The Quick Fix: How to renovate an important relationship

Refresh and revive a relationship by wiping the slate clean

Posted Jan 31, 2011

Last week I spent most of my time negotiating a complex extended family situation. Many things had been said; lots of hurt feelings expressed, cries of righteous indignation rising from all camps, and general agreement on the surprising range of differences of opinion and perspectives.

It reminds me of the days I spent in ethics courses and workshops as part of my medical education. A controversial case would be given to two different groups - one group's job was to argue for it, the other against it. It was eye-opening and somewhat disheartening to observe that in even life and death situations the dividing line between right and wrong can be frustratingly blurry and biased by personal perception. In almost any conflict of opinions, there tend to be strong, deeply held justifications backing the actions of either side.

Most of the members of my immediate family are very verbal, and we work out conflicts through long debates and much analysis. In doing so we let off steam, say things that need to be said, try to understand the other, try to make ourselves understood, on and on it goes. We favour this means of conflict resolution so strongly that if we're not careful we could go around in circles indefinitely, dissecting layer after layer until every subtle intricacy of the problem is understood and resolved. This might be good in theory, but in real life it wastes a lot of time and energy. I'm sure I'm not the only who ended up behind on commitments this week because of all the to-ing and fro-ing.

Then one family member who was involved (but isn't part of our immediate family) had an interesting response. At a key point, they expressed this opinion: "I'm willing to just forget all this and move on."

Huh? Could we really do that? What if as a group, we could simply agree to acknowledge that each of us had messed up in our own way, that each participant regretted any distress we had caused to others, and that we would give each other a fresh start?

The convolutions of all our different arguments, offenses and perspectives suddenly seemed so heavy and messy compared to this crisp, clean concept of wiping the slate clean and starting over.

This might not always work - in situations where the offenses are of a very serious nature, there might be a need for more intense work or investigation into the situation. But in our case, it really was a comedy (tragedy?) of misunderstandings, missed opportunities, miscommunications and hurt feelings all around.

I was reminded of these famous words about love: "Love is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs". Whoops. I had definitely been keeping a record of wrongs (in some cases without giving the person in question the opportunity to know that I had felt wronged in the first place), in fact I seem to do so quite often.

Is there anyone in your life who you've been keeping a tally on? When they do something that seems unfair to you, or you find yourself in an argument with them, do you automatically bring up a list in your mind (or remind them out loud) of all the other things they've done, too?

Is there a relationship you could bring peace to by wiping the slate clean? This doesn't mean ignoring any hurtful or offensive actions in the future - in our situation, we have agreed from now on to let each other know when things upset or offend us, so that we can discuss and resolve it on the spot. Hopefully by doing this things won't ever reach such a boiling point again.

I know how good it feels when someone doesn't hold my outrageous mistakes against me (and I have made too many to count). Who can you release from the judgment of the times they've been human and have disappointed or offended you?

In my book, Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You, the fourth step is all about how to "Rescue and Revitalize Your Relationships". There are some very effective strategies and techniques I write about which help you peacefully and productively navigate challenges and conflict in relationships. Unfortunately I forgot to apply them this week! Live and learn - the learning never stops, and that's a good thing.

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