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Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante   

Is it time to end a family feud?

by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante


People are wired to live with others and not in isolation. We have relationships with friends, co-workers, and in our communities. Naturally, many people find that it is their family relationships that are most important but can also be the most complicated. In one family of four, there are six relationships. In a family of five, there are 10 relationships that exist under one roof. And when you consider extended family relationships with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, there are bound to be many personalities that get along… or sometimes clash.

Most of us have experienced growing distant from a loved one or have even ended relationships. Perhaps you can identify with one of these situations:

After a disagreement about how much money to send back home to the Philippines, Jane and her mother haven’t spoken in weeks.

Miguel was frustrated with his brother Tony for constantly telling him how to live his life. Tony felt that he was only trying to help. Three major disagreements later, they stopped talking. Five years have passed by.

Andrea was angry at her cousin Marie for not returning her texts or phone calls, so she did not invite her to her birthday party. Andrea posted pictures on social media, which upset Marie who confronted her. Marie felt that with starting a new and busy job, Andrea should have been more understanding. This caused an argument, and they now avoid each other at family parties.

Conflict between two people hardly ever involves a one-way street of blame. Both parties are usually responsible to some extent. Often, long lasting disagreements can be avoided if you look at your own actions and words, rather than only focussing on the faults of the other person. If you are thinking about wanting to repair a family relationship, think about the following:

Consider your contribution to the disagreement

Did you listen and hear their side of things? Active listening means that you were paying close attention to their message and were not just busy thinking about your next point. This can be a tricky skill to master. We often get into “debate mode” rather than acknowledging the other person’s feelings.

How open were you to the concerns of the other person? Did you have a respectful, open expression on your face and a calm voice? Or was your body language already one of defensiveness – crossed arms and an angry or hurt expression on your face? Did you yell, slam doors, point a finger or stomp your feet? Once arguments get to this point, emotions are running high and neither person is looking at solving the problem.

Is reconciliation possible?

Both parties must want to make amends. Getting past conflict can actually strengthen the bond between two people. Ideally, the conflict is reviewed in an open way with both people taking responsibility for the hurt they caused. Talking it out can help towards avoiding future conflicts.

I want to fix things. Where do I begin?

You must take action. It is not enough to hope and pray that the other will come to you first. If both people take this approach, there may be weeks, months, even years of estrangement. All because no one was willing to swallow their pride and make the first move. If you are scared to act first, just consider that the worst-case scenario is that your loved one will yell at you and tell you they never want to see you again. Yes, you will be hurt, but even if this happens, you can know that you tried and can be at peace that you made an effort.

However, the likelihood that this will happen is low. Everyone has good within them, and your loved one is not a stranger. He or she is someone that you have built a close relationship with, and they are probably hurting just as much as you are.

How do I approach the other person?

Call the other person to set up a meeting in neutral territory, like a coffee shop or the park. If it’s too awkward to call, send an email without harsh words or accusations. Simply state that you want things to get better between you both and that you’d like to meet.

Once you see each other face to face, focus on how you are feeling. E.g., “After not talking to you for a month, I missed you,” or “I felt so angry after our fight that I thought I never wanted to see you again – but I realized this is not what I want.”

Some people feel awkward with these types of statements because they feel vulnerable and weak. But you’re already in a vulnerable position if you’ve initiated the meeting. Usually, the other person will offer similar sentiments, and hopefully, an honest exchange can happen.

It can be helpful to apologize for any part of the conflict you were responsible for. E.g., “I apologize for walking away while you were talking.” At the very least, saying, “I’m sorry that we fought,” shows that you are truly sincere in wanting things to work out.

Extend an olive branch

Suggest that a truce be called and that you both start anew. If the original problem still exists, take out a piece of paper and write out the different options. Or discuss whether a third person can assist with finding alternatives. Perhaps communicating about the issue over e-mail is a better option than face-to-face. This way, people have time to think about what they want to say, rather than making a spontaneous, emotional comment that can be hurtful.

Have realistic expectations

Don’t expect that the relationship will be exactly the same as it was prior to the falling out, especially if a long time has passed since you last spoke to each other. You may not be as close as you once were. On the other hand, your relationship may grow stronger, especially if respect between you both has grown.

However the situation turns out, at the end of the day, you can be at peace knowing that you took action and tried to salvage the relationship.

“I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done” – Lucille Ball

Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.

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