Photography by Parker Knight, via Flickr Creative Commons Image by: Photography by Parker Knight, via Flickr Creative Commons
Marion Goertz, a registered marriage and family therapist in Toronto, says it takes a commitment of time, energy, courage and resources to work through a family feud. She warns the process can "feel profoundly painful and intense as the barriers and bandages are removed and the wound is exposed to fresh air and new perspectives." But, she says, it is possible to repair damaged relationships.
What causes family feuds
According to Goertz, many family feuds come to a head over disagreements but may be about other underlying issues. They may be rooted in past wrongs or built-up frustrations that have occurred over many years. Quite often, a breaking point will coincide with a major life event or stressor; for example, a birth, death, marriage or divorce. "While [the fight] may appear to be over something that seems trivial to an outside observer, the wounds, abandonment and betrayal can run deep, coming to the surface in sometimes startling and unexpected ways," says Goertz.
Feuds may occur between two people or may force a number of family members to choose sides. They can also cause feelings of sadness, fear, abandonment and betrayal, as well as anger, rage, hatred and frustration.
How to mend broken relationships
It's important to recognize that everyone involved may see the problem and the steps to reconciliation differently, so approach reparations cautiously. Goertz suggests first meeting in a neutral space. Be flexible to plan for the next steps toward a more healthy and happy relationship, she says.
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Be prepared to say you're sorry
The person accused of being at fault for the original problem must be willing to take some responsibility, says Goertz. "Studies on forgiveness undertaken by Dr. Les Greenberg of York University in Toronto determined that true reconciliation and healing are only possible when the injured party is convinced that the wounding party gets it," she explains. If the offender isn't willing to try to express remorse and change his or her actions, it may be too soon to fix the situation.
Sit down and discuss
If everyone participating in the disagreement is willing to give reconciliation a shot, Goertz recommends finding a third party to help mediate the discussion. During this calm sit-down conversation (or conversations), you should:
• Be prepared to show some humility. Very rarely is one person 100 percent right in his or her actions, and very rarely is another person entirely wrong.
• Explore the "why." Why did Party A say what he or she said? Why did Party B react so dramatically? Why can't anyone agree?
• Identify the consequences. If the behaviour or action that initiated the feud occurs again, what will happen? Set out expectations, even if they include a permanent parting of ways, says Goertz.
Reconnect with an estranged family member
Just as families can break apart during significant life events, so too can families reunite in times of dire need, such as times of illness or advancing age, celebrations or milestones. "The expectation that many have for a Hollywood reconciliation as the music comes up and the credits start to roll is unrealistic and rare," says Goertz. She suggests starting small. To break the ice, try sending a birthday or anniversary card as a way to tentatively reach out. Include a note offering a meeting, but allow the other person the opportunity to choose the time and place. If the other party agrees to this offer, Goertz says the conversation should centre on three questions.
1. What has our relationship been like up to this point? (This should examine both the good and the difficult.)
2. What do I need from you in order to consider it might be wise to invest in a healthy, mutual, safe relationship going forward?
3. What am I prepared to offer to make that happen?
It can take a long while for feelings of distrust to build up and reach a breaking point. And mending the resulting feud can take a long time too. Be patient and be prepared to face hard truths and tough discussions, but know that it will all be worth it in the end.
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