Live long enough, love deep enough and eventually you will get burned.
Your trust will be broken, your expectations will be let down, you will be disappointed, hurt and even heartbroken. It’s an unavoidable part of having a relationship with, well, anyone.
And it’s not just your best friend, your spouse, or your family that can leave you hurting, wondering how to move past it. Relational wounds can come from places you don’t expect: someone you live with, work with, volunteer with or simply someone you know because of mutual friends. The larger the community you live in, the more opportunities you have for both rich, life-giving friendship and deep, painful wounds.
The hard part about wounds that happen outside of your “home team” –or the handful of people closest to you–is that mending these relationships can not only feel harder, but can seem way more optional. Know what’s easier? Finding a new friend, a new job, a new way to be involved with people in your circle. Pad yourself with distance and keep those people at arms length. Out with the old, in with the new…
It’s far too tempting to cut your loses and move on when you’ve been wounded, but a sign of maturity is refusing to treat relationships as disposable no matter the cost. And cost you it will.
Unfortunately, there’s not a blueprint for mending what’s been broken and moving forward. Different levels of relationships require different types of maintenance and repair after trust has been lost. And while there’s no formula, I’ve tried to boil it down to a few simple tips on what to do after the dust settles and you’re ready to move on…
5 Ways To Move on (& Keep Loving) After You’ve Been Burned
1. It’s Okay To Proceed With Caution.
Time is a wonderful healer of injured hearts and damaged friendships. You’ve said your “I’m sorry’s” or possibly come to terms without any. You’ve decided to let whatever happened go. But in order to move forward you have to do just that: keep. moving. forward.
And it’s okay to feel like you need a little time and space. It’s alright to guard yourself in the presence of someone who has hurt you before, but you will never get to a state or normalcy or even closeness if you avoid being around them altogether. It’s okay to be cautious and slow, just keep moving towards them. Trust is rebuilt over time and circumstance, and isn’t something that needs to be rushed or faked. Baby steps.
2. It’s Okay That Your Relationship Will Be Forever Different.
Relationships are living, breathing organisms that will change dozens of times throughout your lifetime. Seasons of life will bring changes. Hobbies will change and therefore so will the people you spend time with. Work may change, church may change, the places you spend the majority of your time will change. With new scenery comes the ebb and flow of relationships. Change is normal, even though it doesn’t always feel that way.
So if a falling out leads to a less intimate relationship, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, and scars will change the appearance of things. Maybe you’ve been hurt by someone in your family: you can’t change being related, but it is okay for the type of relationship you maintain to look different in light of all that you’ve gone through. The “BFF” promises we made in 3rd grade aren’t guaranteed in adulthood, and that’s perfectly alright.
I’ve spent a long time wishing some relationships would just go back to the way they were, but sometimes things happen that leave you at a fork in the road and there’s just no going back. There is going forward, it’s just…different. And different isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you can come to terms with what was and find a way to make peace with what is.
3. It’s Okay To Part Ways.
I realize this one seems to be the opposite of the other 4, but the truth is, there are just some relationships in our lives that are toxic and unhealthy. When a relationship is consistently doing more harm than good, it’s more than okay to part ways.
Typically, this isn’t after the first offense. But after we’ve tried to reconcile, we’ve forgiven and moved on, and yet we find ourselves in the same place of being wounded over and over again, it’s time for a new approach. We need to redefine our boundaries and take some big steps back from those relationships. As a good friend once told me, “if they refuse to put down their bat and just keep swinging at you, you can’t stand so close to them. You’ve got to back up or you’ll keep getting hurt.”
It’s unfortunate, but not all relationships can be mended, and not all people are safe for us. So sometimes moving on means to new relationships. And it’s okay–actually it’s good–to protect your heart. It’s not unloving, it’s wise.
4. It’s Okay (and maybe even necessary) To Do Some Self-Evaluation.
Ask yourself some serious questions: what happened? why? What was my role in it and what do I need to own? A relational fallout is very seldom 100% one person’s fault. Did I trust someone who wasn’t safe for me? Did I hurt them, too?
The tricky part is the balance of taking time to ask these questions and genuinely learn from the experience, but also knowing when to let the unanswered questions go. You may never fully answer the “why” or “what could I have done differently” and that’s okay. Some things just have to put in the past without deep explanation or reasoning.
Own what’s yours. Learn from what you can. Walk forward from where you’ve been.
5. It’s Okay To Love Again.
It’s hard to go back to a place of closeness or intimacy after trust has been broken, but it can be incredibly good. Forgiveness is part one, but learning how to live life after forgiveness is part two. And this requires a fair amount of honesty and risk taking. Honesty with them (or maybe just yourself) about what you can handle, and what you can’t–especially if this person is on your “home team”; risk taking to move on and not use the past as ammunition or a reason to keep them at arm’s length.
Rebuilding a relationship cannot be done by using guilt or shame. Forgiveness is setting yourself free of the hurt, and setting them free of your right to be mad or hold the past against them. Bitterness will squelch a relationship from getting back to a place of wholeness.
So after you’ve given things time, you’ve done some self evaluation and you’ve come to terms with the ways you cannot go back to how it was before, it’s time to start opening up again. This will look different depending on the nature of the relationship, but if it’s a deep water friend, it’s time to start wading back into those deep waters. Not with disillusion that you’ll never get hurt again, but with the assurance that the closeness and intimacy you’ll share will come with the good and the bad.
And if it’s someone on the fringes, this means getting back to a place of genuine kindness rather than a guarded cold shoulder. Not just slapping on a fake smile, but start with actual conversation and move on from there. Learning to be in the same places with an inviting and peaceful sense of “it’s all going to be okay” (as quoted by my husband…daily).
It’s hard not to shut the world out after you’ve been hurt. To expect people to let you down after you’ve been let down is natural, but it doesn’t have to be your normal. You can learn to trust again and you can experience good friendship again, but not without some risk and vulnerability.
May the richness you experience through moving on far outweigh the hurt you’ve experienced. Believing the best in people is hard. And relationships are messy. You will hurt, you can mend, and you will probably do it over and over again.
And that’s okay.