Five Signs that Reconciliation is Impossible


“How long do I need to keep forgiving?” someone recently asked me. Because I realized the real question was about reconciliation, I didn’t respond with the standard seventy times seven answer.  I suppose we don’t really ever stop forgiving, but knowing when to end futile attempts at reconciliation can be important, even life-saving.

I used to be a champion reconciler. What that really means is that I went through the motions of apology and apology acceptance as if they meant something. Sometimes they did. Sometimes they didn’t. I figured that if someone apologized to me, I had to forgive them right away. And vice versa. After all, this was the game that my ex-husband, who suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, taught me all too well.

“I said I was sorry,” he would say and then he would go on to explain that God commanded me to forgive. He would be charming and I would forgive readily, eager to put the latest traumatic episode behind me. And then his behavior would improve for a day, a week, maybe a month at the outset. But then we would end up at the same impasse where he had taken things too far.

And then there was my side of the sorry equation. Being terrified of his angry outbursts, I went to extraordinary lengths to hide anything that might upset him. So I became deceptive. He would root through my purse looking for receipts for forbidden purchases (like diet coke when I was at work).reconciliation  Or he would search my emails and mail. Inevitably he would find something and he demanded apologies from me. And I complied.

For me, reconciliation meant injustice, denial, and just plain fear. So I really understood this question. My quest to understand what was happening to me eventually lead me to really understand the nature of both forgiveness and reconciliation. I wasn’t really forgiving, nor was any real reconciliation accomplished.

I’m not sure I have accomplished forgiveness. Any time I think I have, I find that a new issue crops up that I have to release to God. But I am one hundred percent sure that reconciliation is impossible in this case. Why? Because reconciliation of any kind takes two willing participants. Remember, God may have reconciled us to Himself through Jesus. This does not in any way mean that we have reconciled ourselves to Him. If just the one side was necessary, no one would have to fear hell.

However, here is my own personal list of reasons that I eventually compiled when I came to the recognition that true reconciliation was not only impossible, it was the wrong thing to do.

  1. Reconciliation is impossible with someone you fear.

Maybe terror is a better word here. But reconciliation is the restoration of trust.  If you forgive and reenter a relationship with a person that you live in fear of, you are merely continuing the cycle of abuse. A healthy relationship is one in which neither party dreads the other. If you live in constant trepidation, walking on eggshells, then you have not really reconciled. You have merely compromised your own safety.

  1. Reconciliation is impossible with an unrepentant person.

In my case, narcissism destroyed what conscience my ex ever had. The Holy Spirit led me out of that marriage. God leads us individually into decisions about what to do about unrepentant spouses, whether the issue be addiction, mental illness, adultery, or abuse. No matter how anxious to reconcile one party might be, if the other refuses to stop the destructive behavior, true reconciliation is impossible. They might still live together as man and wife, but they are not reconciled.

  1. Reconciliation is impossible through any means of manipulation.

reconciliationGuilt will not restore a relationship. Nagging, begging, and outbursts of anger will not restore a relationship. In fact, no one is capable of forcing another into genuine reconciliation. Love requires freedom and in the resolving of a troubled relationship, both sides must be free to come and go from the table of peace as they choose.  Anything else is a pretense.

  1. Reconciliation is impossible without truth.

The problem with lying of any kind is that it is a mask.  If you cannot see the true self of the other person, your relationship doesn’t exist. That sounds extreme, but I stand by it. If one partner has whole areas hidden from his or her mate, then the relationship is just a storefront held up by a lot of denial. I will put it this way. Every lie told to another is a step away from that person. It doesn’t take a lot of steps to disappear.

  1. Reconciliation is impossible without self-awareness.

Self-awareness is understanding the effect you have on others. If you do not truly understand the ways in which you affect your spouse, friends, or family, you aren’t truly bringing everything to the table of reconciliation. This goes both ways. After all, it is seeking to understand as well as seeking to be understood that is the meat and potatoes of true reconciliation. Much of the time, we just want the conflict to end. Ending a conflict for the mere sake of ending a conflict is just a postponement of more struggles.

I feared at first that this article might be too negative.  After all, we like to fling the Bible verse, “With God, all things are possible” at circumstances we don’t like. But while God is sovereign over all impossibilities, there is one thing He will not do. You see, He is the author of reconciliation. And even given that He paid the ultimate price for that redemption, He will not force it upon us.

I had to learn to follow His example. I stopped playing the fake forgiveness game and let Him speak truth into my heart. And sometimes reconciliation happens in my life. And often, it does not. Loving our enemies can turn them into friends, but we must be prepared for the reality that it may not. After all, even God has His haters.

If you aren’t sure if reconciliation is possible or not, try asking the Holy Spirit if He requires you to be in a relationship with that person. Seek out His will first before assuming that you have to live in fear or with abuse. God honors and values people above institutions like marriage. We get that backward sometimes. Pursue Him and surrender yourself, and He will guide you in all matters, including relationships that are irreconcilable, whether for the moment or forever.

Why Offering Forgiveness is Terrifying

7 Replies to “Five Signs that Reconciliation is Impossible”

  1. Thank you, Alice.
    You clarfy so many things, well.
    My marriage was so very similar.
    Perfect love casts out all fear.
    Likewise, fear casts out LOVE.

    So glad my marriage ended 20 years ago, because if it hadn’t it would have killed me.
    When the police removed him from our home, my sons begged me to never have him back because they didn’t want their much younger sister growing up in fear as they had.
    Sadly my daughter has many signs of BPD and that ruined her marriage.

    Your insightful posts are a blessing to me and others I share them with.

    May God bless you, as you bless us.

  2. Donna Miller says: Reply

    This is so good Alice! I was stuck in an abusive relationship with my dad, feeling guilty for letting go and moving on. God has helped me to let go and move forward. Thank you so much for your heart to share God’s wisdom to help people get unstuck! ❤

  3. I have touched on this topic with so many woman who have been told they are supposed to stay in the marriage no matter what. But you are so right, God’s love for us is so much bigger and more important than remaining in situations of abuse.

  4. Im pretty sure im enduring emotional and verbal abuse. My husband screams alot at my daughter and me. Abusive to our dogs, threat to lock them away. Punches holes in our walls down to sheet rock. Im scared to be in house, my daughter refuses to let me leave her. My mom is begging me to go back to.him. my daughter wont stay by her self without me. I took a leave of absence from my nursing to.protect her. His.parents don’t know he is violent.they heart broken. I want to know if anyone one is where i am. If it was just me, I’d leave and live with family. Since I have my daughter, we are at. My mama’s temporary. Thank you thats me for now.

  5. your words are very encouraging

  6. I don’t want to leave my abusive relationship. I love my wife and my heart breaks for her. I understand the misery and the load that cripples her and hope and pray that she can come out from it. The abuse has made me stronger, forged a deeper more resilient soul. It has pushed me towards my heavenly Father and forced me to my knees. I feel God has used this time of chaos and pain to mold and mature me, to shape and form me. I both hate and welcome its scorching ways, but ultimately know that more the man am I; for the patience and long-suffering its wicked paths have made. God is great and good is He, I’m a man and of need to be, more like my savior. It’s the furnace in which my better parts have shone and through the pain and misery my journey in Christ begun. He hung and bled and suffered beyond what I could imagine and calls me to lay down my life, as He, for my wife; at least I think that’s how I read. How should I interpret my life if not but all that I have in this world, including the very breath that flows from my lungs.

    I cannot by means of any way, see in good conscience, the way forward by saying “I see your pain, I know its source, I feel and understand, but lest I waste some time of my own, I’ll be leaving for better shores”. I can’t, I won’t, I shan’t. Twas abandonment that rent her soul as a child, tis coping through forces like neuro, bio and compulsion thus.

    I can’t find it within myself to leave, when He waited so long for me. His enemy, His scorner, His hater and His mocker…that was me. But He waited…and waited…and waited; so patiently.

    I can’t reconcile your advice to me, when I juxtapose it with His word. That I lay down my life, when I understand what life to be.

  7. […] Five Signs that Reconciliation is Impossible […]

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