A sense of loss and grief often results when family members don’t communicate, regardless of the relationship quality. According to Karl Pillemers book, “Fault Lines: Fractured Families and How to Mend Them,” over 67 million Americans are estimated to be estranged from a family member. Distance from a family member can be a healthy boundary for some. However, others want to mend a relationship, which may be a stressful and complex process to undertake.
Consider exploring the cause of the separation and determining whether reuniting is a good idea before beginning the process of knitting a family back together.
Possible Reasons for Estrangement
Family separation is a serious issue. The cause of the separation may play a role in deciding whether family ties can and should be mended. Consider if there is any risk of physical danger in reuniting with the estranged family member. A 2015 article in Journal of Family Connection titled “Giving Voice to the Silence of Family Estrangement: Comparing Reasons of Estranged Parents and Adult Children in a Non-matched Sample” found that reasons for family estrangement include:
- Embarrassing behavior exhibited by the estranged family member.
- Concern about potential for involvement in illegal activities.
- Divergence of core values and beliefs amongst family members.
- Severe neglect or abuse of a family member.
- Intense conflict or violence within the family or marriage.
- A sense of inadequacy or evidence of favoritism within the family.
- Drug or alcohol addiction.
- Financial recklessness.
- Unaddressed pain or hardship.
- Mental health issues.
The process of reconciliation will take compassion and consideration from all involved family members.
How to Start a Reunion
Hurt is common with family separation. You probably have a lot of pain over the separation, and it’s entirely fair to say that. However, there are still some things to consider before you have a conversation with your family.
- “Am I putting myself in jeopardy by initiating a reunion?”
- “Why do I want this? What am I hoping to achieve?”
- “Has the family changed enough to make a relationship possible?”
- Or, “Have I changed enough that my family will be willing to listen and consider what I have to say?
If you feel confident in all of your answers, you may be ready to plan a reconciliation. Consider these steps in your reunion:
#1 Write down your goals, things you’d like to say, and why you’d like to reconcile.
#2 Seek therapy, If not already doing so. It is likely to help before and after the process, regardless of the outcome.
#3 Arrange to meet in a neutral territory with a mediator. If a virtual meeting is necessary, still consider including a mediator or therapist.
#4 State your intentions directly through safe means, including social media, voicemail, email, or letters. Avoid starting with small talk, as the family member may not continue to the important part of the message.
#5 When meeting, state your feelings directly without expressing too much emotion. Keep the conversation matter-of-fact and discuss the items on your written list.
#6 Follow-through by keeping communication active within a family who is willing to rebuild a relationship. Otherwise, continue working through your pain with a therapist; reflect on your goals, and move forward.
10 Conversation Stems for the Reunion
Pain and loss are often significant components of estrangement, regardless of your role in the conflict. Being truthful, yet calm and controlled, helps lead to positive communication.
You may be unsure how to speak truthfully and objectively about your pain; here are some examples that may help:
#1 “When I was asked to leave the family, I felt….Recently I have begun to feel…”
#2 “When I asked you to leave the family, I felt…Recently I have begun to feel…”
#3 “I imagine that I caused you to feel…However, I believe our relationship could be better now because…”
#4 “I wanted to initiate this reunion because…”
#5 “The idea of reuniting with my family makes me feel…”
#6 “I wanted to apologize for…When I said those things, I was…”
#7 “I was hoping to receive closure on…These things have caused me to feel…”
#8 “When I acted the way I did, I was struggling with…My behavior is different now because…”
#9 “I’m aware of the pain I caused you when I did…I hope you can forgive me for that.”
#10 “My ultimate goal is to have a…relationship with you. I believe we can achieve this because…”
Remember, these high-stress situations may have affected you for years in the past and may continue to affect you for years into the future. Take care of yourself through therapy and healthy coping mechanisms. Only initiate a reunion if you’re prepared for answers that may be difficult to hear.
Estrangement within a family is usually caused by perceived social embarrassment, actual or potential legal involvement, diverging morals or beliefs, severe neglect or abuse, divorce or inter-family conflict, domestic violence, favoritism, addiction, financial issues, unaddressed pain, or mental health issues. Before initiating a reunion with an estranged family member, consider goals, motivations, and the initial cause for the separation. When planning the reunion, family members should write down their goals and feelings, meet in a neutral location, include a mediator, be direct in communication, and speak objectively about their feelings and ultimate goals. Reuniting with family members after a painful estrangement is likely to be stressful and may cause long-lasting anxiety. Casa Recovery can help you overcome pain and trauma and provide guidance through recovering and maintaining your most important relationships. Call or text (888) 928-2272 to discuss how we can help you achieve your mental health and relationship goals.