Family

Estranged: Should you reconnect with an estranged family member?

By: Yuki Hayashi

Author: Canadian Living

Family

Estranged: Should you reconnect with an estranged family member?

By: Yuki Hayashi

Family estrangement is a common predicament. And while cutting ties can be surprisingly easy, reconnecting can be surprisingly difficult. Have you become estranged from one of your relatives? Are you thinking about trying to get back in touch? Here are 5 tips for brokering a peace treaty.

1. Decide if reconciliation is best
"If you did the cutting of ties, remind yourself why and ask yourself if you made a good decision or if it was a mistake, and let that be your guide in reconnecting," says Esther Kane, a Courtenay, B.C.-based therapist.

"If you were cut off, ask yourself whether the other person had a good reason for doing so. If not, you might want to rethink reconnecting with him/her. Sometimes people who cut us off aren't the best people to continue to have in our lives. In other words, they may have done you a favour," she adds.

Some estrangements happen after a series of rather minor, but escalating, misunderstandings and overreactions. Others occur in order to preserve one or both partners' psychological or physical well-being. Which does yours fall into?

Kane recommends working out these issues in a journal before you act. Ask yourself why you want to reconnect, and what you're hoping from the future relationship, should you reconnect.

"Consider the costs versus benefits of re-establishing this relationship. Do the benefits outweigh the costs or vice versa?" asks Kane.

2. Be realistic about the outcome
If you've decided to get in touch, it's best not to predict a certain type of outcome. "Let go of expectations of what the other person will say or do. Try not to hope for too much or else you may end up disappointed or hurt," advises Kane.

If you two had the blowout to end all blowouts, don't expect your sparring partner to be all hugs and kisses. Think baby steps: If an estranged sibling agrees to meet you for a coffee, consider it a step in the right direction. You may end up chatting about nothing more significant than the weather – but at least you've started a dialogue, right?


Page 1 of 2 – Ready to make a move? Find out what the best way to reconnect with an estranged family member is on page 2.
3. Make your first contact via snail mail
Draft a letter to your estranged relative and hold onto it for 24 hours, suggests Kane. Read it again to make sure you won't regret posting it.

Tell your estranged relative you miss them and want to get back in contact. Did you do something you now recognize as wrong or hurtful? Acknowledge it. Did they hurt you? Offer your forgiveness and say you want to move beyond that. (Obviously, if your relative doesn't accept blame for the behaviour in question, it's a major roadblock to reconciliation.)

Did we mention the re-reading part? We'll mention it again: read the letter again before mailing it.

After you mail your letter, wait for a response. Don't follow-up via phone or email.

"A letter gives the other person time and space to digest your words without being put on the spot. This may help him or her avoid impulsive moves that they'll regret later," says Kane.

4. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst
Consider what the best and worst-case responses to your overtures are.

Really think out your worst-case scenario: Is it outright rejection, no reply whatsoever, a return to whatever disagreement started the estrangement in the first place?

Be prepared for these responses. If your overture is rejected, "You need to accept their decision and grieve the loss of the relationship," says Kane.

One effective way to cope: "Writing a letter sharing your pain at their rejection, and not mailing it, can be very healing," says Kane.

5. Keep the first few meetings light

Refrain from coming on too strong if your estranged relative agrees to meet you. A public place such as a coffee shop is an ideal place to meet. Arguments are less likely, and the venue makes smooth getaways easy if either party needs a breather ("It's been nice, but I have to get to an appointment!").

Stick with neutral conversation topics and don't rush things. Email, Facebook and phone calls are excellent means of continuing your conversation in the weeks and months to come.


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