Mending The Family Estrangement
NOTE: THIS IS THE SECOND OF A TWO-PART SERIES
You used to be so close, but now you’re not talking to each other. And it hurts. How do you go about mending a family estrangement?
Work through your resentments. When you have worked through resentments that get in your way, and have taken responsibility for your own part in the conflict, you are better positioned to address grievances in a conciliatory way.Know the goals of the estranged family member. By careful introspection, figure out what the estranged person wants. What you want is easier to figure out-you want to reconnect. What the other person wants is to avoid you, but why? Once you figure out why you’re being avoided, you will know what it is the other person wants. If you can provide that, communicate your willingness to accommodate the other person’s wishes.
Accentuate the positive. Communicate your desire to work things out by immediately conveying that you value that person and want to reconnect with him or her, that you hold no grudge. Be forewarned: resolving differences often means taking risks, baring your soul and again facing rejection. But for most of us who want to reconnect with a loved one, it’s worth that risk.
Estrangements that mend successfully usually skip the rewind-the rehashing of the hurtful events. Instead, go directly toward a heartfelt gesture of reaching out to the other. Don’t play the blame game. If you’re ever to bridge differences, you have to move beyond blame. On the other hand, if you are the one who wants to mend a relationship with a family member who instigated the estrangement, you may have to brace yourself for a diatribe of blame against you. Take it. Do not-I repeat, do not-retaliate with charges of your own. Say something neutralizing and inviting. Such as “I’d really like us to make a fresh start,” or “You’re my family, and I miss being with you.” You might say “I suppose we’ve both been carried away.” This canopy interpretation of past events tactfully skirts the issue of blame by distributing it evenly on both sides. A letter or e-mail may allow the other person to think about what’s been said without having to react right away.
Keep the door open. Send birthday cards, notes, e-mails and make occasional phone calls just so that your loved one knows that you’re always receptive to him/her, giving the message that whenever s/he’s ready to enter your life, you’ll be there. If the letter is ignored or you get a cold response on the telephone, give it some time, and then write or call again.
Bury your feelings of revenge and redirect them into a search for solutions.
Even when the situation appears hopeless, remember that old cliché: Where there’s life, there’s hope. As long as you and the loved one you’re estranged from are alive, there is the possibility of reconciliation, especially if you want one badly enough.
Source: “Family Estrangements” by Barbara LeBey (Longstreet Press) 2001.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist
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