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Iceni Magazine | August 3, 2021

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Dealing with family rifts

Dealing with family rifts

All families change over time. Grown-up’s roles and future aspirations modify and evolve, children become older, more independent and start to lead their own lives, elderly relatives may become more dependent before they ultimately pass away.

There may be new relationships added to the family dynamic; in-laws, step relatives, half-brothers or sisters. Nothing stays the same.   

Negotiating through the complex web of emotions and wishes can require serious diplomatic skills and sometimes family rifts occur.

When a family rift occurs it’s important to allow a little time for initial raw emotions to settle. Attempting an intervention too soon may result in an escalation and things being said which cannot be unsaid. It’s often wise to allow a little time to pass. Then everyone can reflect on the implications of what’s happened and consider the possibility of a less reactive, more constructive way forward.

Booking a neutral place and allocating sufficient time for things to be talked through demonstrates that finding a harmonious resolution is important. Let everyone prepare and maybe use a mediator to act as referee and keep discussions civil and on track. This could be a professional mediator, a therapist or someone whom both sides respect, like a close family friend, neighbour or religious leader.

Respect each other’s boundaries and listen to the different points of view without interruption. Try to understand where each side is coming from, why they hold their opinion and feel the way they do. It can be tempting for one side to strongly feel, ‘you should/ought/must’, about the other or to complain they’re treated unfairly when they’re actually the ‘good guy’, and it’s the ‘other one’ who always selfishly pleases themselves. Those feelings need to be acknowledged before any reconciliation is likely to occur.

Try to avoid discussions dissolving into a plethora of examples, explanations and recriminations about why things have gone wrong, about who said or did what. Otherwise a cycle of endlessly rehashing hurts, insults and perceived wrong-doings can occur. If you’re aiming to deal with a family rift it’s more beneficial to avoid apportioning blame and instead try to navigate the way forward. Liking each other may not be an option, but agreeing how things can improve, how you can meet, be civil and move forward with comfortable enough family relationships may well be a good enough outcome.

Consequently, future expectations need to be managed to avoid further rifts developing. Understanding the significance of allowances each side can or is prepared to make is the foundation-stone on which moving forward can be built. Things may never return to how they used to be, but hopefully polite, civil and maybe even affectionate relationships can eventually start to blossom.    

Healing a family rift requires negotiating new agreements before things are likely to get any better. Just as time moves on, so do peoples’ commitments; their hopes, dreams and expectations have probably changed over the years. Discuss and understand the subtleties of each other’s lives and then try to agree how both sides can start to co-exist in the most amicable way.

Article By Susan Leigh, Counsellor & Hypnotherapist


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