When a Loved One Will Not Mend the Relationship

by Dr. Barbara Lowe

We all have been there…something has gone awry in an important relationship. A painful impasse has occurred. From our loneliness and hurt, we decide we want to make it right. The problem is, the other person is not yet willing… and we fear they may never be. After our efforts to mend a fractured relationship fail, we can look to the premises of the serenity prayer for a fresh perspective: “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change” (the other person), “the courage to change the things I can” (myself), “and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Sometimes the relationship will make a positive turn over time, but what can we do in the mean time to accept the situation, let go where needed, and take steps to heal ourselves?  Below are tried and true keys for mending and transforming your own life after the bottom falls out in a significant relationship:

  • Up your self-care game. This is likely not the time for you to skip a meal out with a friend, a massage, or a walk in nature. In fact, now is the time to indulge in more of your favorite activities. Make a list of all the activities in which you engage that are typically “life-giving,” and try to engage in these activities, even if at first you do not feel up to it. 

  • Show your self-respect. It might be tempting to over- or under-apologize to the loved one with whom you have had a falling out. Neither is helpful. Apologize sincerely and fully, if appropriate, and then move on. It is up to the other to decide whether or not to forgive. Over- or under-apologizing will only hurt your own self-respect. 

  • Feel it. Feelings of grief are normal and natural during times of loss or potential loss. Many people react with fear towards their grief feelings, and want to deny them. Grief can feel like depression, but it is not depression, and grief needs to be felt. Let yourself experience the sense of loss without being subsumed by feelings of loss completely. For example, take some time each day to journal or talk to a friend about the loss. 
  • Socialize more and wisely. Increasing social connection time with safe others is vital right now. First, think about the people in your life. Ask yourself, “Who are the safer people in my life?” Safe people are not perfect, but they tend to be consistent, kind, accepting/nonjudgmental, forgiving, and honest (with self and others), and they are good communicators. Then, attempt to spend more time with the safe people in your life who are also available. If you cannot identify safe people in your life, it might be a good time to join a group where you can work on relationships, such as GPSS’s Personal Exploration Group. https://www.turntogreenleaf.com/groups-workshops/. 
  • Get your fun on! Although it is not helpful to try to deaden your feelings of grief, it is also not helpful to swim in them constantly. Try to increase enjoyable activities and re-engage in forgotten or dormant hobbies and interests. Take some time to think about what you used to love to do, and go for it (even if you do not feel like it)! You may be surprised at how this can help your perspective and bring balance to your life. 
  • Change Your Thinking. Have you ever thought about your thinking? We are all talking to ourselves all the time. I see thoughts like birds; I cannot control what flies over my head (e.g., what thoughts come to my mind), but I can control what I let build a nest (e.g., what I am going to continue to think on). Why not challenge yourself to use less “all or nothing” and pessimistic thinking, and work on thinking more helpful thoughts about yourself and your life?! This will improve your mood, and likely your situation as well!
  • Reinforce Structure.  Eating, sleeping, working, playing, maintaining key relationships…like the skeletal system does for the body, these activities form the basic structure of our lives. Even though you might be feeling bad, make sure you do not forget about structure and basic self care. Make sure your are organizing your time and behaviors to eat well, sleep well, work as effectively as you can, etc. A way to include even more structure is to work on a project that you can finish. Here you will enjoy the added benefit of a sense of accomplishment.
  • Dream Afresh! Ask yourself, “what do I want for my life?!” Yes, you wanted the relationship with your loved one to work out, but that is not happening, at least for now. What is YOUR dream? Spend some time really pondering this and go for it like never before! Develop an action plan, get some support from others, and let her rip!
  • Know When to Get Professional Help. Sometimes, applying the 8 keys listed above is not enough, and we need professional help.  There is no shame in this, in fact, knowing when and how to reach out for help is a sign of wisdom, and reaching out for help is truly courageous. At Greenleaf Psychological and Support Services, it is our pleasure to help you in any way you need help! We would be honored for you to reach out to us. 
Chelsey Robertson