My mom used to subscribe to a magazine that had a monthly feature entitled “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” I loved reading those articles because they’d showcase each party’s side and then the marriage counselor would weigh in with sage advice.
I’m not going to talk about saving a marriage in this article. Instead, I’m going to take a look at estrangement in other relationships, particularly siblings. I’ve heard dozens of stories from sisters who aren’t speaking to each other. The one who initially reaches out to me almost always starts out with a self-righteous undertone. “She’s the one who needs to apologize, not me” is what I hear most often when the parties are standing up for their principles.
The circumstances leading up to the estrangement can be like the slow drip-drip-drip of a leaky faucet, or like the gushing of a broken water line. And let’s not forget that each person involved has his or her own version of the truth. Regardless of the cause, it’s generally a sad situation when people who used to be close no longer feel the same way about each other. Hurt, resentment, anger, betrayal, and rejection are some of the strong feelings which may lead up to an estrangement. The passage of time can either lower the intensity or strengthen it. There are no hard and fast rules here.
What can bring these feuding, non-speaking people back together? Unfortunately, often it’s a shared tragedy, such as the death of a parent. Or fortunately, it can also be a shared joy, such as a family wedding or a new baby. But what if neither major family event is on the horizon? What if you simply miss the relationship you used to have and want it back?
It’s probably a good idea to take a realistic approach. There is no way to turn back the clock and simply pick up where you left off. Circumstances change and people evolve. Once you’ve acknowledged that things will never be exactly as they used to be and you’re 100% committed to moving forward, it’s time to think about how to take that first step.
I highly recommend you ditch the entire concept of being right. You’re not going to gain any ground by trying to convince your estranged sister that she was wrong. Let it go. Instead, try to focus on what YOU can do to make amends. Maybe start by sending an email with the words “sincere apology below” as the subject. And in the body of the email, sincerely apologize — maybe not for what you said or did, but for your role in the estrangement. Truthfully and with compassion, acknowledge your sister’s feelings of anger, hurt, resentment, whatever. You don’t have to agree with them, but by simply acknowledging them, you are validating her right to feel what she feels.
If you don’t get a response, feel free to try once more. If she is unmovable, then accept it. At least you made the effort.
Excellent advice; healing can take a long time; sometimes years. Both have to try but the one who initiates it takes that initial step to reconcile. Different attempts may have to be made especially if the other sibling or person is being stubborn. You do the best that you can do.
I totally agree, Sheri! Not all relationships can be saved. Some people are more fixated on being right and proving the other person wrong. (They are not good candidates for mediation.)
Great advise, once again, Nancy! Much of this touches on similar notes as forgiveness. We need to let go of needing to be right, beating the dead horse. Apologize for having been instrumental in the problem, understand the other’s feelings and point of view, and offer the desire to move on together. As with forgiveness, which I work very diligently at, I let go of the right/wrong issue, focus on the fact that the other party has their own reality and to respect that, and move on. It’s so liberating to accomplish that state of being.
Thank you, Shari. We are all works in progress, aren’t we?
Wow .. this hits home hard for me Nancy. Lauri & I have been estranged from our youngest daughter for several years now . We had to stop enabling her so we had to kick her out several years ago . She blames us for all the problems in her
Life . Our heart aches for this broken relationship and hope someday it can be mended enough so that we can have some type of mutual relationship. All our attempts end in failure . Would love to learn a path forward .
Mark, I’m so sorry that you and Lauri are going through this heartbreak with your daughter. I am not a therapist, but I am a believer in baby steps. Please don’t give up. If you ever want to reach out to me privately, you can find my phone number and email address on my website. Take care.