Confused, from Kansas City, Missouri asks: “I proposed and she didn’t accept thereby effectively ending our relationship. The relationship was ended, however with apologies and forgiveness being offered to and accepted from both of us. I have undergone all the different stages of grieving and fully realize that this relationship is over, but it’s very awkward to be in the same church college group with her. When a relationship has ended, how do you still communicate with/relate to him/her as a brother or sister in Christ? … Is this even possible?”
Being rejected from a marriage proposal is very difficult. You believed you wanted to spend the rest of your life with her. Unless it was a flippant proposal, which I don’t get the impression it was, you two likely had spent significant time together and built up a history of being known as a couple by others – including others in your church. In some senses, a marriage proposal rejection may even feel like a divorce.
It sounds like you both have successfully managed, as much as is possible, the break-up in a mature manner. You have done well to gain relational closure by apologies and forgiveness. But now, where do you go from there? Let’s talk about it.
There are several factors which will temper your relationship with your ex going forward:
- Level of Bonding Previously Achieved
- Length of History of the Relationship
- Length of History and Commitment at the Church
- Level of Spiritual Maturity
Level of Bonding Previously Achieved. James Dobson, known for his reference of the twelve stages of bonding, documents a progression of physical relationship between a couple. Depending on how far that a couple has progressed on these steps, from seeing each other to holding hands to kissing and beyond, plays a significant part in the individuals’ interactivity after the relationship is over.
For example, it would be easier and quicker to heal from the breakup if the maximum level of physical bonding was that you put your arm around her shoulder as opposed to if you were involved in deep kissing. The further along the stages of bonding that a couple traverses, the more difficult it will be to push memories of being together back when seeing each other.
Length of History of the Relationship. There will be a significant difference of how to handle interaction with your ex depending on how long the relationship existed. If a relationship existed for two weeks, it’s going to be much easier than if it lasted for two years. As with the levels of bonding, the longer the relationship, the more shared memories are created. These shared memories will pop up when you see each other.
Though you mentioned that apologies and forgiveness were applied, for her, these shared memories may still elicit guilt over the relationship; and as for you, seeing her may still evoke rejection at times. It will likely still occasionally hurt to see her or be around her – and that is okay. God is the Healer, but He often uses passing time after the relationship to heal our wounds.
Length of History and Commitment at the Church. You mentioned, in your expanded note, that leaving the church is not an option. That is certainly a good position to take; however, do note that for many people in your and her position, one of the two often does leave the church to find another. This can speed the time of healing and helps to provide a way for two people to move on with their respective lives. Additionally, if ministries and/or friends are shared at the same church, it may be more difficult for the other congregants and friends to choose sides (whether they’re supporting you or supporting her).
Level of Spiritual Maturity. Yet, if both of you have been plugged into the church for many years, leaving is often an option not employed. In these cases, much maturity is required. Your question contains part of your answer, that is: “to communicate with and relate to her as a sister in Christ” (and for her, to communicate with and relate to you as a brother in Christ). So, to do that practically….
How should you treat her and other sisters-in-Christ?
- with integrity
- with purity
- with honor
- with kindness
- with gentleness
- with protection
- with charity
How should she treat you and other brothers-in-Christ?
- with respect
- with modesty
- with encouragement
- with prayer
- with service
- with discretion
- with genuineness
When we’re going through the difficult heartbreak of a broken relationship, it is important to remember that it is still something that God allowed to happen. Since we do not always understand the reasons for those experiences, we can put them under the banner of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4… to be able to help others through the experiences we have previously traversed ourselves.
If either party is still bitter or angry about a broken relationship and believes that the other person did him or her wrong, then we should follow David’s example in I Samuel 24:12 – to relinquish any vengeful desire on our part to God (who is and will be a more just Judge than we would ever be) and not take those matters into our hand.
Lastly, we need to remember that it is God that joins two people in marriage, so in a situation where we thought we were going to marry someone – and even hoped to – we remember Matthew 19:6. If God did not put you together with her, then His plan for her is to either be a helpmate to some other man or He has a different task for her to accomplish. As for you, He either has a different woman for you or He has a different task for you to accomplish.
In any case, resting in His sovereignty over the direction of your lives will additionally help you both to interact as spiritual siblings working for the same Father. As you continually set your eyes on pleasing Jesus, “the things of this Earth will grow strangely dim” and those things that are not in line with His will for your life will fade away for better, more glorious things.
(If you have a question about relationships you would like answered on PreEngaged.com, please contact us!)