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Our model of Martin Snoddon's way of Repairing Damaged Relationships

We modelled Martin Snoddon in 2006 at a three-day peer-led workshop on Conflict and Survival (organised by Jennifer de Gandt). Rather than concentrate on the mechanics of Martin's approach to what he called "repairing damaged relationships", we decided to focus on how he was able establish relationships with people whose values were so different from his own.

While Martin is adept in working in the most challenging of situations, we believe the essence of his approach can be applied to any relationship that has been damaged.

Martin Snoddon

Martin was director of the Conflict Trauma Resource Centre in Belfast for many years before founding Northern Spring in 2006. Based in Northern Ireland, Martin consults widely. He has spent over 25 years working tirelessly to resolve conflict and heal the legacy of violent conflict. He works with all communities and religious denominations, with ex-paramilitaries, members of the security forces, non-governmental organisations and groups, and with individual victims of conflict. He had consistently demonstrated an ablity to work with groups who have violently opposed each other, facilitating them to engage in peaceful negotiations and reconciliation. He has worked in conflict zones throughout the world, including the Balkans, Central America, Haiti, Palestine and South Africa.

See how Martin has used Clean Language in peace and reconciliation work.

Overview of model

Our model has six aspects which build on each other over time. Aspects 2, 3 and 4 happen in order, while the other three occur simultaneously and continuously.


Meet at
first level
Meet at
second level
Meet at
third level

What is needed to do this?
At the same time


1. Purpose

Conflict damages relationships. The purpose is to repair those relationships.

Consider the long term [e.g. 10 years]
A relationship can becomes a great resource in terms of building other relationships and building peace.

    Purposely work towards building a relationship.

    It’s meeting them at one level, then another, then another.

2. Meet at first level

a. Have an attitude of:
• There is value in the relationship itself.
• Let’s see what emanates from repairing damaged relationships
• You want to find some connection – a connecting point.

b. Ask questions to find out their interests, their suffering and what they’re looking for.

c. Consciously watch them - their eyes, mouth, chin - but mainly their eyes. Look for:
A hook to connect with
• A sense of goodness to identify with, something tangible
• An understanding of who they are, in terms of their story.

d. Get a sense of the connection:  
• It’s a gut feeling – nice and warm and moving.
• Like an unborn child bringing new life into the world, giving birth to a better relationship.
• The conscious understanding of the message comes later.

e. Connect that feeling with what your hearing

f. Put love out and see if there is a matching response

3. Meet at second level

From that connecting point, that sense –
nurture the relationship. 

Support it and give to it.
This can go on for quite a while.

Building an appreciation of my story and the relationship, and an openness, honesty, transparency.
What’s been said is congruent with what I’m feeling. 
Mostly it’s when my sense of that feeling deepens.

4. Meet at third level

A deep meeting.
Now I can explore what we can do together that’s beneficial (for others, for peace)
– the means and resources we have.

5. What is needed to do this?

In conflict the heart gets “pulled within”
           [hardened, defended, cold, frightened]   

Connect with your vulnerability.
Be seen to be soft.

Make both a  conscious and an emotional decision.
Ask yourself: 
        • How much do I want to do this with this person? 
        • How necessary is it? 

There is a desire for love to be out there.

Open your heart. Let love out.

There is nothing to fear from love or expressing love. 

I know my love will not generate violence – Absolutely.

It’s like controlling a kind of tap that can release a valve more or less.


6. At the same time ...

Assess risks – amount of possible pain.
Limit possible damage.
Take into account my [and other’s] safety.

I wouldn’t put love out there even if there’s a desire to, but the head is saying 'hold back the heart'.

I haven’t always been right.

Appreciate where emotions have taken you before.
Have a healthy respect that emotions can lead to conflict.

If you don’t find anything to connect with or don’t get that good feeling at the first level
    • Don’t dismiss the relationship
    • Ask more questions to find out their interests 
    • Find what they’re looking for.
    • Find something to connect with in the stories about them others tell

    • Find something to like about them.
    • Then re-connect and explore again. 
It’s a question of time.

If a relationship becomes damaged:
   • Feel very disappointed and sad. 
   • But never to a point of anger. 
   • Explore why that happened. 
   • What can I do to get that relationship back on a sound footing
   • Work towards that. 
Then I feel better.
      I get peace of mind out of that.

James Lawley

James LawleyJames Lawley offers psychotherapiy to individuals and couples, and coaching, research and consultancy to organisations. He is a co-developer of Symbolic Modelling and co-author (with Penny Tompkins) of Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through Symbolic Modelling, (with Marian Way) Insights in Space: How to use Clean Space to solve problems, generate ideas and spark creativity and an Online training in Clean Language and Symbolic Modelling. For a more detailed biography see about us and his blog.

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