Fear and love are enemies. Nowhere do we see this clearer than when betrayal has torn a connection apart, and two hurting people are trying to decide whether or not they will try to restore trust in their relationship.
The classic, fear-based reaction most of us have when in pain is to punish the person who has hurt us. It gives us a sense of false power to inflict the same pain we feel so deeply on someone else . But this reaction only increases fear, pain, and disconnection. This reaction must be removed from our list of options if we want to restore the relationship.
Once punishment is off the table, however, how do we move forward? First, we need to establish that both people in the relationship have the goal of restoration and are ready to do the challenging work of restoring connection and rebuilding trust. If the offending party is not repentant, or the injured party is not willing to forgive, they won’t be able to move toward each other.
If both people have the same goal, then they both need to make some powerful choices to start the restoration process. A process like this is not easy, and I would never suggest that it is a quick 3-steps and you’re done. However, I do know that every marriage, friendship, or partnership that has been successfully restored after a major betrayal came as the result of people choosing to work hard and keep their love on in the face of fear by doing three things.
1. “I Choose You.”
The most powerful choice anyone can make in the middle of betrayal is to choose the covenant they made together. Especially in the case of infidelity, when one person has legal grounds for divorce, this choice requires and demonstrates the power of love and forgiveness. Saying “I choose you” is not only the first step toward connection; it is the choice that two people must continue to make every day in the restoration process.
2. “I Will Show You My Broken Heart.”
When we have been hurt, the emotion we most commonly show is anger. Though anger is an authentic, strong emotion connected to pain, it is usually hiding another emotion that needs to be communicated–sadness. Though counterintuitive to most of us, vulnerably exposing where your heart has been hurt is essential to the process of reconnection. The idea of showing our broken heart to the person who broke it might seem like it can only lead to it being hurt even more, but what it actually does is open up the other person to true repentance when they have seen how their choices have affected the person they love.
3. “I Will Take Ownership of My Mess.”
Every mess must have an owner, and will only go away when the owner actually cleans it up. It’s not wise to stay with someone in a relationship who will not take ownership of their messes and clean them up, especially when those messes are directly damaging your connection.
Cleaning up a mess means walking through a process of discipline, not punishment. Punishment desires to pay back hurt for hurt, while discipline desires to correct a problem to restore relationship. Punishment prevents a person from cleaning up their messes by taking ownership of the problem away from them, but discipline empowers them to clean them up by allowing the full weight of a problem to rest on its owner.
Someone who is repentant will invite a process of discipline in which they willingly walk through the difficulty of showing up, taking responsibility for the consequences of their actions, and making changes to ensure the mess does not happen again. Walking through this process can be painful–even more painful than submitting to punishment–because it actually requires us to experience godly sorrow, get in touch with the broken places in our life that led us to betray a relationship, and change our thinking and behavior. But this is the only process that demonstrates a genuine commitment to rebuilding trust and connection.
Some of my greatest heroes are men and women who chose the path of repentance and discipline and cleaned up their messes. They sought to heal the places where they had caused hurt, and in the process, they became people of honor, humility, courage, and love.
Today, I encourage you to make the most powerful choice any of us can make: to move toward love in the face of fear.
PS) This blog was directly inspired by the story of my good friends, Heather and Ben Armstrong, their story is a part of the first class of our new Culture and Conversations Track in the Life Academy. Today is the last day that you can get a 30-day free subscription to our new Culture and Conversations Track don’t miss it!