Luke 17:3 Ministries Inc
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
For Adult Daughters of Controlling or Abusive Birth-Families
Different Degrees Of Reconciliation- Go With Your Comfort Level
DIFFERENT DEGREES OF RECONCILIATION- GO WITH YOUR COMFORT LEVEL
By Sister Renee Pittelli
After you have forgiven an offender, at some point you will have to decide whether or not to reconcile your relationship. The offender will expect everything to go back to normal after you tell him you’ve forgiven him, but you may not yet be comfortable with that. Indeed, you may never be comfortable with that, especially after a major betrayal, a long history of abusive behavior, or a lengthy estrangement.
We have all heard the old saying "A leopard never changes his spots", but how many of us are aware that this is scripture from the Bible? In Jeremiah 13:23, we are told that wicked people aren’t going to change. Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil….Jeremiah 13:23.
In Luke 17:3, Jesus tells us to forgive if the person who sinned against us repents.
He does not tell us to forgive unconditionally. The offender must earn our forgiveness by repenting. Repentance is not a mere apology. It is turning from one’s hurtful ways and changing one’s behavior. Only if an offender has truly changed her ways are we required by the Lord to forgive, as he forgives us- which he does only when we repent, not when we remain stiff-necked and stubborn and continue in our sinful ways.
It is important to note that, even if the offender does repent and we do forgive, there is no scriptural requirement for us to reconcile. We can forgive in our hearts and still choose not to expose ourselves to the abusive individual any longer.
There is a gray area between the two extremes of never changing, and completely changing. There are abusers who never change in their hearts and whose character will always leave a lot to be desired, but who do manage to change their behavior and the way they relate to others, especially those who will enforce consequences for inappropriate words or actions. For purely selfish reasons- because it benefits them- such people will make an effort to behave and speak appropriately, although they may do so grudgingly. In such a situation, you need to decide if you can be satisfied in a relationship with someone who may never be kind, honorable, trustworthy, loyal, or truly love you and want the best for you, but who has at least made an effort to modify his offensive behavior.
If you should decide to attempt to reconcile with someone who has a long history of abusive behavior, or who has seriously betrayed you, it is quite natural that you will feel anxious that she will hurt you again. Your fear of being hurt again is valid and should be respected. Additionally, if other innocent parties are involved, such as your husband or your children, you may feel a responsibility to protect them from further exposure to the abuser. There is no reason to trust an abusive, selfish, manipulative, dishonest, or disloyal person again, until she has proven herself and earned your trust. Depending upon the circumstances and your feelings, this could take a long time- or may never happen. Many abusers will not want to expend the effort, and will try to guilt you into returning to the way things were in your old relationship before you are ready. They may try to convince you that they’ve changed, without being willing to prove it over time.
Perhaps you genuinely love or miss the offender and would like to have a relationship, but you are afraid and don’t feel she can be trusted not to repeat what she did before. If she has taken responsibility for her actions, acknowledged that what she did was wrong, genuinely apologized, and made an effort to make it up to you, that is certainly a good start. Only time, perhaps a very long time, will tell if her change of heart is permanent.
There is no time limit on the period necessary for you to feel comfortable in trusting a former abuser- feel free to insist upon as much time as you need. Those who try to pressure or rush you have their own agendas. During this time, however, if reconciliation is your eventual goal, you will need to have some contact in order to observe for yourself if and how the offender has changed her ways. If she apologizes, and you agree to think it over but decline any contact while doing so, you won’t have the opportunity to learn if she has truly changed or not.
It is important to give yourself permission to establish whatever level of contact you are comfortable with, and set that as a ground rule for reconciling the relationship, at least in the beginning. If a long-lost relative finally apologizes after years of estrangement, you probably will not feel comfortable spending the holidays together a couple of months later. Your relative may expect, and hope for, that, but that may be just a little too much for you to handle having just recently been back in touch. Yet another consideration is that, until you feel confident in knowing whether the reconciliation is going to last, you may not want your children to become attached, or re-attached, to a person who may not be around on a permanent basis.
I have seen relationships that have reconciled very happily after long rifts, only to break up again a few years later, usually over something minor. I think we are deluding ourselves when we think that a relationship which has suffered a major blow can ever go back to the way it was. Betrayals, broken trusts, and long estrangements change a relationship forever- it will never be the same again. Reconciliation, should it occur, will be unstable and fragile, at least initially. It is hard to overcome serious betrayals or years of not talking. There may be imagined slights or insults, and any hint that the offensive behavior is still present will be (and probably should be) seen as a red flag that the offender hasn’t really changed. In many cases, once relatives learn from a long rift that they can, indeed, survive just fine without each other, they are not as likely to tolerate abuse as they were in the past. When old habits and patterns resurface, they are much quicker to walk away the second time, rather than continue to suffer through to the inevitable conclusion anyway.
If we imagine restoring a relationship as a progression or continuum, with "choosing no further contact" at one extreme, and "spending holidays and important occasions together" at the other extreme, we realize that there are many levels, or degrees, of reconciliation in between. We need to be able to say, "This is what I’m comfortable with at this point, and no more, at least for now." For instance, what type of relationship would you prefer at this time?:
1. Forgiveness, but no further contact
2. Exchanging pleasantries and being civil at funerals or weddings
3. Exchanging Christmas cards
4. An occasional letter or e-mail
5. An occasional phone call
6. Keeping conversations on a superficial level and not discussing or revealing anything personal
7. More frequent letters, e-mails, or phone calls
8. Meeting for coffee or lunch
9. Meeting for coffee or lunch regularly
10. Sharing more intimate information about your life, your hopes, dreams, etc.
11. Sharing a dinner out together
12. Visiting your relative
13. Having your relative visit your home
14. Allowing your relative to relate to your children or husband
15. Having your relative to dinner in your home
16. Sharing your birthday with your relative
17. Regarding your relative’s birthday:
Sending a card
A phone call
Buying a gift
Singing Happy Birthday and helping blow out the candles
18. Sharing other family events or milestones with your relative
19. Sharing a holiday dinner
20. Spending the holidays together
21. Socializing with each other.
22. Getting the spouses, children, and families together on a regular basis.
All of these possibilities represent different levels of intimacy that take time to develop in any relationship, from a new acquaintanceship growing into a friendship, to the re-establishment of an old relationship that had broken up. Depending upon your trust level, and what is done to earn your trust, a beneficial relationship would naturally progress to where you would feel less and less guarded and ready to reveal more and more of yourself. As time passes, if the other person proves herself worthy, you will feel increasingly comfortable in her presence, and more ready to move on to the next level of sharing and intimacy.
For example, you may have a co-worker with whom you enjoy eating lunch but don’t necessarily feel close enough to invite to dinner in your home. Opening up one’s home to someone usually indicates that the relationship has reached a certain level of trust, comfort and familiarity. You wouldn’t invite a casual acquaintance to an important family event, such as a child’s graduation or wedding. To be included in one’s family milestones, holidays, etc., is a privilege usually reserved for close family and friends. Such privileges are earned by caring, love, sharing, and friendship. We invite loved ones to such occasions to honor them and to show them how important they are to us, and how valued their presence is to our family.
As pleasant as your conversations are with, let’s say, your mailman, chances are you’re not going to invite him to join your close family circle on such a personal occasion. The parents of one of your child’s classmates might be out of place at such a gathering. Even though you get along fine while serving on the same school committee, that doesn’t necessarily mean they belong within your circle of close family and friends. Maybe you simply haven’t reached that level of intimacy yet- or maybe you’ll never be more than just casual friends.
In the same way, an estranged relative cannot expect to go from estrangement to sharing dinner at your house in the blink of an eye, with no steps in between. After a serious betrayal by, or a long estrangement from a relative, you don’t have to be the same daughter, granddaughter, sister, or cousin that you were before. The abuse, disloyalty, or break-up has probably affected you and changed you in a profound way, and in many ways, you are a different person than your abuser once knew. Within this particular relationship, it’s better for you not to take a step backwards and return to the way things once were, but to use your experience as an opportunity to grow in the way you relate to your former offender. All bets are off, so to speak, and if there is to be a fresh start, you need to approach it in a different manner.
A reconciliation is like a negotiation. We need to make our terms and expectations clear. When someone has abused us or hurt us, we have every right to dictate the terms of any relationship we are willing to have with them from then on. We are well within our rights to take control of a reconciliation, rather than leaving control in the hands of one who has a history of abusing it.
We need to have the self-esteem and confidence to say, "I’m willing to do _____ but I’m not willing to do____", "I’m not ready for ______", "I’m not comfortable with______ yet, or "Let’s just stick with _____for now and see how it goes". If at some time in the future, we begin to feel our trust building and see sincere change, we can always deepen the level of the relationship and move on to the next step. And if we realize that we are never going to be interested in a more intimate relationship with this person, we have the freedom and right to make that choice as well.
Caution, or perhaps even cautious optimism, is the watchword. If an offender refuses to respect our comfort level and pressures us, or continues pushing for more and more, it is a red flag that this person is going to continue to manipulate, control, make selfish demands, and disrespect our boundaries in the future, just as he probably has in the past.
Unfortunately, there will always be particular people with whom we will never feel comfortable sharing a deep relationship. "Once burned, twice shy" is often true, and often the only way we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from some people is to maintain a level of vigilance and wariness throughout our dealings with them. This can be exhausting and stressful, and only we can decide if it is worth it to have a relationship under those conditions. Being in the presence of someone we don’t trust and can never really relax and enjoy ourselves around is a high price to pay just to have any kind of a relationship, no matter how superficial.
Sister, prayerfully consider what level you are comfortable with at this point in your reconciliation. Do not allow yourself to be pressured by the desires of others, (especially the offender or his enablers), whose interests lie in returning everything quickly to the way it was before with as little effort as possible on their part. Reconciling a broken relationship is not a race. There is no reason to hurry. Take all the time you need to observe, consider, and ask our Father for guidance. At each crossroad, pray and carefully consider taking the next step.
Reconciliation is a work in progress. It is perfectly acceptable to proceed with caution, and it is your responsibility not to expose yourself or your loved ones to more abuse because of a premature reconciliation. If you are to have any relationship at all with an abuser, now is the time to redefine that relationship on your own terms. It is up to the person you have been generous enough to forgive to show his gratitude by respecting your boundaries.
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The Lord specifically called Sister Renee to minister to Adult Children, not their parents, estranged siblings or friends, abusive or abused spouses, or victims of other types of abuse, although what we write here can often be meaningful for those folks as well. Because of this, our ministry and website have a narrow focus which we will not be changing. We simply can't cover everything. In addition, it is not our purpose to help you re-establish contact with someone who felt it was necessary to cut you off for the sake of their own well-being. We do not keep a list of resources for estranged parents or any other type of abuse and suggest if you are sincerely interested in making amends with an estranged relative, you do an internet search for a website or group that will be more relevant to you. If you cannot find a group or site that you can relate to, we suggest you start your own, and bless other people in your position as well as find support for your personal issues.
For Adult Children and others as well, please understand that we cannot give you personal advice concerning your particular family relationships. We are not therapists or lawyers, we usually do not have enough information to form an opinion, and time does not permit us to give enough thought to each person's individual situation to do it justice. If you need personal advice, we urge you to contact the appropriate professional, depending on the problem you have- your minister, therapist, attorney, police department, local domestic violence hotline, etc. In reading this site, you acknowledge that nothing you might read here qualifies as or substitutes for professional advice. Please note we cannot recommend or refer you to a counselor and we do not have a list of therapists or recovery groups in your area. The only Counselor we recommend is the Holy Ghost, and we encourage you to read the Bible and learn for yourself what the Lord says about the issues we write about.
Our articles are strictly our personal opinions and testimonies and are not intended to give or offer any advice. All who access this site do so with the understanding that we are NOT professional counselors and we strongly recommend that you discuss your individual situation with your pastor or therapist and pray for the Lord's guidance before acting on anything we write on this site. Unfortunately, the abuse we discuss is all too common, inflicted on countless victims by countless perpetrators. All names and identifying details in our articles have been changed to protect the innocent as well as the guilty. Any resemblance to a real person or persons whom you might know is strictly coincidental.