Leaving bible study the other day my eye fell on a book laying on the leader’s dining room table: Offence the bait of Satan by John Bevere. I have never read the book but have watched the DVD with the same title a couple of times before. This was my clue that rocky relationship waters were ahead. I got to my car and scrolled through the messages on my phone. Amongst the WhatsApp messages that I received while at bible study was one that felt like a slap in my face as I was reading it.
A friend had taken offence to a message I sent and made sure to let me know in no uncertain terms. I thought my original message was an innocent question. But my opinion is not that relevant. What is relevant is how important the relationship is to me. I have learned the lesson before: Acknowledge how you feel but forgive, whether you feel like it or not. Then start praying for the person. That is what John Bevere teaches in the DVD.
This figure depicts the level of rapport that people might experience in a relationship. As we interact with people we build rapport and, if we have positive interactions, we build positive numbers on this scale. The opposite is true for negative experiences. Psychology scholars say that when a relationship goes sour, we don’t just take a step down on the scale but in fact, the relationship falls all the way to the negative equivalent on the scale. That is why we feel the hurt so much more intensely with close friendships and relationships with people in our inner circle. Then we have to start rebuilding the relationship again from that negative point on the scale.
I have hit rocky waters in other relationships before where I have had to climb up the ladder step by step. It is a slow process of restoring the relationship. I recall one relationship that took years to rebuild.
But in recent years I have seen there is a better and quicker process of restoration. It is the one Jesus instructed us to follow: Forgive, even 70 times 7. Pray for your enemies.
Forgiving is what dissolves the negative chemical reaction and memories in our brains. This helps us get back to the neutral position on the scale. I believe that in praying for the person God enables us to love that person, whether our enemies or a friend who has hurt us. I suspect the praying also emphasize and enlarge the positive memories regarding the relationship. That is what helps us climb back into the positive numbers up the scale.
There is a further step I would advocate for calming a rocky relationship. This time it worked well and strengthened the relationship. In the past, it had served to protect me from potentially abusive relationships. That step is to have a conversation with the friend and to establish boundaries that prevent future rock-falls in the relationship.
The conversation is an opportunity to acknowledge the emotions of both parties. Just having the conversation communicates that the initiator values the relationship enough to want it restored. Speaking about appropriate boundaries allow both parties to acknowledge the level of relationship they are comfortable with at that stage. Having clear boundaries defined, help prevent stepping on each other’s toes again. The vulnerability necessary to have such a conversation builds trust again and allow both parties to get to know each other better.
This is the approach I followed with my friend that sent that WhatsApp message and the relationship was reconciled in less than a week.