Reaching Out to Estranged Family Members

Reaching Out to Estranged Family Members

Relationships of all kinds are messy. In a friendship or a dating relationship, we simply “break up”. It’s painful but since we have rarely have to see the person, it’s easier to move on. In families, this looks completely different. When a familial relationship gets cut off for whatever reason, it never really goes away. There will always be special occasions to remind us of that someone who used to be in our lives, isn’t anymore. As time passes and we gain perspective, we may realize that we wish to make amends and resume the relationship. But with so much hurt and time between you, where do you start?

Before taking that first step, ask yourself some questions about the relationship. What happened to cause the rift? Is it something that may have changed or are the underlying issues still in place? Is it healthy for you to reconcile?* Once you have answered these questions and you feel like reconciliation is possible, assess your expectations. While you are ready to resume the relationship, the other family member may not be as open to restoration. Some relationships are so wounded that they never heal completely and the relationship may never look like it once did. Having realistic expectations will protect your emotions in case things don’t quite go as planned

Now that you have sorted out what happened and have evaluated your expectations, you’re ready to move forward. It’s now time to reach out to your family. Set up a meeting for coffee or dinner to meet face to face. It’s best to do this before the holiday celebrations begin so as to discuss the issues in private. As you prepare for the meeting, keep an open mind. Don’t place blame or accuse the other members. This will place them on the defensive and will make solving issues that much harder. Sincerely listen to their side of the story and accept responsibility for your part in the estrangement. Consider the possibility that you overreacted to something in the past or misunderstood someone’s actions. You should apologize and extend forgiveness where necessary. Be sure to address any underlying issues that led up to the rift and how they can now be resolved. Talk about what you both hope the relationship will look like and how you can make that happen in the future. Afterwards, be sure to follow through. While the relationship was cut off, you were in the habit of having little to no contact and making no effort. Now you must be intentional about the relationship. Make phone calls to stay in touch, arrange visits and plan for holidays. It may feel forced in the beginning but it will soon feel more natural.

Hopefully this meeting will be the beginning of your restored relationship. But what if it doesn’t go so well? If everyone involved is agreeable, consider professional family counseling. Having a neutral mediator can facilitate healthy discussions and diffuse emotionally charged issues.

Sadly, some broken relationships may never heal. If the relationship is too damaged or toxic to be reconciled, it’s time to move on. Hold on to the peace of knowing you’ve given your best effort towards restoration and forgive your family member even if no apology was extended. This doesn’t mean that you forget what happened but that you surrender the anger and the need to retaliate. This is for your benefit. When you carry unforgiveness and anger, prevents you from moving forward and that is exactly what you have to do now. Start new traditions with other family members and build healthy relationships. Focus on the family that is your life and learn from the mistakes of the past.

*Proceed with extreme caution if the relationship was ended due to abuse of any kind. Never meet with the family member alone and seek professional counseling.