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7 Courageous Steps to Reconciling a Struggling Relationship

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“Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.” ~Ronald Reagan

I have always had a tumultuous relationship with my mother. One filled with conflict, anger, and struggle.

After years of non-communication, miscommunication, arguments, and fights, I realized it was time to reconcile what was left to whatever degree we were both capable.

I had to let go of the past and get honest with myself—because whatever I was doing on my end was not only hurting our relationship, but also killing me from the inside out.

I was crying out for resolution with my mother, not because I didn’t think I tried hard enough in the past, but because I knew I would regret it if I didn’t.

This didn’t mean she would accept my feelings, or that we would suddenly become the best of friends. It was an opportunity to become the best versions of ourselves for this relationship—whatever that meant—whether we spoke every day about the weather or just on major holidays to say I love you.

Now here I stand with a mother in my life and a relationship to go with it.

And to be honest, it’s not the mother-daughter relationship I always wished for. But I am content and at peace with what we have now rather than what we didn’t have before.

It’s a place where we can co-exist peacefully while respecting and loving one another.

It is a relationship, and it took courage.

Some relationships aren’t meant to be reconciled, and that’s okay. But that is a choice each of us must make. You must ask yourself, is this what I truly want? 

The following seven steps contributed to the reconciliation of my relationship, and I hope they do the same for yours.

1. Stop lying to yourself.

If we lie to ourselves about what is okay and what is not, we are setting ourselves up for a major letdown.

If something is not sitting right with you, don’t ignore it. Acknowledge your feelings, then promise yourself you’ll do something about it.

My strained relationship with my mother was unsettling. I needed to acknowledge my feelings and make a plan of action to address it rather than ignore and repress.

Once I became honest with myself, I felt a responsibility to confront the uneasiness inside. Doing so gave me a greater sense of control over myself rather than the issue having control over me.

2. Be bold and make a move.

Being assertive is a way of holding yourself accountable to the promise you made, and it’s the first proactive step toward letting the other person know you want resolution, not dissolution.

I made the first step in contacting my mother. It wasn’t easy. I swallowed the big pill of pride I had in the bottom of my throat and trusted myself.

I didn’t know if she would be receptive to me, but it was a risk I was willing to take.

Making the first move to repair what’s broken isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of complete courage.

3. Expose your guts.

Being vulnerable is a way to display that you’re coming from a place of peace and honesty. It’s not always easy, but if a relationship is worth it, it won’t be as hard as you think.

Stay committed to avoiding defensiveness. Tell yourself that you may experience some, along with resistance from the other person, but that’s okay.

When speaking to my mother, I expressed my pain. It came from a pure place where I was able to be completely transparent to her in such a way that she could meet me for the first time, yet recognize all that was familiar to her.

I was honest, loving, forgiving, and vulnerable; it was the only way to show my true self.

4. Get vocal and keep an understanding ear.

I confided in my mother about the effects our falling out was having on me. I say confide because I never told anyone else. No one else in my world could relate except my mom because she was hurting too.

Listen to the other person. Just as you have your own perspective and experiences, so does the other person. There are no wrong or right feelings, so you must put yourself in their shoes.

As hard as it was to hear the pain I had put my mom through, it gave me the clearest vision of what she had been experiencing. We were given an opportunity to understand and forgive each other.

5. Make a deal.

Be willing to give as well as take.

Compromising is a fair and expressive way of giving your relationship love and attention.

It doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your values or beliefs.

It simply means that when both parties are asking for something, you’re both willing to give as much of yourselves that you are comfortable with, as well as take what you need in order to be happy.

Just as I told my mother what I needed from our relationship, and what I would and wouldn’t stand for, she did the same. We compromised and agreed to give to each other in places where we felt we needed more support.

6. Set your limits.

A common misconception about boundaries is that they are meant to keep people or feelings out. That’s far from the truth.

Boundaries are there to show respect to yourself and others.

If something makes you uncomfortable, a boundary is set to tell others that it’s not okay to cross. You wouldn’t want to intentionally cross another’s boundary knowing it makes them uncomfortable, so why would you allow someone to do that to you?

One of the biggest obstacles my mother and I had to overcome was our lack of boundaries. We ran all over each other as if respect didn’t exist—because, well, it didn’t.

Once I established my boundaries, I felt safer. She communicated her boundaries, and it was as though a respect was born between us.

Setting boundaries is key to earning and giving trust, which is the foundation of all healthy relationships.

7. Follow through.

The action of the relationship, especially when reconciling, is crucial. Trust has to be rebuilt, so the action needs to be seen as well as the words being heard.

My phone calls and texts to my mother might seem like a minimal action to some, but for us, it’s major. It’s far more than we had in the past, and it’s what we said we would do, so we do it. It holds us accountable for keeping this relationship moving forward and not stagnating.

Whatever the action, if you can make time to be fully immersed in your relationship when you’re together, it will create a sense of security and keep you moving forward.

It’s worth it; now go for it.

Relationships can feel like marathons, especially the difficult ones. They can feel like a race you can’t ever seem to win, but that usually means the techniques you’re using aren’t working.

It’s okay to fall, fail, be wrong, get mad, and be frustrated. We are human. And as humans, we thrive and survive off of the relationships we make and maintain throughout our lifetimes.

Give yourself and your relationship that chance to succeed. It’s not easy. It’s painful, it’s exhausting, and it’s humbling.

But, man, it’s worth it.

Imagine yourself running around the same track engulfed in a thick layer of fog for months, or even years. That’s your struggling relationship.

Imagine how exhausted you feel. Imagine how you’re blinded from seeing anything else around you because you’re in the thick of it. Those are the issues in your relationship.

But if you keep pushing through by following these seven courageous steps, it will pay off.

Now, imagine yourself committing to that action and one fine day, after all your hard work, you run from the wet, pale fog into the warmth and light of the sun.

And for the first time in a long time, you can see clearly all around you.

You stop running and just breathe.

That feeling of relief is the feeling I felt after reconciling with my mother, and it can be the relief you feel when you reconcile your struggling relationship.

Back to back image via Shutterstock

About Alison Chrun

Alison Chrun is a wife and mother of two boys who is receiving her M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy. She is the author at Appetite for Honesty where she writes about self-development, relationships, and the highs and lows of parenting.

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  • MissE

    Thank you Alison, for the wonderful piece. I’m still in the midst of healing from a breakup with my ex-fiance. As much as I would like to reconcile with him(at least on talking terms), he is literally hating me for what I’ve done. He’s a mama’s boy so her influence on him is very great. She hates me too. Well, I guess some things just need time.

  • kmr1able .

    My daughters are not allowed to date mommas boys. You’ve been brainwashed into thinking something was your fault. But the truth is, you really can’t think straight when there are other people (his mom) in your relationship. Her opinion trumped yours. And it was going to always be that way. It’s going to be that way no matter who he with. Not cool

  • Peace Within

    Hi Alison, this is a perfect time for me to read this. I agree with everything you have stated. I would like to add: acceptance. That’s what helped me create a healthier relationship with my mom. I had to learn how to accept the way that she is and the way that she thinks. It helped me create my own limits and boundaries with her. Our relationship isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot healthier than it was before.

  • liveitup

    This is a great post, I am currently trying to work on a relationship that is constantly going down hill due to lack of communication with my boyfriend. After all these years of being together there are certain parts of the puzzle that just don’t connect. Although I know he loves me and wants this to work but he doesn’t put as much effort as he needs to get this relationship on track. I am tired of trying so hard and not getting much in return but why doesn’t he just leave me? how can I be with someone who has never said I love you to me in all these years of being together…

    should i really go by the saying actions speak louder than words or should i go with the norm of a relationship nowadays?

    How can i rebuild something when it seems more one way than two way. It scares me to think about ending this and moving on because I see something in him which I have not seen in anyone else.. how can i just sit him down and pour my heart with all the expectations that I have and not have to worry about that pushing him away. All my friends are in healthy relationships and it breaks my heart to have to cry to them whereas I feel like the only one who should hear my pain and distress is the one who causes it.. which is my partner.

  • Guest

    This article resonantes with me deeply. I have struggled with my relationship with my mother for many, many years. I have tried to communicate with her openly and honestly only to have a door slammed in my face and my father not speaking to me for months because I made my mother upset. I have learned to say nothing, which is not healthy or helpful. My younger sibling vacations with my mom and has an amazing connection with her and my sister will often point this out to me in one way or another. Sometimes I get really upset when I think about it and I have always felt a little jeolous when I see mothers and daughters with close relationships. I realize now that I can only do my best to accept what is and create an open, honest and loving relationship with my own daughter. I do love this article and will work on implementing what you have suggested.

  • Alison Chrun

    I can completely relate to that. After years and years of what has felt like torment, I’ve come to really reconcile with myself and accept that my relationship with my mother is what it is. It’s always felt unstable. I’ve finally realized that we are not meant to be and will never be what I expected us to be, we will always just be what we are. And I’ve accepted that and try to make the best of whatever that is. I hope that makes sense. Hang in there and just focus on yourself the best you can. If it’s meant to be it will be, all you can do is try to be the best version of whatever you’re willing to offer her.

  • Mary O’Donohue

    Beautifully written. Thank you for your wisdom on a painful subject.

  • Alison Chrun

    I’m sorry for the pain you’re in. In my relationships, I found myself trying to save or change people in order to live up to the “potential” that I saw possible in that person. I knew they could be something great and amazing, but in the end the relationship was suffering for 2 reasons. This person was never going to be able to live up to the expectations I had set, because they simply weren’t that person. And the second reason was because I was thinking I could actually change or save someone.

    If there is one thing I’ve learned in all my years of turmoil, it’s that I cannot save anyone. In the end, I needed to save myself. I only had control over me and no one else. I had to accept the person for who they were and figure out if that was my happiness any longer. It never was. But if there can be a friendship or acquaintance in there someday, that can be worth it too. But it may take a lot of time until either of you are ready for that. The answer was always for me to move on, but I had to be ready. And sometimes it takes years of the same cycle over and over for us to come to terms with that.

    My only advice if you’re ever looking for it is to put yourself first. Save yourself and the rest will follow suite. It may not be the ending you’re hoping for, but there will come a time where you’ll look back and say, “I gave it everything I could.” And that will be enough. Love is a two way street. And I understand when it feels like your on the one way street making all the wrong turns. I hope you can find your way. Good luck to you.

  • Alison Chrun

    I agree with you 150%. Thank you for that. I am exactly in that same space. Nothing is perfect and we all continue to be a work in progress. Thank you so much for sharing and your kind words. Take care.

  • Alison Chrun

    Time is right. Time can do wonderful things. It helps us to reflect and forgive. Let him cool off and find his footing. If an acquaintance or friend is what you’re looking for, after some time, you can try to make that move for some reconciliation. Good luck to you and thank you for sharing.

  • Alison Chrun

    Thank you so much for your kind words, Mary. Out of pain, a beautiful sense of clarity can takeover. I’m thankful for that.

  • MissE

    Thank you for sharing too. It was a good learning experience though. Learning that mama’s boy are “packaged” this way and understanding that they are like that. So, I can guide my daughters(if I have any!) In the future. 🙂

  • Suz

    I tried something similar with my mother, but she was (and is) completely unready to deal with any sort of discussion whatsoever. Mainly she will deflect or pretend to not understand what I am talking about. As a result, we have very limited contact which I prefer. Like the previous poster, I am focusing on my family and daughter to ensure that we have a lasting, loving relationship.

  • Alison Chrun

    That’s wonderful. I go through the same highs and lows with mine. We have very little contact as well since the times that we do end in some sort of turmoil. It’s better for me that way as well. Surprisingly it’s taken us a very long time to even get to this point. Just have to keep taking care of ourselves and fostering the great relationships around us. Thank you for sharing!

  • Tir

    My mother was neglectful, manipulative and abusive and would continue to be if I had not cut ties with her. Sometimes there is no way forward with mothers or fathers and the best thing to do for your quality of life and mental well being is learn to walk away with dignity. Familial relationships are only as good as both parties make them and if one person is the only one trying, or if the other person is toxic or abusive, nothing can salvage that relationship. I am learning to take care of myself and to stop trying to fix other people or to work tirelessly on setting boundaries that another person has no respect for. I’m happy this worked for you, but for many of us, compromise isn’t feasible and placing trust in unstable parents is unwise.

  • Alison Chrun

    Thank you for your feedback, Tir. I did state in the article that some relationships aren’t meant to be reconciled. For me personally, my journey was a lot about reconciling the issues and demons within myself and the toxicity that I contributed to the relationship. Once I decided I was ready to rid myself and that relationship of that, I felt ready to set boundaries and move forward with whatever was left. If there is nothing left, then there’s nothing left. And that’s ok. We all have our very specific circumstances. This is just one way to go about approaching the ones that we feel are salvageable. Thank you for your comments. I appreciate all of them.

  • liveitup

    Thank you!
    Although I am coming to a realization that things change and it won’t stay the same. Even if I feel as though it should i cannot expect my partner to feel the same. I am trying all that i can just so that in the future i don’t look back with any regrets. I don’t want to have to say I could have done this I could have done that. I am hoping things work out otherwise 4 years have passed but i cannot let my life down the drain.. I am upset over the 4 yrs that I have invested in this relationship being completely loyal and fighting all sorts of temptations that came my way because this meant a lot to me. Nothing else is worth it, but there is only so much I can do while feeling a bit neglected.

    its funny is see all these weird blogs online that tell you how to manipulate or play games with your partner to make them want you and how to challenge yourself to have the upper hand, these things seem so ridiculous to me. People are losing all sorts of moral values and self respect and can go to any extreme to get attention of the person they want. i thoroughly believe it should come from within, it should be pure and honest. With no games involved. It sucks because this cycle has happened quite a bit and I don’t know how long it will take me to snap out of this and know my worth! Thank you Alison 🙂

  • Mary O’Donohue

    You’ve inspired me, Alison! And I know your article will help all who read it.

  • Shanker

    Hi Alison,
    That is a very thought provocative article. My experience with my father is not so good too. I was hating him for all that he did to me. However later, I realized that I was hating myself actually because I could not live without him. That all my efforts to be on my own had failed. It was so until his death.
    Fortunately, I’m settled now and my best friendly couple heard and acknowledged my feelings that healed me. All my hate is gone and I started to pity him for his difficulties with his father ( were much worse than what we had), though definitely not love him.

    However, I’ve been finding my wife replaced him long ago. Though, I’m not so helpless as I was before, I do have the pain running for more than 3 decades. Basically, she is a good person but a highly controlling type.

    Now, am I hanging around her? Yes to some extent because, I’ve my mother to support. She is good to her, and I’m happy about it. I wonder how to proceed!

  • Allie

    This was really helpful for me in relation to my LDR. It isn’t a toxic relationship, but when you’re apart for so long and have no way to see one another, it’s easy to lean towards the option of giving up. It’s easy to forget what you love about the person. This post really struck with me, and can be used for so many different types of relationships. Thank you for posting!