How Can I Heal a Relationship with Someone Who Doesn’t Want the Relationship Healed?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about healing a broken relationship. I focused particularly on the Savior’s counsel in the Sermon on the Mount that we should take the initiative to be reconciled with other people before approaching God. He said to leave our gift at the altar and come back when we have reconciled the relationship.

I said that we should seek reconciliation regardless of who caused the rift. A person who has offended us may not even be aware of the offense. It is only fair for us to discuss the situation with them and make them aware of the harm caused by their actions. And of course, we must be willing to take responsibility for anything we have done or said that has harmed the relationship.

But what if our attempts at reconciliation are rebuffed? What if the other person doesn’t want to heal the relationship?

Just after the instruction to seek reconciliation in the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior addresses this situation. Some kinds of problems don’t age well, and the longer we allow a rift to fester, the harder it is to heal. So we should make an effort to resolve relationship issues quickly, before feelings calcify and become more difficult to change:

Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.
Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing (Matthew 5:25-26).

Steven R. Covey has suggested that “prison” in this passage may be a metaphor for the other person being unwilling to give us a chance:

To protect themselves they will put us into a mental/emotional “prison” in their own mind. And we won’t be released from this prison until we pay the uttermost farthing—until we humbly and fully acknowledge our mistake (Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families, p. 53).

When the Savior gave this same sermon on the American continent, he used the word “senine” instead of farthing, using a monetary unit familiar to his audience. And He added an additional, sobering thought about what can happen if the relationship hardens in this way:

Thou shalt by no means come out thence until thou hast paid the uttermost senine. And while ye are in prison can ye pay even one senine? Verily, verily, I say unto you, Nay (3 Nephi 12:26).

It sounds pretty hopeless: You won’t be released from “prison” until you pay the senine, but you can’t pay the senine as long as you’re in prison.

But there is always hope. I have experienced relationships which reached an impasse like the one described in this passage. In the short run, the other person may be entirely unwilling to accept any attempt at reconciliation. Some wounds need time to heal, and if you have made it clear that you sincerely want to heal the relationship, you may need to give the other person some time and space. They may eventually give you an opening, allowing you to pay a “farthing” or a “senine:” to make a small investment in the relationship. As you regain their trust, they may begin to let you out of “prison,” perhaps a little bit at a time, or perhaps all at once.

The important point is that we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, must always seek reconciliation with others, whether or not they are ready to accept our invitations. The apostle Paul said that God, “who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ,… hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).

And Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:

My beloved friends, in our shared ministry of reconciliation, I ask us to be peacemakers—to love peace, to seek peace, to create peace, to cherish peace. I make that appeal in the name of the Prince of Peace, who knows everything about being “wounded in the house of [His] friends” but who still found the strength to forgive and forget—and to heal—and be happy (“The Ministry of Reconciliation,” General Conference, October 2018).

Today, I will remember that an important part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ is to seek peace. I will strive for reconciliation with others, and I will not give up on them, even when they do not initially respond favorably.

3 thoughts on “How Can I Heal a Relationship with Someone Who Doesn’t Want the Relationship Healed?

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  1. Thank you for this post. I am trying to heal a relationship with my new daughter-in-law. However she doesn’t want to heal it yet. She keep me in “prison” until she feels I have paid the “uttermost farthing.” I will not give up. I will love her from a distance until she allows me to love her closer.


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