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How to Speak to an Estranged Loved One

by Alana Vye, studioD

If you're estranged from a loved one, you might feel a sense of loss to the point where it seems like the other person passed away. Adding to the difficulty is that others in your life might not understand the estrangement and distance themselves from you. If you want to reestablish a connection, or at least talk to the person with whom you're estranged, the conversation is likely to bring up a lot of emotions. Being prepared and knowing what to say can help ease the process.

Pre-Conversation Preparation

Prepare yourself for the conversation by trying to understand what the other person is feeling. Perhaps the estrangement occurred because your loved one felt she couldn't change or deal with your relationship. Remember that you can't force another person to change her feelings or reactions. In a March 2013 "Healthy Life" article, social worker Nicholas Strouse says that it's important to note that often the person who initiated the estrangement is the healthier person because she recognized the negative behavior patterns and wanted to remove herself from the relationship.

Look at your own culpability. Understand how your personal issues, such as abuse or addiction problems, led to the estrangement. If you don't have any particular personal issues, you still need to remember that the other person is entitled to his feelings even if you don't see yourself at fault. You can try to make amends, but it's possible that he won't let you in. Either way, you have to look at your part in the relationship, positive and negative, while making room for your loved one's opinion. Laura Davis, author of "I Never Thought We'd Speak Again," recommends that you don't rehash past events with your loved one, as it may be impossible to reach a definitive account of the truth; your memory might be vastly different from his. Instead, focus on apologizing and moving forward.

Approach the idea of forgiving your loved one. Remember that forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things -- and that it is possible to forgive a person and not her actions. It can help if you seek therapy to help heal first, read about forgiveness and estrangement, and also seek out support groups. As noted in the March 2013 "Healthy Family" article, forgiveness is a good thing even if you don't reconcile because it frees you of bitterness and resentment. You can start by having compassion for yourself -- and then think in terms of showing compassion to your loved ones.

Approaching Reconciliation

Writer a letter. Therapist Esther Kane in a CanadianLiving.com article recommends taking this step first as it allows the other person time to think about the letter and what you are saying without feeling the need for an immediate reaction. Make sure you wait 24 hours before you send it to double check that you don't write anything you may regret later. Be direct in your words; tell your loved one you miss her and want to get back in touch. Acknowledge if you hurt this person and if she hurt you. Apologize for you part in the estrangement and tell her that you forgive her if appropriate and that you want to move on. Don't follow up via email or phone -- wait for your loved one to respond.

Prepare for the worst. While you can hope that your loved one will respond positively to your desire to reconcile, this might not happen. Prepare for any and all responses whether it's a rejection, no reply, or more fighting. Realizing that any response is possible, will help you cope with a refusal to reconcile and accept the fact that you need to grieve the loss of this person's company. To cope with the loss of this person's company, writing another letter explaining how you feel can be healing, even if you don't send it.

Don't be too emotionally intense during your first few in-person meetings with your loved one. Choose a public place like a cafe where you can leave quickly if things get too heated. Talk about neutral topics and continue to chat through email, social media, or by phone to fill in the gaps between meetings. Reconciliations take time and you shouldn't expect a perfect relationship with your loved one right off the bat. Take it slowly.

About the Author

Alana Vye is a Canadian writer living abroad. She had a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Toronto and has worked in online marketing and publicity. She's also an avid traveler who has visited Asia, Europe and Central America.

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