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How to Overcome Adversity: Mend a Broken Relationship

Maybe you have a broken leg at work. I don’t mean the physical kind. I mean the broken relationship kind; the type that’s much harder to heal, keeps you awake at night and can end up making you unproductive for years if it isn’t fixed.

Maybe you have a broken leg at work.

I don’t mean the physical kind. I mean the broken relationship kind; the type that’s much harder to heal, keeps you awake at night and can end up making you unproductive for years if it isn’t fixed. How it broke isn’t nearly as important as how you respond and overcome the adversity.

Choose to Heal

You have to make a choice: Is this thing going to heal and get better or is it going to be a pain forever? This choice is completely under your control and it really matters which option you choose.

For example, martyrs won’t listen to any advice, even from professionals. They don’t believe the relationship will get any better so they won’t try anything.  They stick to complaining as their only “therapy.”

But healers work toward a solution. They try things, they ask for advice. They refuse to accept that the future has to look like the present. They believe.

Avoid Work-arounds

Those who don’t believe a relationship will get any better start to work around it. In medicine, such activities are called “compensatory behaviors” because the patient is compensating for the deficient limb or process.

This can be a problem; first, because it puts extra strain on the other parts of someone’s life. Long-term problems can develop in those relationships that have to bear the extra weight. Second, compensating behaviors don’t allow the original broken relationship to fully heal – they simply hide it.

Use Crutches and Other Aids Temporarily

On the other hand, doctors do prescribe crutches and other aids when damage initially occurs. It is not unreasonable to keep weight off a relationship for a bit while the anger subsides. But it’s important to note that doctors prescribe crutches so you can still function normally – not so you can avoid putting any and all weight on the foot.

In real life, we still have to function even with a broken relationship. The proper temporary aids, like having a third co-worker present, or alerting a boss to keep things operating smoothly, is allowable – but only temporarily, and only in extreme situations.

Other temporary aids might include compliments and extra thank-yous. Think of these as adding ointments or Icy-Hot to a broken leg. They don’t really heal it from the inside, but they do ease the pain and make it more bearable while the real work of healing is being done.

Put It Up At Night

Everyone knows that a medical doctor will recommend putting a broken leg up at night. This helps it heal and can be thought of as “draining the blood out of it.” The same thing applies to broken relationships – you need to drain the blood out of them occasionally.

Many a close friend and spouse have wished a loved one would put a broken relationship out of mind.  Stop picking at the wound.  If you wish, think of it as allowing your subconscious to work on the problem while your conscious self gets some time off. Either way, put it up at night. It will actually heal better if you don’t obsess over it and worry about it constantly.

Exercise It As Soon As You Can

Eventually every broken relationship, like a broken leg, demands exercise and real use. This is the part that most people are afraid of. What if it hurts? What if it doesn’t feel exactly like it did before it was broken?

One piece of advice is to go slow and gentle at first, listening for when you might be pushing too hard and then easing up a little. But every doctor knows waiting too long is a much more common mistake than jumping in too early. Avoiding pain is a built-in characteristic of all humans. But there’s a reason going outside our comfort zone is such a common expression in management and business.

The difference between success and failure is sometimes just the difference between those who succumb to our natural human tendencies and those who climb above them.

The Most Important Ingredient: Trust

Did you know that a healed broken bone is often stronger than the original bone? Is that possible with your broken relationship? Actually, it is.

Consider: In our life, accidents happen – miscommunications, misinterpretations; sometimes people will misbehave around us for reasons we could not possibly fathom because we are truly not inside their heads, so bumped and bruised relationships are inevitable.

Competition in business requires that we communicate to people that they can trust us – that we won’t act out and purposefully hurt them, even when we feel bumped or bruised. We also need to demonstrate that our actions are understandable and normal. They can be predicted – even when we might have a right to act out. These two things help people trust us. And a healed relationship is one where there is trust.

Credit: Erick Lauber, Ph.D., is an applied psychologist and faculty member at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. 

He speaks and consults on leadership, personal growth and development, and taking charge of our own life stories. His video blog is located at www.LifeFraming.org.