A recent comment is the inspiration for this post: Kate asked “What happens when you reach out to your family to make amends and they don’t accept your olive branch?”
First you say OUCH. Because that probably really hurts. Whether you were the initiator or they were, it probably still hurts. Let yourself start there.
Then it’s time for a little soul searching. Did you do/say something that created the distance. If you were, have you given the other person time (as much as they need, not how much you think they should have) to process their hurt? Are you willing to make changes that the other person may be requesting from you? Are you willing to accept that person, as they are, if you have been critical about this in the past?
But let’ say you’re okay, they aren’t okay. You stepped out because things became intolerable for you. Or, they left you. Now you reach out because of any number of reasons to reconnect and they are still not willing to play nicely.
I wish I could answer this with a one size fits all happy instruction manual for how to get people to be reasonable. The truth is people aren’t always and that is part of life. But it stinks when you are the recipient. Unfortunately, I don’t have that tidy little answer. In fact, I’m not sure I have any answer. Perhaps all I really have is compassion.
I recall when I was going through my divorce, I was also working on my doctorate. I had a very wonderful case supervisor, a woman in her late 70’s, full of vigor and wisdom. Janet had lived a full life, but not one free from tragedy. She was widowed from her first marriage. As was often the case, she was as much my mentor in life, as she was, professionally. One day, I used some of my supervision time to talk about what was happening with the marriage and Janet said, “The longer I live, the more I am aware that some things in life just can’t be fixed.” It was such a simple, yet profound statement that has stayed with me these many years later. It helped me give myself permission to stop trying so hard to fix something that wasn’t fixable. Something that, in all honesty, had been broken from the start.
I don’t know when the point is for someone to give up. It is different for everyone. But I do know that it is sometimes okay to do that. And I suspect it has to do with when you can look yourself in the mirror and know that you have done your best. It’s when you know that you have taken responsibility for your actions and decisions and made a sincere attempt to allow the other person to express their feelings about your choices. In other words, have you allowed them room to be them, at the same time, you are requesting to be you.
For some folks the most difficult part will be allowing others to be as they are. Other people will struggle with finding the acceptance to look yourself in the mirror and say I did enough. What makes this tricky is to separate the sense of “it was enough”, from an outcome of previously defined success. In other words, if I didn’t achieve the goal of fixing it, then either they or I didn’t do enough. But this is part of being a grown up as Janet said. Even grown ups can’t make everything better just because they wish it to be so. And finding compassion for the self and even for others is one of the hallmarks of maturity. It is also possible to find love for another even without continuing to have a relationship with that person. And that is what helps to make us better humans.
It is possible to love someone based on early times when we had a relationship with them even if it has ended. It is possible to find love for someone based on their relationship to others. It is possible to find love for that person as a human in the world. And all of these (as well as other ideas) are ways to allow ourselves to place emphasis on other feelings we may have for that person, because they won’t allow us back into their lives. At the end of the day, it means we are filled with less negative energy.