Exploring Relational Reconciliation Processes in Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Families

Date01 December 2019
Published date01 December 2019
AuthorDavid C. Dollahite,Loren D. Marks,Betsy Hughes Barrow
D C. D, L D. M,  B H B
Brigham Young University
Exploring Relational Reconciliation Processes in
Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Families
Objective: To explore personal and interper-
sonal processes that encouragerelational recon-
ciliation in nonclinical religious families.
Background: Few studies have addressed what
reconciliation is and when it is benecial.
Although intergroup reconciliation has been
well documented, little research has addressed
relational reconciliation in families. We focus
on relational reconciliation pertaining to more
normative and typical relational hurts and
offenses that nearly all families experience,
rather than severe offenses that might be best
addressed in a clinical setting.
Method: Using systematic qualitative methods,
in-depth interviews from a nonclinical, exemplar
sample of 198 religiously, ethnically, and geo-
graphically diverse mothers, fathers, and ado-
lescents were coded and analyzed. Research
questions focused on what circumstances led to
a need for reconciliation, what motivated fam-
ilies to reconcile, how families reconciled, and
what benets families received from reconciling.
Results: Families were reportedly motivated to
reconcile (a) because of their religious beliefs,
(b) because they could see a “bigger picture”
beyond the immediate conict, and (c) because
they felt that they had been recipients of God’s
love and forgiveness. The process of reconcil-
iation involved (a) praying to God for help
School of Family Life, Brigham Young University, 2092B
JFSB, Provo, UT 84602-5525 (david_dollahite@byu.edu).
KeyWords: Christian families, Jewish families, Muslim fam-
ilies, relational reconciliation, religious families, transfor-
mative processes.
(spiritual processes), (b) admitting mistakes and
taking responsibility (personal processes), (c)
forgiving and being forgiven (relational pro-
cesses), and (d) working to x problems and
make amends (practical processes).
Conclusion: Consistent with previous research,
these processes reportedly fostered self-healing
following relational distance and led to positive
relational outcomes.
Implications: When self-healing does not occur,
clinicians, pastoral counselors, and family life
educators may play an important role in helping
individuals and families develop and incorpo-
rate the transformative processes of reconcilia-
tion identied in our data.
A growing social scientic literature on for-
giveness provides many helpful insights (Burr,
Marks, & Day, 2012; Beach, Fincham, & Stan-
ley, 2007). Much of this literature has come
from a clinical perspective, where the kinds of
relational offenses addressed are often deeply
complex and painful (e.g., abuse, addiction, in-
delity). Thus, it is not surprising that emphasis
has been placed on the psychological benets of
letting go of resentments that apparently lead to
various kinds of psychic pain and dysfunction
(Fincham & Beach, 2013). Given the context of
these types of relational offenses, reconciliation
often is difcult and perhaps even dangerous,
so it is not surprising that there has been less
attention given to the benets and processes of
relational reconciliation (Beach et al., 2007).
In this article, we focus on relational reconcil-
iation pertaining to more normative and typical
Family Relations 68 (December 2019): 517–533 517
518 Family Relations
relational hurts and offenses that nearly all
families experience, rather than severe offenses
that might be best addressed in a clinical setting.
In the present study, we dene reconciliation
as attempts family members make to repair
or reestablish connections following times of
relational distance or conict. We investigate
what reportedly makes family relationships
work rather than what makes them fall apart,
and we examine reconciliation as a positive
process that helps couples and families work
through normative conict.
R   L
Much has been written about what reconcil-
iation is not, and particularly the idea that
reconciliation may not be a necessary element
of forgiveness (Fincham, May, & Beach, 2016;
Kim & Enright, 2015, 2016). Less has been
written about what reconciliation is and when it
is benecial (for a notable exception, see Kim &
Enright, 2016). Additionally, while intergroup
reconciliation has been well documented, little
research has addressed relational reconciliation
in families. Research on relational conict in
families has primarily concentrated on the mar-
riage relationship, yet scholars have suggested
that marital research is evolving to include
more focus on relational meanings and motiva-
tions (Beach et al., 2007; Stanley, 2007). This
focus has led to new insights about processes
that foster greater relational connectedness
and stability; further research may reveal how
these positive processes inuence other family
relationships as well (Fincham et al., 2007).
Positive Relational Processes
In 2007, Fincham, Stanley, and Beach sug-
gested that, as a eld, family and psychological
science should move toward a more positive
marital research agenda and focus on what
makes marriages successful. Specically, Fin-
cham and colleagues proposed greater focus
on positive processes such as forgiveness,
commitment, sacrice, and sanctication that
allow couples to self-regulate and resolve rela-
tional tension without outside (i.e., clinical)
intervention. They argued that the repetitive
nature of these processes could effect “sponta-
neous” and “discontinuous” change in marital
outcomes—and expressed the hope that future
research might reveal similar processes across
family subsystems. They also argued for the
benets of broadening the discussion on marital
conict to include self-healing transformative
processes. However, few studies have addressed
how transformative processes might be linked
to family outcomes, and theoretical models
explaining complex, nonlinear, spontaneous
relational processes are limited.
Contextual Inuences
Previous research and theory have acknowl-
edged the importance of outside contextual
inuences on motivations and meanings that
inuence family processes (Dollahite & Marks,
2009; Dollahite, Marks, & Dalton, 2018; Fin-
cham et al., 2007). Karney (2007) addressed
several questions about the self-regulatory
aspect of the same transformative processes
described by Fincham et al. (2007) and sug-
gested that in the absence of professional help,
“spontaneous remission of marital distress”
(p. 313) might not always be self-regulated but
might be explained by other outside environ-
mental contexts. He suggested further research
on spontaneous remission of marital distress.
It is unclear whether positive outside environ-
mental inuences might lead to spontaneous
self-repair outcomes or whether such contexts
create an environment where transformative
processes may ourish.
Consistent with Bronfenbrenner’s (1979)
ecological model, our research conceptualizes
religion as a context that inuences family
outcomes. However, in addition to looking at
religion as a social context, we also consider it
as an internal motivation. Indeed, severalstudies
have indicated that religion is a context that can
affect transformative processes (see Goodman,
Dollahite, Marks, & Layton, 2013). Religion
may inuence transformative processes through
resources associated with the social institution
as well as through internal motivations encour-
aged by religious ideals (Goodman, Marks, &
Dollahite, 2012). We hope our research will
contribute to a better understanding of different
ways that religion might inuence transfor-
mative processes and also hope to encourage
additional research of other contexts that might
facilitate spontaneous (nonclinical) relational
transformation in families.
Extending the discussion on conict to
include the relational inuences of these trans-
formative processes may be particularly helpful

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