we feel the weight of it – Contrition.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 ESV)
We confess our sin to God – agreeing with Him because He already knows all the details.
Now there are some details of this process that differ among branches of Christianity. I think it is important to stay clearly with a Biblical understanding of reconciliation to God so I will focus on Scripture alone here.There are 11 Simple steps of reconciliation that can work for any relationship. But then there are 6 more that are needed for toxic relationships. Learn more here. Click To Tweet
Some Different Language
Let me differ in language for a moment…
Penance implies we can do something to make things right with the Lord (correct me if I oversimplify this). And Jesus did all that was needed on the cross at Calvary… but what I do see Scripture clearly say here is repentance – turning away from the sin.
“Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19 ESV)
Note that repentance is different from confession. You can confess your sin -agree with God that you sin – and not change your future behavior. So they are two separate steps of reconciliation.
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7 ESV)
Then absolution – being released from the guilt of your sin. I would argue that no human can do this for you, though at times I need to hear someone else say it out loud. Again, Jesus paid your debt of sin when He died. He also tells us to confess our sins is to be forgiven. We are absolved at the time of confession…
Before We Learn the Steps of Reconciliation
I never want to take for granted that you are walking through the steps of forgiveness. Never. Reconciliation is impossible if you are not forgiving – actively forgiving – the thing that broke trust.
So if you are not, if you thought to skip the hard work for forgiveness in the relationship… don’t. Just don’t do it. Work through forgiveness.
The Different Parts of Forgiving an Offense
Every time I work through forgiveness it flows differently. Every time. But the basics are the same. This is what I have to focus on to get through it without bitterness.
- Understand What Is Forgiveness and Why Is It Important?
- Embrace the Power of Forgiveness – instead of feeling weak for letting go.
- Come to terms with Unforgiveness: What Would Happen if I Refuse To Forgive?
- Remember about The Ancient of Days, Meaning God will Judge: The Way To Forgiveness
- Be real about my character and evaluate The 5 Characteristics of Spiritual Maturity You Need to forgive.
And Then Forgive
I kid you not, forgiveness is 95% heart work, 5% actual words. I have to get through all of that before I can let go and forgive. Now, maybe I am just more of a scoundrel than most, but forgiveness is hard. HARD!
After all that hard work I begin to actually forgive. And this is how that goes.
- Walk through the 7 Steps – this is How To Forgive Anyone Anything.
- Finally, Embrace pre-forgiveness – decide I will forgive daily, anything that comes up because Jesus does.
After you have walked through the process of forgiveness, and only after, then you are ready to move on. Reconciliation can be beautiful when it flows from a place of forgiveness.
What Are The Main Steps of Reconciliation Within Human Relationships
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if reconciling a broken relationship was as easy as reconciling with God? The difference is, of course, that God is perfect, holy, and righteous. He promised to always forgive. He is a God of reconciliation who loves us and longs to be in a relationship with His children!
People, on the other hand, are none of those things. And it really doesn’t matter how many steps you try, some people… well, sadly, not all relationships can be reconciled.
I will share with you what I found works for me but first let me be clear about the main steps of reconciliation of a relationship.
- Staying in your relationship with God – don’t walk away from Him no matter how much it hurts.
- Humble honesty
- Depend on prayer
I’ll go into more detail in a moment, but those 4 things will help you through most normal brokenness.
There Is No Perfect Number of Steps
Years ago, as I began working out how to really fix my marriage I searched this thing out so many ways.
- What are the 5 steps of reconciliation?
- Just to get something other than confession…
- Are there more than 5 steps of reconciliation?
- Because 5 just didn’t seem like enough…
- What are the 10 steps of reconciliation?
- Because surely there must be a lot of steps…
- Will 7 steps of reconciliation work?
- Because I was so exhausted
But the truth is, there is no perfect number of steps. You just have to keep after it until things change or it is clear they never will.
Prayer is Critical – Don’t Underestimate the Power of Prayer
I can’t tell you how desperately I want to start and end with this point. How I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee and a warm blueberry muffin and talk to your heart about prayer.
Prayer changes things.
I hesitate to start with prayer when talking about reconciling relationships… mostly because many faithful Christians have suffered through years of abuse while ONLY praying for change.
Prayer changes things. It is a wildly powerful weapon in the fight we are engaged in. It must be happening in combination with these steps of reconciliation. Just not the only step.
But Prayer matters. Prayer works. Be sure you are praying for real change.
How Do You Reconcile a Relationship?
Something you have to remind yourself is that, while the stages of reconciliation are clear -ish, the steps will not go in a straight line.
Reconciliation can be messy. It takes time. You will take many steps forward, only to be thrown backward at times.
Give yourself and your partner grace as you walk through this process.
Go through the steps slowly and be intentional.
Learning how to reconcile with someone who hurt you is hard work. Also, what works with one person may not work with another. So be flexible in the process.
1.) Forgiveness is Critical in the Steps of Reconciliation
I can not overemphasize the importance of forgiveness in reconciliation. I said it earlier and I will continue to repeat it – you can not truly reconcile if you have not truly forgiven.
2.) Lean Into God
To reconcile a relationship you will need to be working on your relationship with God. Period. You have to lean into Him for strength and grace and endurance.
Yes, you are doing this while working on forgiving, but that is not enough. To restore relationships you must be growing with God.
- Spend time with God every day in prayer.
- Not just about the hurt, but about all the parts of your life.
- Read the Bible.
- Knowing God is about recognizing His voice.
- You hear His voice first from Scripture.
- Fast and Pray
- This may seem very much like praying, but fasting helps you know God in a deeper way.
- It also helps you grow so you can be more like Him.
- Reconciliation requires a heart like God’s.
- Hide His Word
- It’s not enough to read the Bible.
- Leaning into God requires getting Scripture deep in your heart.
- Memorize it.
- Meditate on it.
- Let it be the voice in your head.
3.) Be Honest
To get to true reconciliation you have to be honest… It is just not enough to forgive and want reconciliation. I am talking about heart-deep, gut-level honesty about the issue. You can’t worry about sparing their feelings or trying to be a “good Christian” or you risk not working through the issue completely.
If you are not honest with yourself about how this has hurt you, you will jump back into the relationship and risk more hurt. Deeper hurt… because you didn’t really address the heart of the issue.
4.) Keep Talking About It
It is easy to think that one conversation, difficult as it may have been, will be enough to fix the brokenness. Often it is not enough.
I don’t mean that we need to keep saying we are sorry. That’s not what I mean here. When I say keep talking about it, I mean talking about the deeper issues. Keep talking about it until the healing has happened.
Talk about it together. Talk about it with a counselor. Just keep talking.
5.) Watch Behavior
Talking alone, however, is never enough for reconciliation. Behavior speaks louder than any words. This is why boundaries are important.
For example: Early in our marriage, it became clear that Bud was an alcoholic. He drank at every opportunity. He drank until he passed out and often started back when he came to.
When he drank he was unkind, to put it mildly. He would be sorry when he was sober, but when he drank the next time his behavior was unchanged.
Related Post: 16 Characteristics of a Godly Marriage
6.) Boundaries Motivate Change
I had to set boundaries. It was hard to do at first, but being hurt was harder. So, to protect myself I set boundaries in my marriage around this behavior.
When he drank I left. When he drank he didn’t get to touch me. If we were out and others were drinking I would leave. Boundaries.
When he felt the pain of those boundaries, he began to make changes. It is often the inconvenience and discomfort that comes with boundaries that are the greatest motivators of change.
Related Post: How Good Boundaries Provide Hope for a Broken Marriage
Boundaries Outside of Marriage
My childhood was filled with abuse. As an adult, I struggled to reconcile the relationship with my family over the abuse. To protect myself I set boundaries in my family.
I would no longer be around my abuser. My children would not be around my abuser. If anyone knowingly tried to guilt me about this I would not be around them until they acknowledged the manipulation and made it right.
A few were able to live within those boundaries. One, specifically, was not. Boundaries put the work firmly into their hands.
One benefit of boundaries is that when they are not respected you have a clear breaking point without guilt and shame.
7.) Move Forward With Change
Probably the hardest thing about reconciling a relationship is recognizing and allowing change.
We want change.
We pray for change.
But often we miss the signs of change. We hold the other person to expectations we set in the past rather than allowing them to move forward in the change.
Reconciliation is possible when they show believable change, repeatedly, over time.
As they prove they have changed, we are able to move forward with balancing and restoring the relationship.
Reward repeated, believable change!
Truth and Reconciliation in a Relationship: Personally
There has been a lot of hurt in my marriage. A lot. To protect myself, many times I would just shut down, retreat into myself, get quiet and keep a distance between my heart and his habits…
For years I got it wrong, thinking all I had to do was forgive him to bring healing. I can forgive without an apology. I can choose to forgive every day, no matter what he does to hurt me. Yes, I can. You can too…
But if all we ever do is forgive, we will keep getting hurt. If we never do the hard work of reconciliation it will just keep happening.
Now, to be honest, it may keep happening anyway, but if we never do the work it for sure will. This is specifically excluding abusive and narcissistic partners who need… a lot of professional help to change.
Reconciliation in Marriage
So now, when he hurts me, I walk through the process nice and slowly.
Forgiveness is still critical. I have to forgive him. It can take days or weeks… some hurts take longer and I have to start toward reconciliation while forgiving.
Thankfully God is with us throughout the process!
‘Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10 ESV)
A Job Hopper
For example. My husband has the habit of quitting a job with no warning, with no job to fall back on. I am a stay-at-home mom which means he leaves us financially insecure… It hurts.
For years I would forgive him and pray that God would change this behavior. There have been some small changes, but I could feel myself withdrawing from him… bad for marriage.
God had been working in me to shift my expectations from my husband to HIM alone. That is a good shift, but I also made some bad shifts as I learned.
I stopped expecting Bud to provide anything I needed in one season. When he came home, having lost a job, I just learned to expect that he was incapable of supporting us. So I took on a second job from home, then a third.
Expecting nothing from your husband leads to resentment. Anyone else raising their hand on this one?!?!?!
9.) Difficult Conversations
It wasn’t until I sat him down and had a real conversation about how deeply this hurt me and our family that he began to change.
He never realized that his habit had broken my trust. I couldn’t depend on him or count on him to provide for our family. But he didn’t see that until we talked through it.
It never crossed his mind that I felt alone carrying the burden of supporting our family. That the pressure to avoid poverty was adding to the stress destroying my health…
Related Post: To the Wife Who Needs Security in a Christian Marriage
10.) Set Backs and Observed Change
We had many conversations about his job hopping. Every time he had a bad day or bad-mouthed the company I bravely brought back up the issue.
He reassured me he would make changes.
Then he quit another job without a job. It set us back. I hurt all over again. The process had to start over.
I had to lean into God for the strength to forgive Bud and keep fighting.
“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:14 NIV)
Then one day I noticed he was looking for another job – while still working. He said, “I know I am going to leave this job, but I will wait until I have another job first.” Real change!
Related Post: God Will Fight for You: Be Still My Anxious Mind
11.) Be Patient With the Steps of Reconciliation
The process has happened several times since, but he is consistent now to have another job first.
I still hate that he changes jobs so often, but he is providing consistently. It has taken over 8 years of working through this, but in the last 2 years, he has finally gotten it.
It takes time to fix problems in marriage! Now, we have struggled off and on, but after the first few conversations, we were able to reconcile our differences. Because the conversation was open and ongoing and we were both working toward change.
If I could offer one encouragement to the wife who is tired of working on things it is this: Stay in the process!
“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” (Galatians 6:9 NASB)
How To Reconcile a Relationship With A Family Member
Reconciliation in a relationship is hard work, but some relationships and situations are harder than others.
There have been many conflicts within my family that we have been able to work through. However, there have been some, where we could not work through the conflict and boundaries keep us apart even today.
The Process of Reconciliation
The process of reconciliation is the same. Walk through the stages, stay on the pathway and work through the steps!
- Lean int oGod
- Be honest
- Talk about it
- Watch behavior
- Set boundaries
- Allow change
- Let go of expectations
- Have difficult conversations
- Expect setbacks
- Be Patient
- If Toxic Behaviors Are Present You Will Need More Steps
- A program
- Formal boundaries
- A trial period
Reconciling a Toxic Relationship: Extra Steps of Reconciliation
Some relationships, however, can not be reconciled so simply. A list of behaviors and hurts that will require more work:
Earlier I said that some hurts can be forgiven but reconciling the relationship may not possible. These are some of those cases. If you are considering reconciliation in any of the above I advise caution and lots of extra steps.
Whether you are married to the person, living with them, or just friends, separation is important in these extreme cases. At least 30 days apart will give you time to pray, heal and plan.
The key here is to be safe and start healing. It is also a great way to give them time to feel the separation which can motivate change. Remember, inconvenience and discomfort are great motivators of change.
Also, remember that most of us seek the easiest route back to comfort and ease. Don’t make it easy. There should be real hard work involved in reconciliation when there has been a serious breach of trust.
You WILL need help processing all the hurt, all the emotions and feelings. Don’t skip this. A good counselor can help you start processing and healing. They can also help you start thinking about boundaries.
Later on, if the other person is willing to change, a counselor can help you measure change. An outside eye is so helpful when there is a toxic person or behavior involved.
This is specifically counseling for you. Whether they attend a session with you later is not up to you and should not stop you from getting the help you need.
14.) A Program
Don’t be afraid to require the toxic person to work through a program before you will reconcile. There are programs for almost any toxic behavior. Find one near you. Often they have an option for spouses in your situation. You are not alone.
Addiction and anger specifically can benefit greatly from working through a good program.
Related Resource: 27 Resources to Overcome Pornography From a Real Wife
15.) Serious Accountability
When toxic behavior comes into your life you need real accountability to set it right. This means that real people in your everyday life need to know what is going on.
Not only do they need to know what is going on, but they also need permission to check on you and speak the truth into your life.
A special note: Initially, this should not be family members because they may be too emotionally invested or even hurt as well. A good friend, an elder at your church, someone who has known you a long time could be a better fit here..
Find serious accountability.
16.) Firm and Written Formal Boundaries
In my first marriage, my husband cheated. We separated, I sought counseling and we agreed on firm boundaries.
- He would be home when he said.
- No giving rides to females.
- No alone time with females.
- I would have access to anything he used to communicate with females.
When he didn’t follow one of the boundaries we set, I was able to go back to that to say, “You broke your agreement and my trust.” That took out any way he had to manipulate me with feelings of not trusting him or falsely accusing him.
Over time, it allowed me to see he was not changing or even willing to change. When we divorced, I had clear grounds and less guilt. (There was still hurt, but I knew I did all I could.)
17.) A Trial Period
Even after you have forgiven, separated, set boundaries, and gotten help, you need to give the relationship time. Don’t just jump right back to where you were!
Set a trial period. Spend time together with others. Plan to keep going to counseling. Be open and honest about everything with others.
In marriage, plan to date again for a season. You have both changed and need time to get to know each other again. Work at re-establishing trust.
If after a trial period, you see repeated, believable changes in behavior, make plans to move forward with reconciliation.
18.) Be Cautious
Toxic people who have lived a lifetime with toxic behavior can easily slip back into old patterns. Don’t give slack for the boundaries you set.
Keep a standing appointment with your counselor every 6 months then every year just to check-in.
Don’t ignore warning signs. Take action quickly.
Fight in prayer consistently!
A Challenge To Try The Steps of Reconciliation Today
Maybe you are reading this like I was several years back and thinking – 17 steps of reconciliation feel overwhelming. That is too many steps, Tiffany! I just can’t do it.
Okay. Will you just start at #1? Just work through one step today. See what progress it makes.
This is not about pushing through some checklist to fix a broken relationship. The process will take time. Just stay in the process!
You can do this. You may not need all the steps. They are just what I use to help me keep moving forward. That’s the point in reconciliation. Keep moving forward.
Keep moving forward with God and trusting Him throughout the process.
And if you get stuck somewhere, reach out. I’d love to pray over you and chat with you to help in any way I can.
in HIS love,
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