- What do you do when someone betrays you?
- How do you restore a broken relationship?
- You just forgive the person, right?
- Should you withhold forgiveness?
A truth we must understand:
“Forgiveness is one thing; reconciling a broken relationship is another.”
Forgiveness is always required by God for those whom He has forgiven ( see: Forgive or else!).
Genuine forgiveness results in personal freedom from a vengeful response and in power to love your enemy (see: Romans 12:17-21).
Yet forgiveness does not always result in immediate restoration of a broken relationship. Forgiveness must be viewed as a matter of worship between the offended person and God (see: Empty your grudge account).
Don’t make the mistake of equating forgiveness and reconciliation.
Restoring a deeply broken relationship usually takes time. This is the goal of reconciliation but those who commit significant and repeated offenses must realize that their actions affect the timing of the process. If genuinely repentant, offenders will accept this fact with brokenness and humility. Of course, only God can provide the needed strength for embracing the process.
Reconciliation is a process conditioned on the attitude and actions of an offender. In some cases, even if an offender confessed his wrong to the one he hurt, and appealed for forgiveness, the offended person could justifiably say, “I forgive you, but it might take some time for me to regain trust and restore our relationship.”
Forgiveness and reconciliation occur together in relation to minor offenses. In relationships shaped by the gospel, “love covers a multitude of sins” (i.e. offenses)” (I Peter 4:8). Those who withhold restoration over minor offenses are revealing lacking in genuine love based in the gospel (see: Ephesians 4:32-5:1). Where such love is absent, immaturity and manipulation threaten unity.
Please take time to review the two principles for resolving conflict here.
When deeply or repeatedly betrayed, however, forgiveness does not necessarily require that one immediately grant the same level of relationship back to an offender. Even when God forgives our sins, He does not promise to remove all consequences created by our actions.
Being forgiven, restored, and trusted again are amazing experiences, but those who hurt others must understand that their attitude and actions will affect the process and timing of rebuilding trust.
Words alone are not sufficient for restoring trust.
When a husband speaks harshly to his wife in a way that is out of character, his acknowledgement of sinning against her should be received with forgiveness and restoration. If he repeatedly speaks this way, he should expect his acknowledgements of wrong to be more difficult to receive. If the pattern continues, his wife could appropriately tell him that she forgives him but will not accept his harshness in the future without consequences.
When someone has been significantly hurt and feels hesitant about restoration with her offender, it’s both right and wise to look for changes in the offender before allowing reconciliation to begin. This is especially true when the offense has been repeated.
The act of forgiveness surrenders the desire for revenge in the context of one’s relationship with the God who said, ““It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” (Romans 12:19). Forgiveness is first about God.
When forgiveness is genuine, the heart of the offended person should be open to the possibility of reconciliation (unless personal or family safety are clearly at risk). Forgiveness requires us to offer a repentant person an opportunity to demonstrate repentance and to regain trust.
Yet when a person has repeatedly behaved in a sinfully harmful and irresponsible manner, he must accept the fact that reconciliation will be a slow and difficult process.
Three main considerations in the timing of a process of reconciliation:
- The attitude of the offender
- The depth of the betrayal
- The pattern of the offense (often repeated offenses)
When an offended party works toward reconciliation, the first and most important step is to confirm whether the offender is genuinely repentant (Luke 17:3). An unrepentant offender will resent a desire to confirm the genuineness of his confession and repentance. He might also resort to lines of manipulation.
Lines of manipulation
- “I guess you can’t find it in yourself to be forgiving.”
- “You just want to rub it in my face.”
- “I guess I should expect that you want your revenge.”
- “I am not the only one who does wrong things, you know?”
- “Are you some kind of perfect person looking down on me?”
- “Some Christian you are, I thought Christians believed in love and compassion.”
Lines of manipulation reveal an unrepentant attitude. Don’t be tricked into avoiding the step of confirming the authenticity of your offender’s confession and repentance.
Carefully and prayerfully use the seven signs of true repentance listed below. I highly recommend seeking the guidance of a wise counselor to help you see things clearly — (but only one who understands the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation). Such a counselor can help an injured person establish boundaries and define steps toward reconciliation that are restorative rather than retaliatory.
It’s hard to genuinely restore a broken relationship when an offender is unclear about his confession and repentance. You must be as certain as you can of your offender’s repentance—especially in cases involving repeated offenses or deep betrayals of trust.
Even God will not grant forgiveness to one who is insincere about his confession and repentance. The person who is unwilling to forsake his sin will not find forgiveness with God (Proverbs 28:13).
Of course, only God can read hearts –– we must evaluate actions. Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16a).
We must not allow superficial appearances of repentance to control our responses. Displays of tears or appearing to be sorry must not become substitutes for clear changes in attitude and behavior.