What is Reconciliation?

Reconciliation is the process of restoring harmony to a relationship. It is not a fast process but a slow one of renewing trust and intimacy. You may not be able to find reconciliation with every relationship as reconciliation takes two sides coming together with honesty and a willingness to work together to make the relationship work.

What is Reconciliation?

Reconciliation is the act of reconciling, which is the process of restoring harmony to a relationship, such as a marriage, a friendship, or between two people or groups. It can happen to a relationship that is broken or damaged, the people in the relationship do not have to be physically separated or have a complete rupture. Reconciliation can happen after a significant wound has happened to the relationship such as something that is seen as a betrayal.

In Canada, we often hear about reconciliation in relation to Indigenous People and the Government of Canada, but reconciliation can happen between other relationships. Reconciliation is not a fast process. It is slow and won’t happen overnight. It requires patience on both sides. Ultimately, reconciliation is a process that slowly allows trust to rebuild, forgiveness to happen, and reconciliation to emerge.

Reconiliation Comes After a Wound has Harmed a Relationship

For a broken or damaged relationship, healing needs to come to the wound that damaged the relationship in the first place. It may be a wound to one person or both people that has caused a wound to the relationship. Nevertheless, the wound has caused damage to the relationship. Both sides need to be able to set aside the anger, pain, and/or resentment that led to the damage to the relationship. This does not have to happen right away, just that it is able to happen if they feel heard by their partner.

Reconciliation involves the healing of the wound and the harm that the wound has caused. For example, the wound of one of the partners in the marriage cheating may come with multiple harms. This probably has wounded the trust of the other person on multiple levels and the belief in the cheating partner’s commitment to the relationship. Hurtful things said can also cause additional wounds.

Role for Each Person Involved in the Reconciliation

If one partner has acted badly, the other partner may want to look for the 3 “R” s: Remorse, Repentance, and Recompense in that partner’s response. The injuring partner should be emotionally present and acknowledge the pain created by their actions. There should be an apology that includes: accountability, vulnerability, and empathy. An explanation should be provided, including motivations, which makes actions more predictable to our partners. The injuring partner should respond to the injured partner’s fears and needs, change hurtful behaviour, should not dismiss or downplay hurtful behaviour, and should not resent doubts about their sincerity.

Make space for the hurt partner to speak about the pain, speak for their feelings, but not only from their feelings. It is important for them to feel like their partner is listening and to feel heard. Attention needs to be paid to the wound for it to heal.

Commitment Towards Healing Needs Language that Supports It

Reconciliation needs both sides committed to exploring the wound and how to make it better so that the wound and the harm caused doesn’t continue to fester. It is important to focus on non-confrontational “I” messages and to avoid language that may cause the other side to feel defensive.


Photo by Giang Vu on Unsplash

What is Needed for Reconciliation

Both Sides Must be Willing to Explore It

You cannot have reconciliation if only one side wants to heal the relationship. It cannot be one-sided. Neither is it where one person submits to the other. Additionally, it is important to consider if you have enough mental resources available to reconcile and build the relationship.
You need both people willing to participate in the process. This doesn’t mean that both people need to trust the other because the level of trust was likely harmed. Both people need to be honest, willing to listen, and have a desire to see if the relationship can be restored. It is important to accept the other person with where they are now. Check your ego, and stop trying to prove you are right.

Forgiveness is not needed at the beginning of the process, but the possibility is needed. Additionally, forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness can happen without reconciliation. Reconciliation can start before forgiveness is given. However, reconciliation continues after forgiveness as the rebuilding of trust and the relationship continues.

Reconciliation is impossible if one side is unwilling to engage in the process. If that is the situation for you, you need to make a decision on what you are going to do with the relationship. Will you stay in it with the wounds and harm? Let it go with an open door if the person changes their mind in the future. Or let it go and move on with your life. You can forgive without reconciliation. You do not have to reconcile with an abusive partner. There may be things that have to happen before reconciliation is possible, such as addiction treatment or therapy for a mental health condition. Ultimately, the decision whether to reconcile is up to you.

Both Sides Must Acknowledge the Wounds and the Harm Done

Reconciliation starts with the acknowledgement of the wounds and harm that has been done. This requires both sides to be honest about the circumstances that led to the wounds and harm. It is important that both sides avoid defensiveness and certain aspects of what happened.

There is a need for both sides to be honest so that the other side can understand what happened from their point of view. This can be done through listening to understand instead of listening to reply.

Both Sides Must Work Together to Find Healing

This is a process where both sides are working together to find healing for the harm. At this point, it is important to leave the past behind and focus on the present and the future. Work together to seek common ground and avoid each other’s triggers. It is important to manage expectations as you may not get everything you want.

Above all, it is important that you know your boundaries, values, and beliefs within this process. It is a process of working together to figure out how to find healing for the relationship. Future wounds can come from a lack of boundaries. Boundaries are good for relationships because they let others know what your limits are and what you are comfortable with.

It is about compromise and figuring out how to make the new version of the relationship work for both. It is not a process in which you should sacrifice yourself for the other side. Both sides need to be comfortable with how much you are giving to the other person or side.

Both Sides Must Work Together to Restore Trust and the Relationship

Reconciliation is a process that leads to a place where trust can be restored as well as the relationship. The new status of the relationship should be one that both sides are comfortable with. This should include boundaries that allow both sides to feel comfortable and respected. There should be a reflection of the story of the relationship together. The end goal is the restoration of the relationship.


Reconciliation is the process of restoring a relationship between two people or two sides. It takes both sides working together to restore that relationship. Not every relationship is able to be reconciled.

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Published by Leona Westra

A Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC) based in Surrey, BC with specialized training in Chronic Pain, Trauma, Nervous System Dysregulation, and Grief.

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