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How to Cut Family Ties

by Melody Causewell

Family relationships can get messy and the choice to cut family ties is not an easy one. But making this choice is often easier than actually making the break. If you need to cut ties with either one or many family members, stay calm, set boundaries and expect resistance. You can overcome this, too.

Assessing the Need

Cutting family ties tends to create upheaval and should be considered only as a last resort, notes Marina Krakovsky in The Final Cut, published in Psychology Today in 2006. Offer alternatives whenever possible to let your family members know what can be done to work things out so that you don’t inadvertently cut everyone while trying to avoid one or two bad apples. However, in cases where verbal or psychological abuse is occurring or where the stress is simply too high to handle, totally cutting ties may be your best bet. Family conflict can trigger numerous mental health issues including depression in children who witness it, according to Dr. Habib Chakraborty and others in research published in Prevention Science in 2014.Take the effect of conflict into consideration when making your decision.

Talk About It

Plan a specific time to discuss cutting ties instead of doing it in the heat of the moment. Make a list of points you want to make to ensure you don't miss something. If things get heated, be prepared to walk away or call them back. Take a few minutes to relax by taking some deep breaths or going for a walk. You may also send a letter to let your family member know your intentions and your reasons if you wish to avoid the initial confrontation or fear you may get too flustered to explain your position.

Set Boundaries

Use “I” statements to avoid extra defensiveness. Let your family member know that you will not be answering the telephone, that they are not welcome at your home, that they may not contact your children, or whatever other boundaries you see as necessary. If you are able to cut these ties in a less dramatic fashion, let them know what is expected and what will happen if they break your boundaries, for instance, “I may have to see you at cousin Jen’s wedding, but I won’t interact with you at that time. If you push these boundaries I will cut off contact.”

Expect Resistance

There will likely be other members who will contact you in an attempt to push you toward reconciliation. The choice is yours. You may want to explain this to family members you are still in contact with. Keep a list of your reasons for cutting these ties if you feel put on the spot, and make it clear you will do your best to remain involved in the family where possible. If you’re cutting ties with many or all family members, a mass letter after your initial conversation that reinforces your boundaries and intentions may help to clarify these issues.

About the Author

Melody Causewell has been a writer in the mental health field since 2001. She written training manuals and clinical programs for mental health organizations. She has published feature articles "Leaven" magazine and has been published in "Natural Awakenings." She has a degree in psychology, a Masters degree in social work and is a La Leche League leader.

Photo Credits

  • Klaus Tiedge/Blend Images/Getty Images