By Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Some people look across the great divide of a fractured relationship feeling it
can never exist again. In such situations, the parties may be at odds with respect
to their version of events. They may feel there must be agreement on the version
of events, without which a return to the relationship cannot be considered.
At such junctures some people turn to counseling to facilitate a reconciliation.
They enter the counseling process with the belief that the other party will
make amends, revise their position and apologies. Trouble is, each believes
it is the other who will undertake to change or at least that the other person
will change first.
However, reconciliation counseling is less about changing the past or even
requiring agreement on prior positions. It accepts there will be different versions
of past events and a lot of prior upset as a result.
Reconciliation counseling then is more of a go forward proposition. The thrust
is future oriented and accepts that some hurts cannot be undone.
With a future orientation, the parties have an opportunity to set new ground
rules for the re-establishment and maintenance of the relationship. Given the
obvious prior disruption to the relationship, the parties enter the process
will little or no trust. However, trust is not a pre-condition to reconciliation
nor is it even expected in the beginning of the reconciliation process.
Rather than trust, parties enter the process of reconciliation anticipating
a degree of risk and it is the perceived risk that must be managed in the process.
Hence structures are put in place to mitigate risk, allow the parties to re-engage
and over time develop trust - the outcome of ongoing reasonable behavior.
How long counseling continues or the time necessary for the re-establishment
of trust depends upon a number of factors. Those factors include the degree
of prior hurt and upset, the parties’ commitment to changing prior unacceptable
behavior, the willingness of the parties to engage in the reconciliation process
and the degree to which the relationship is actually valued by the parties and
those involved with the parties.
The process of reconciliation has been used between countries, between persons
of different faiths and within countries by persons of different cultures or
ethnicities. Reconciliation has also been used in marital situations, between
parents and children and between other kin where problems in the relationship
has led to estrangements.
The process tends to be arduous, the beginning especially. It remains fragile
until some time into the process when the parties finally begin to let down
their guard and actually risk trusting again. It can be fraught with setbacks
with both parties acting hypersensitivity to the other, looking for clues to
justify an ongoing lack of trust. Persons outside of the process may hamper
the progress seeking to keep their ally safe from harm such as might have befallen
them in the past. Hence while the parties engage in the process themselves,
attention may be required to manage the input of the onlookers and support systems.
Successful reconciliation allows relationships to return, which in turn is meant
to foster the well being of the parties. The belief is that given reconciliation
and establishment of a relationship on new and healthy terms, the parties will
fare better in life than with ongoing hostility and a fractured relationship.
Some consider it worth the risk and others may never believe the other party
capable and hence avoid or undermine the process to keep their distance.
One never knows at the outset what the outcome will be. Each party does their
own cost-benefit analysis to consider participation. Some degree of risk is
Can it be successful? Look at South Africa, look at Ireland and look at any
number of persons who re-establish relationships with otherwise estranged kin.
Reconciliation counseling does work for some. For many, the potential gain
outweighs the risk.