Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Repairing Trust after Offense to Facilitate Forgiveness

The past few posts have considered building a milieu of trust – a factor which should enhance forgiveness. If a betrayal has taken place within a relationship, that betrayal erodes and can destroy previously established trust. It is not impossible to repair trust, but it is not usually a simple matter, depending on the degree and nature of the offense. If the offense or betrayal costs a person a great deal, if the offense is repeated or has potential to be repeated, or the nature of the betrayal is deeply personal, the offended party will very likely struggle with forgiving.

Though the nature of the offense must be addressed specifically to again rebuild trust and provide for safety, there are some general considerations that the offender may consider to better their chances of the offended party to soften to accept their efforts to repair the breach in the relationship.

Winning the Confidence of the Offended by Earning Trust

It is true that the offended party must be willing to put forth the energy to work on resolving the relationship problems, and they must see both hope and value within the relationship. If the offended party is willing to endure through the work that they must do on their part, the violator can follow some general principles to help to repair the trust that was lost. But where does a person begin?

Repairing superficial or less intimate relationships begin by restoring communication. The offended party must feel emotionally safe enough to risk communication again, opening up to vulnerability. More intimate relationships such as those between family and close, established friendships will also involve a reconnection to the things shared in common – those aspects of their lives which hold an element of common identity for them. But in addition to these general goals, we can identify some other general measures which may work to bolster and heal trust.

General Considerations for Repairing Trust

This list targets ideas to help those who have offended others and seek forgiveness, but it echos this prior post which approaches the matter from the vantage of the offended party. It's a must read, too, especially Pastor Steve Cornell's list of the signs of true repentance. Genuine, heartfelt repentance fosters trust.
  • The offender must accept the perception of the offended, agreeing that trust has been violated. If the offender will not admit to the offense and the nature of it, the parties really do not have a workable starting point. (If the violator doesn't hear the offended, as Scripture indicates, a second party or two may be brought in as concerned others who have the best interests of both parties at heart, and to help balance and broaden perspective.)
  • The offender must show due respect to the offended by understanding the specifics about the offended person's perspective about the disagreement. Sometimes the violator will admit that there was a breach of trust but can minimize and downplay the harm and anguish suffered by the offended. But the offense is what the offended party says that it is.
  • The offender must admit that the offense has damaged the relationship. When this fails to happen, the violator will often continue to repeat the offense because they don't see it as a significant threat to trust. A hallmark sign that the offender doesn't fully recognize that the offended suffered true harm can be seen in minimization Recently, the discussion of John Piper's 2009 video about advice for abused wives has become a topic of conversation again after issuing a “clarification” three years later, explaining what a wife has his permission to do in her own defense. Many share the opinion that both the video and elements of the response fail to acknowledge the significant risk of death that domestic abuse poses. Between “verbal unkindness” and the veiled threats to “keep matters in the church” so as to prevent ruining a family and husband's career, mollifying this often fatal problem with mealy mouthed, fuzzy logic. (I'm also troubled by the sacerdotalism and the suggestion that the wife needs an intermediary of both husband and church to seek safety and justice from the law and from God and that duties to church and family and God conflict with one another. But that's a different story for another day. Link HERE to a previous discussion of the topic on this site, and HERE to a discussion of his “Sex and Gender” video.)
  • The offender must take full responsibility for the harm done and admit to it without self-justification. They must not argue to mitigate the reasons why they did what they did in an act of blame shifting or denial. This just puts the responsibility of the offense back on the person who suffered offense or abuse. This debating defines the Path of Bitterness which merely seems like the pursuit of forgiveness but is really just keeping score. Forgiveness doesn't keep score.
  • The offender must be willing to make restitution to those who were offended and suffered as a result of their words or actions. If the offending party does not follow up their words with actions, those words become meaningless.
  • The offender must be patient with the offended, waiting for them to comfortably process what has happened to them as well as the actions taken and words spoken to mend the breech. Though Christians are required to forgive and to release the debt owed to them by those who offended them, they are not required to reconcile unless they feel safe and free to do so. This process often takes time, and when done in healthy way, requires time. Remember that forgiveness is a journey and involves the process of grief. Trust cannot be magically grafted or immediately transferred. It must grow, and growth takes time.

Other Considerations

The website Beyond Intractability offers an insightful and scholarly article on both building and rebuilding trust. They identify personal measures that one may take which also enhance the forgiveness process and remind the reader that “rebuilding trust is a process, not an event.”

From “Practical Implications for Rebuilding Trust” at Beyond Intractability:
  • Take immediate action after the violation, working toward restoration.
  • Provide an apology, and give a thorough account of what happened.
  • Be sincere.
  • Be cognizant of the day-to-day history of the relationship. If the overall history of the relationship is good, and there are few if any past trust violations, the prospects for trust repair are more promising than in relationships characterized by many trust violations or few trust-confirming events. Make it a priority to honor trust on a daily basis in order to provide a conducive environment for trust repair should the need arise.
  • Provide restitution/penance.
  • Restate and renegotiate expectations for the future, and be trustworthy in future interactions.

Within more intimate relationships, the authors add two additional considerations:
  • Reaffirm commitment to the relationship.
  • Discuss strategies to avoid similar problems in the future

In simple, Biblical terms, a person must show themselves to be trustworthy and loving, but sometimes we can lose perspective when we get deeply involved in the problems that our relationships can bring. Given the nature of an offense, we may not end up reaping what we might hope for from those we offended, but perhaps these ideas can help us improve trust so that forgiveness can take place, making the way for possible reconciliation.   May these ideas help us understand how to love others in a healthy way as we grow in experience and character when we lack them so that we can “get better” at the process.

Upcoming posts will discuss more considerations
of repentance through apology,
one of Bill Gothard's odd teachings about forgiveness
and issues concerning reconciliation.