I come from a very close-knit clan, and one of my greatest joys in life has been my deep connections with all my brothers and sisters. Despite our varied personalities and likes, we all attribute our mutual love and support of one another to our parents and our strong Irish heritage—family first is definitely an “Irish thing.”

Of course, life is filled with lots of ups and downs, and some of the most difficult “down” times for me are when I have a relationship breakdown, especially with a sibling. Unfortunately, a while back something happened that resulted in a rift between me and a few of my sisters. Looking back now I can clearly see how it happened—the mistakes I made, my misjudgments, and their errors as well. But when we had the breakdown it was as if the train we were riding on together crashed, and the locomotive fell off the tracks.

Broken relationships are a reality of life, and comparing them to a train as it rolls down the tracks has helped me to navigate them better. Like people on a train, when we have an active relationship with another person we are taking a journey toward a common destination for the period of time we are together. A train rolls forward on two tracks, and so does a healthy relationship: on the tracks of truth and love.

Let’s consider the track of truth. The more truth is present, the more the other person really knows and understands me, and the deeper the relationship we can share. Oftentimes, casual relationships are superficial because there is a lack of knowing the truth about the other person. Relationships can break down for legitimate reasons, but many times they do so because the two parties are living in different realities—they are not sharing a common truth. My reality is “my truth,” but it is not “The Truth.” The fact is that you can’t have a healthy relationship when people are holding false judgments and opinions about each other. Having a commitment to truthful relations is essential for keeping and restoring a healthy relationship.

The other track that all healthy relationships ride on is love. Not love in the sentimental, emotional sense, but the type of love that is referred to in the Bible by the Greek word agape. This is a devoted love; a love that is always about the welfare and wellbeing of others. Any relationship that lacks this kind of sacrificial love becomes selfish and more about what you are getting from others instead of what you are giving to them. Sacrificial love provides us the motivation to forgive when wronged, extend grace when not merited, and promote mercy when judgment is deserved. Sacrificial love produces compassion, kindness, and safety in the relationship. Anything less than this will eventually end in a train-wrecked relationship.

Returning to the situation with my sisters, our commitment to love one another resulted in us opening up a dialogue during which we discovered that we were living in different realities about each other. Mistakes had been made. Miscommunication and misunderstanding had occurred. But avoiding the conflict that existed, something that we all tend to prefer, would only have worsened the breakdown. Our love for each other produced the humility in all of us to admit our mistakes, ask for forgiveness for the wrongs we committed, and get our train back on the tracks of truth and love.