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How to Make Up With an Estranged Family Member

by Ann Mazzaferro

The causes of family estrangements are limitless, and making up with an estranged family member can be extremely challenging. While you may want to reconnect with relatives and heal broken relationships, reconciliation requires that both estranged parties want to begin anew. If the estranged family member does not want to reconnect, respect his wishes and let the relationship go. When reaching out to estranged family members, have a support network of friends and family in place, and speak to a religious leader or a therapist for extra emotional support.

Write a letter asking for the forgiveness of the estranged family member. It will be up to you to reach out first, and it will be your responsibility to calmly and gently own to up your participation in the estrangement. The rupture of a family relationship is caused by multiple people; carefully re-examine the estrangement and pinpoint what you have done to aid in its creation. Apologize for those actions without excusing them or shifting the blame to others, then express your hope that you both can begin the healing process together.

Be patient and let the estranged family member set the pace for reconciliation. Writing the apology letter is preferable to having the conversation in person or over the phone, as a letter does not require an instant response. A letter gives the estranged family member time to think and to seek counsel of her own. It may be several days, months or years before the family member wishes to respond to your letter, but peppering her with additional letters and phone calls will not speed up the process.

Advocate for yourself and set clear emotional and physical boundaries. Often in our desire to make amends with estranged family members, we will accept hurtful comments and tolerate unhealthy behavior in an effort to "keep the peace," but this will only cause conflict and pain down the road. If there is a subject that will only cause fights, or an incident that you do not want to rehash, make your boundaries clear. If your family member cannot respect those boundaries, preserve your own health and step away from the relationship.

Tip

  • Set up a time to meet with your estranged family member in a neutral location. Holidays and birthdays can be emotionally frenzied times, and the pressure of these events will be exacerbated by the inevitable tension of reuniting estranged family members. A weekend coffee date or lunch is a low-pressure way to reconnect with an estranged relative.

About the Author

Hailing from California, Ann Mazzaferro is a professional writer who has written for "The Pacifican," "Calliope Literary Magazine" and presented at the National Undergraduate Literature Conference. Mazzaferro graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of the Pacific.

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