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How to Handle a Painful Estrangement from a Family Member

If you aren’t personally estranged from a member of the family, it’s likely you know someone who is. Studies show that up to 12% of moms have little to no communication with their children. These numbers are even higher numbers for fathers and their children. Psychologists have called familial estrangement a widespread problem that is now almost as common as divorce.

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Regardless of the statistics, familial disruption is always disheartening to those who experience it. While there are ways to minimize the pain, the hurt may never fully go away. Here are some tips to handle each type of estrangement to facilitate a better outcome.

1. What to Do if You Want to Keep Communication Going

If an estrangement is most likely temporary, that’s a big relief to you (and the rest of your family). Here are some tips to maintain communication without negatively impacting the relationship further.

· Provide Space to One Another – There is typically an enormous pressure on both sides to reconcile. Family members want to ease discomfort at family functions and children are uncomfortable with taking sides. While its critical to not bring others into the feud, you have every right to establish boundaries. Remember though that this goes both ways. If the other person is not ready to communicate yet, don’t push it. The family member will be more likely to ignore you or prolong the feud if you disrespect their boundaries too early on.

· Let Them Know You Are Open to Reconcile – Tell the estranged person you are ready to reconcile when they are ready to. This ensures the other person is aware of your feelings and your desire to end the estrangement. It puts the ball in their court. It also takes the responsibility off of you to make the first move.

2. If You Want to Stop the Fighting

The minute that everything goes south is the moment one person says to the other “I didn’t do what you said I did.” This minimizes the other person’s feelings, even if you are in the right. Remember, it’s not about what happened as much as how it made someone feel. While another person may be entirely irrational, pointing that out will only make them shirk away further. Instead, use the following tips to stop the fighting and pave the way for reunification –

· Meet and Talk (Not Over the Phone or Email) – Face to face communication is always more effective than through email or phone call. It’s much easier to say something nasty that you will regret later when it’s not in person. It also comes off as less personable. Face-to-face communication allows both parties to read body language, which helps to analyze innuendoes or discomfort. If it’s not possible to meet in person, then make a phone call or write a letter. Phone calls may be more effective because the person will hear your voice and will be able discern how sincere you are (or aren’t).

· Use Precise Language and Apologize – Apologies always go over better than attacking the other person, even if you’re in the right. If you aren’t sure what to apologize for, simply state that you are saddened that the relationship is in trouble. Plan out what you are going to say and use precise language during the encounter. Don’t say “You did this to me, “but say “This is how (this situation) made me feel.” This will prevent the other person from becoming defensive. They will also be more likely to listen to you.

3. If There is No Chance of Reuniting

When you or the other person has decided that reunification is out of the question it can be very painful. Imagining the relationship is gone forever can be unbearable, particularly if it is between a parent and a child. The good news is, forever is not always forever. One person may decide that life is too short and that a reunification (with certain boundaries) is for the best. On the other hand, it’s not always good to get your hopes up. Read ahead for some best practices to handle the estrangement when there is little to no chance of reunification –

· Honesty is the Best Policy – If you really have no plans to ever speak with this person again, don’t try and beat around the bush. This will only give the other person false hope and prevent you from getting the space you need to heal. Tell the other person that you are not looking to work on the relationship. Tell people who ask what is going on that you are not looking to work on the relationship. You don’t have to give a lot of details, but simply saying “I have a sister/brother/mother that I am not connected with at the moment” can help put an end to uncomfortable conversations moving forward.

· Find a Therapist – There are a range of emotions you will experience after an estrangement. You may be depressed, anxious, angry, relieved, or full of regrets. Processing these emotions can be extremely challenging, and it’s not healthy to do it alone. Find a therapist who is experienced in estrangements. They can provide specific coping mechanisms to help heal from the trauma you are experiencing.

Have you gone through a painful estrangement? Do you feel anxious, sad, depressed, or full of regrets? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.

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