Red Flags of Brokenness

Tuesday Re-mix –

Broken relationships are like infections, they only get worse with time, and the consequences can be devastating.

They almost always start the same way.  There are hurt feelings which go unaddressed.  Maybe there was bad behavior involved, or maybe there was just an oversight.  Maybe there was no wrong doing at all.  But feelings got hurt and were left that way with no meaningful attempt to deal with them.  The injured person tries to ignore the pain or tries to hurt the other person in return, but the pain itself is left to fester, much like leaving an infection unattended.  Very soon after that, the relationship is broken.


But like the infection, the damage then is only beginning.  There are actual stages of brokenness in the relationship.  They can be identified, even measured to some extent.  There is a common progression, a typical stage-by-stage process which every broken relationship goes through.  The stages represent some clear “red flags” which I can use to check myself.  When I see these things happening in me, I can know I have crossed a line and need to do something about it.  Depending on the person and the circumstances, some may go through the stages quickly, and others more slowly.  But when my relationship with you breaks,the progression is fairly predictable:

Stage 1: “Otherization” – You determine that I am no longer “one of you”.  I am suddenly different.  I have a different character, a different essence.  This represents a distinct change in “us”.  You “otherize” me when you suddenly choose to focus on what is different and you choose to ignore all our history which may show otherwise.  Maybe this distancing is just a defense mechanism, or maybe it is a conscious choice.  Either way, it is taking a step away from our relationship and examining it as if to determine whether or not you will choose to keep it.  This is the earliest stage of brokenness.  This is your first red flag that something is very wrong and is in need of attention.

Stage 2: Speculation – You are now very much focused on me and everything I do or say.  That is because you still care about our relationship and you are trying to figure out what or how I am thinking.  You begin to speculate about my motives, questioning in your own mind why I said that or why I didn’t say this or what I meant when I did that, etc.  In actuality, you will never really know my motives, because we cannot know each other’s heart.  But you will begin to think you do know my motives, and you will be confident that they are not pure.  Time spent questioning motives is a red flag that trouble is in the air.  It is also a clear sign that communication (the only thing that can heal broken relationships) is not happening.

Stage 3: Demonization – You are no longer questioning my motives.  You now are certain they are wrong.  In fact, you are beginning to see things in me which you fear the most.  As it turns out, I am a monster, and evil demon-possessed, insane sociopath with no rational thought at all.  If you once thought I might be a Christian, you are now convinced that I have no relationship at all with God.  In actuality, none of these things are true, but you “see” them anyway…at least that is what your pain is telling you. But the good news is, you are still bothered by all of this, which is a sign that this relationship still matters to you.  It is a sign quickly fading, but a sign nonetheless.

Stage 4: Indifference – This stage represents the death of the relationship.  It usually comes years down the line, but it can eventually come.  You now are completely indifferent to me and to the relationship.  You have said for some time now that you just don’t care anymore (saying that out loud seemed to help you cope, even though it wasn’t true), but now, for the first time, you really have stopped feeling anything at all where our relationship is concerned.  You don’t think about it anymore.  You have grieved its loss and, for all practical purposes, you are now indifferent to it.  The early sign of this stage is when you catch yourself saying (and believing) “he will never change”.  If you say it enough and for long enough, you will eventually believe it, whether it is true or not.  And once you truly believe it, the relationship is dead.  You have killed it.

Of course, you can avoid all of this by just learning to communicate when your feelings get hurt.  Learn to say “ouch”.  Learn to express your pain in a way I would be willing to pick it up and deal with it.  It may be a little tough at first, but isn’t it better than killing a relationship altogether?

© Blake Coffee

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3 responses to “Red Flags of Brokenness”

  1. Well done blake. It is as though you captured the process of brokenness the way a photographer for National Geographic captures the process of nature. At every step all I could say was, True…True..True.


  2. Ditto what Henry said. I have a small understanding of how to handle it when I am doing this to someone else – withdrawing, speculating – but when someone else is doing it to me? When my husband was working with a sr. pastor who took each of these attitudes toward my husband, no attempts to initiate honest communication were successful. It was so sad. We finally had to leave because he could find no way to repair the relationship.

  3. oh this is so good. I am currently in a broken relationship of words, and wounded hearts. It is very difficult and painful. The silence is the worst.

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