Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

Repairing Relationships Requires Connection, Part 1: The Mountain Tunnel

Recently, I suffered severe emotional trauma caused by the breakdown of a relationship. I have been making every possible effort, despite great resistance, to repair that relationship and reconcile with the other person. The traumatic breakdown of this relationship, and the comprehensive, holistic approach I have taken to personal growth in response to it, has caused me to also begin efforts to repair other relationships in my life that have become dysfunctional.

One of the things I consistently hear when I intentionally, lovingly, and in an emotionally safe way make sincere efforts to repair my relationships, is pushback in the name of “boundaries.” Despite the transparency of my life, the lasting effects of emotional trauma, and the monumental changes to myself that have come from my personal growth journey, there remains, for others, an attachment to what ostensibly are called “boundaries,“ but have become something more, something detrimental.

Now, I acknowledge the need for, and legitimacy of, healthy boundaries. Such boundaries exist in the present, based on present conditions, and who people are, right now. Boundaries cannot be healthy, therefore, when one is not living in the present moment, but, instead, is attached to the pain of the past or fear of the future. The resistance and “boundaries” I have been encountering are not based on who I am, right now, but on who others have, in the past, perceived me to be. I have asked people to get to know me, now, to take time to be intentional and present, and see the change God has effected in me.

As far as I can tell, the “boundaries” I have encountered as I seek reconciliation in my relationships do not seem to be healthy boundaries, which exist to provide reasonable and necessary emotional defense. Instead, what once may have been such healthy boundaries have become an emotional mountain range of unhealthy psychological walls that have accumulated over time, and now serve to isolate one person from others. These mountain ranges seem comprised of suspicion, wariness, defensiveness, hurt, resentment, bitterness, and unforgiveness.

True forgiveness, offered freely in love (with or without an apology) restores relationships. It is the most effective dynamite for making tunnels through these emotional mountains. Forgiveness is restorative and leads to reconciliation, or, at least, opens an obvious path to reconciliation through the making of amends.

These emotional mountain ranges prevent one person from seeing another as they truly are in the present moment. The separation between them keeps them attached to the past (or fearful of the future), rather than focused on the present. Attachment to the past feeds a mental construct each person has of the other that is no longer accurate, because it is outdated and based on who a person once was perceived to be, rather than who they actually are, right now.

In order to restore a relationship in which this has occurred, both individuals need to make an intentional effort to tunnel through the emotional mountain range separating them. Time, itself, will not be enough to heal the relationship and bring two people back together. Something has to break through the mountain range, something has to tear down the walls between them.

Only an intentional effort can heal and restore the relationship. This effort certainly will take time. It is a significant undertaking. It will also take a great deal of focus and personal strength. All that is really required, from a practical standpoint, however is for each person to consistently take directionally correct steps towards one another. That’s simple, though, at first it might feel hard.

Relationships do not have to be repaired, in this way, overnight. This process might take weeks, months, or even years. As long as each person remains focused on rebuilding the relationship, and continues to make constructive contributions to the effort to repair the relationship, in time a tunnel will be cut through the mountain range, and a connection will be restored.

Connections are a means of creating the possibility for emotional intimacy, for emotional safety, for openness and vulnerability. Connections are not a means to their own end, they serve this deep need we all have for emotional intimacy. Even emotional intimacy is not, ultimately, a means to its own end. We crave emotional intimacy because we crave love. We want to love others, and we want to be loved by others.

Drilling through the mountain ranges separating us from those who we have hurt or who have hurt us is an act of love. It’s exactly the act of love that Jesus called his disciples to practice when he called them to love their enemies, to love those who have treated us badly, to love those who are not acting in a loving way towards us.

Drilling through these mountains is really difficult. It’s hard work. Plus, because you’re both coming from opposite sides of the mountain, and can’t see each other, there is a real risk that you won’t meet up in the middle of the mountain. The tunnel might not be straight. While good communication will improve the likelihood that a straight, efficient tunnel is dug, there are no guarantees.

What matters, however, is that the connection is made, not that it is perfect. Once that connection is made, it can be improved over time. Repairing our relationships and overcoming the mountains that have grown between us and other people in our lives is some of the most fulfilling work that we can do as human beings.

In the next part of this series, I will talk about repairing relationships between those who have drifted apart, rather than putting up walls between them.

© 2021 Noel Bagwell. All Right Reserved.

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