We often think in “binary” terms when it comes to reconciliation—that a relationship is either reconciled – or not. While it isn’t wrong to think that way at times, it is also important to understand that any reconciliation attempt can have many potential destinations. Just as an unclear or confusing dating relationship might need a “DTR” (Define The Relationship) talk, there can also be great benefit from a thorough and accurate definition and understanding of the different types of reconciled relationships.
Reconciliation is realized when we have transformed a damaged or broken relationship into a right and harmonious relationship—to the satisfaction of both sides, and all according to Scripture.
While the above definition of reconciliation is ideal, let’s look at seven of the other most common scenarios, before circling back around to this true and biblical type of reconciliation. The level of trust is included at the end of each section because trust is usually the best indicator of the quality of our relationships, as well as our overall reconciliation.
1 > UNRECONCILED
Sin and damage to the relationship has occurred. Yet forgiveness has not taken place, nor have loving or accurate attempts to reconcile (confrontation, confession) by at least one person, perhaps both. Therefore, the relationship remains severely strained and painful, if not severed (i.e., unreconciled). This is mainly due to factors like avoidance, stubbornness, fear, and poorly handling of the required aspects of reconciliation (e.g., confession, repentance, forgiveness, etc.).
A moderate-to-large amount of resentment and bitterness probably exists—along with the pain, torment, and destruction that accompany these. (Resentment and bitterness always discourage or prevent us from loving or reconciling. However, the removal of these—through grace, forgiveness, and truth—always gives hope, at least individually, and opens the door to reconciliation.) There might be a relationship here, but it is never a good two-way relationship. Most often it is an awkward or painful relationship.
TRUST > It is highly likely that trust has been worn down, broken, or is nonexistent. There is also usually a fair-to-large amount of distrust (and understandably so).
2 > FORGIVEN-BUT-NOT-RECONCILED
Even though the offender is not repentant—or both parties are unable, for whatever reason, to work out their problems—the offended person(s) chooses to truly forgive. As a result, the offenses are forgiven, the hurt can heal, and there is no bitterness or resentment for the individual forgiver. The relationship, however, remains weak, broken, estranged, if not painful. Or, because we are always called to love (especially in marriage), this might be a “one-way relationship” (i.e., love going out from the forgiver, but not returned; or what is returned is more offenses and pain; cp. Acts 20:35).
While the offended person who forgives can now heal and know peace individually, there will not be true peace in this particular relationship. This type of “reconciliation” is often mistakenly considered “reconciled” due to forgiveness alone. It should not be. Even with the ever-important forgiveness, there is still much work to be done if the relationship is to be rightly restored.
On the other hand, FORGIVEN-BUT-NOT-RECONCILED might be the kind of relationship the offended person wants. This is mainly due to repeated offenses, broken trust, manipulation, abuse, growing toxicity, and a demonstrated unwillingness to truly confess and repent on the part of the offender. There may or may not be a relationship here, but many people find it necessary and wise to grieve the loss of what that relationship was, or should be (e.g., a loving marriage; a loving mother-daughter relationship that will never be). The “Forgiver” is often open to reconciliation, but, hopefully, he or she has clear biblical standards (e.g., true and full repentance/changes in the heart) in order for true reconciliation to be realized (i.e., the forgiver is not a “doormat,” nor do they allow manipulation, abuse, or evasion of responsibility).
It is common—mainly in “dysfunctional” environments, and where there are “Enablers”—for the person who forgives in situations like this and who is the one who tries to reconcile, to be blamed, falsely, for not forgiving. They are also often attacked, shamed, and falsely judged for: being “judgmental”; not “letting it go”; not trying to work out problems; being unloving; being a “hypocritical Christian,” etc. In addition to these hurtful falsehoods, the (unrepentant) offender is frequently seen as the victim. If this occurs, then you know without a doubt you are in a dysfunctional environment.
TRUST > Even with the release of the offense and pain that comes through forgiveness, trust is often shaky, if not absent (often rightfully so), or distrust abounds.
3 > VERTICALLY RECONCILED, BUT NOT HORIZONTALLY (VRNH)
A sin happens between Person A and Person B. Person A faithfully fulfills all he or she is responsible for (confession, repentance, etc.) in seeking true reconciliation with Person B (i.e., horizontally)—and with God (i.e., vertically). Person B, however, is not willing to reconcile (due to things like pride, fear, selfishness, stubbornness, struggles with forgiving, refusing to forgive, trust has been broken too many times, etc.). As a result, Person A has reconciled his or her relationship with God (“vertically reconciled” by fulfilling all their responsibilities), and has lovingly and accurately made every effort to reconcile with Person B (Heb 12:14; Rom 12:18), but that particular “horizontal” relationship remains unreconciled. Yet, in this case, the reason for the unreconciled status is due to Person B, not Person A. (This is not to be confused with situations where Person A or B makes faulty, phony, or less than genuine attempts to reconcile. In that case neither are truly reconciled with God.)
VRNH may include FORGIVEN-BUT-NOT-RECONCILED (if they are the offended party), and it can be the inverse of it as well (if they are the offender). This is also where “one-sided reconciliation attempts” fit in (more on this elsewhere). Nevertheless, we are, individually, 100% responsible for being “vertically” reconciled (God is willing; 1 Tim 2:3-4; Heb 4:16, and He equips us; 2 Tim 3:15-17). Yet we do not have full control over horizontal reconciliation (some people are not willing; cp 2 Tim 2:23-26; Prov 9:7-9).
Every faithful Christian would, ideally, always arrive at vertical reconciliation (lovingly, accurately, and biblically fulfilling our responsibilities when there is sin; see 1 Jn 1:5-10). In addition, if we are “vertically reconciled”—and if the other person is willing—we will also be reconciled horizontally. However, the unrepentant or unwilling aspects of others never absolve us of our blessed responsibility to love them. If we (rightly) see reconciling with God as an opportunity—as a “get to” and not a “have to”—we will likely eagerly seek this reconciliation with our whole heart. In addition, if we see loving others as the blessing that it is (Acts 20:35), we will also likely love them despite their undesired behavior toward us.
Yet, the main reasons love does not happen here are: stubbornness; pride; unforgiveness; resentment; difficulty being loving; along with rationalizing a lack of loving actions (e.g., blaming a lack of love on the behavior of the other person). Yet, it should go without saying that loving someone does not mean you have to or even should stay in an abusive, manipulative relationship.
TRUST > There may be a willingness to restore trust, at least from one side, but, understandably or not, the desire is not mutual.
4 > BAD RECONCILIATION
Both people assume they have satisfactorily worked things out, and have reconciled. But, in reality, they have not. As a result, one or both individuals are in danger of a great deal of ongoing grief or harm. In this relationship, the principles, goals, and standards for realizing true reconciliation are unknown, erroneous, ambiguous, or way too low (e.g., “just let it go;” forgiveness only; accepting weak/phony confession; no real repentance; repeat offenses without accountability or consequences; trust given when it should not be; enabling).
This is the worst type of “reconciliation” to be in. It is also, therefore, the most painful—and the most destructive. Both people might be “back together,” but they should not be, at least under the guise of “reconciliation.” BAD RECONCILIATION is often the product of “dysfunction”—as well as a low esteem for truth and faulty notions of love, grace, and forgiveness. Furthermore, BAD RECONCILIATION usually breeds further dysfunction and abusive relationships.
Of course, there is hope and these things can change—but only if those involved are willing to learn and lovingly apply biblical principles to their problems. Even if just one person truly changes, this alone brings unlimited hope—maybe not for the relationship, but at least for the individual. Many children grow up in homes filled with BAD RECONCILIATION, but have little to no power to either change things or to leave.* At some point, perhaps as an adult, they realize the madness of BAD RECONCILIATION and seek change. Others do not, and so they perpetuate this cycle of pain and destruction.
TRUST > A fair amount of trust is often restored, but it should not be. The errors of thinking that Forgiveness = Reconciliation and “Forgiveness means you must also trust” are common here. Yet, ironically, this often results in a damaged willingness to forgive, trust, or reconcile.
*While there are times to leave relationships, marriage is an entirely different situation. Of course, even in marriage, there is a time to leave, at least temporarily, particularly when there is a serious concern for safety. Ideally, you would have wise people (e.g., your biblically equipped church) walk you through this.
5 > PARTIAL RECONCILIATION
There may be one or more aspects of the problems resolved, but one or more of them are not. This leaves the relationship partially reconciled—at best. This fragmented fence-mending may be due to honest disagreements, the inability to agree (for whatever reason), or the stubborn unwillingness of one or both parties to accurately own up, repent, or forgive. This relationship may be restored, in part, but will lack wholeness.
Sometimes, after “making every effort” (Heb 12:14), this is all you can achieve. At other times, this kind of “reconciliation” can be misleading—as if things are now all worked out, when they are not. (See BAD RECONCILIATION and QUASI-RECONCILIATION). These relationships typically limp along or do all they can to “just get along,” while many others eventually die. The motivation for why this relationship might endure is often pragmatic (e.g., business, mutual benefit), or out of obligation (e.g., family, work, church).
TRUST > There might be more trust than the previous types of reconciliation, but it is often withheld to some extent (often wisely so).
6 > REGULAR RECONCILIATION
This often means that, for the most part, “friendly relations are restored” or “a disagreement is settled.” This is the common, secular, and practical understanding of reconciliation that likely does not include the best and most essential aspects: forgiveness, confession, repentance, love, and God. REGULAR RECONCILIATION may have some good (e.g., pragmatically “making amends,” relieving of some pain), but it falls short of God’s higher goals for relationships, love, and His glory. This, in turn, can be very misleading and, as a result, have the potential to be harmful.
TRUST > A fair amount of trust might return (on a pragmatic level, not on a character level), but it lacks fullness, not to mention godliness.
7 > QUASI-RECONCILIATION
[“Quasi” = seemingly; apparently, but not really]
QUASI-RECONCILIATION describes a weak, phony, or superficially “reconciled” relationship that is not truly reconciled. It is “seemingly” reconciled, but not really. The problems, solutions, and relationship status remain ambiguous, unaddressed, in disagreement, or in error. This relationship may be nebulously “reconciled,” but, in reality, it is not fully or biblically reconciled. It lands somewhere between unreconciled and reconciled … but likely closer to unreconciled.
A QUASI-RECONCILIATION status often produces the confusing and awkward “we’re-kind-of-sort-of-but-not-really-reconciled,” or “we-have-a-relationship-but-I-don’t-really-trust-you,” or “we-don’t-talk-about-the-elephant-in-the-room” situations. This could also describe when two people will simply agree (often unspoken) to “just get along” because they can’t or won’t resolve their significant differences.
It is not uncommon for QUASI-RECONCILIATION to happen from time to time, and it is not necessarily a shameful thing. Yet a pattern of quasi-reconciliation (e.g., problems not accurately or lovingly addressed or resolved) can foster an environment where abusers and manipulators and dysfunction flourish.
TRUST > If there is trust, it is often very low. It might grow bit by bit over time, but it will likely always be stunted.
8 > BIBLICAL RECONCILIATION (or True Reconciliation)
The damaged relationship is truly transformed into a right and harmonious relationship—through grace and truth, and God Himself—to the satisfaction of both sides, and according to God’s Word.
The problems or sin that caused the hurt and division, as well as any obstacles to achieving true unity, have been thoroughly forgiven, removed, changed, or resolved. As a result, “decisive” and “thorough change” [“katallassō”] has taken place—in the individuals, and, therefore, the relationship. That is why—if significant changes are made—many of these relationships are deeper and even better than before. Godly reconciliation like this occurs only through lovingly, accurately, and biblically addressing and overcoming the sin and error.
The necessary components for BIBLICAL RECONCILIATION include the following:
- LOVE! Being motivated by love—love for God and others
- Truthful and loving COMMUNICATION
- Accurate and truly contrite CONFESSION
- Full ownership of RESPONSIBILITY
- Godly sorrow that brings true REPENTANCE; which then produces very real and lasting changes in heart and behavior; which then rebuilds trust; which then rebuilds, restores, and even enhances the relationship.
There are many counterfeits, and even more short-cuts attempted when it comes to reconciliation. In addition, there are countless people who rely on these spurious schemes, and so they frequently fall far short of true reconciliation. To the degree the true components are lacking (e.g., confession; forgiveness), the “reconciliation” will suffer, not to mention the relationship and the individuals involved.
TRUST > There is an unparalleled quality of trust, respect, and rapport that come from handling failure, sin, and conflict in the biblical way that you cannot get by any other means.
Recently, while reading this definition of BIBLICAL RECONCILIATION to a couple I was counseling in my office, I could see out of the corner of my eye their hands move toward each other and gently take hold of the other. They both then shed tears of joy. BIBLICAL RECONCILIATION deeply and accurately resonated with what they had recently experienced in their relationship with each other.
Like this couple, BIBLICAL RECONCILIATION is possible for anyone who has the willingness and know-how (i.e., “equipping”). There is hope.
> PERSONAL APPLICATION
- What are at least 3 things that stand out to you about these 8 types of reconciliation?
- What would you say are the two most common types of reconciliation? Why?
- How do these apply to your family life growing up?
- How can reading about and learning from the wrong types of reconciliation help you in your relationships?
- How might these types of reconciliation apply “vertically” (i.e., between you and God)?
There are untold numbers of relationships that are not truly reconciled. Yet, within these relationships, one or both people either believe they are—or pretend they are—in fact reconciled. This faulty thinking not only stifles good fruit, it usually produces a lot of bad fruit.
Forgiveness opens the door to the possibility of reconciliation—and, overall, forgiveness is necessary for reconciliation. But forgiving others does not mean reconciliation has taken place, or necessarily even should take place.
To truly and biblically reconcile, there is often much work that needs to be done—by one or both parties. Forgiveness alone rarely, if ever, achieves true reconciliation.