What Is A Broken Family Relationship & How To Fix It

Updated September 04, 2018

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The idea of a family is one that always sticks together regardless of the situation, but that is hardly true in practice. Families are going to have disagreements, fights, and even become estranged.

We are family members, but we are our individuals, too. Sometimes, our beliefs divide us. Other times, our personalities don't line up, and we have a conflict because of that. Sometimes, our family member does something we just don't like. Other times, you may have been pulled away from a family member as a child, and now want to reconnect with them now that you are older.

Then, there are times where nothing bad happened, but you just drifted apart from certain family members, and now want to rekindle that old relationship you've had.

Estrangement happens all the time, and for various reasons. Sometimes, all it takes is an apology, and things are right. Other times, it takes more effort to repair a relationship. Sometimes, the relationship may not be repairable, or cost too much effort to repair.

In this post, we'll talk about why broken family relationships happen and what you can do to fix them.

What Causes Estrangement?

There are many reasons why a family member may become estranged from you. Here are some of the top reasons.

  • Differing beliefs. In the perfect world, we would respect one another's beliefs, but that's hard in practice. For example, if your parents are extremely religious, and you're not, it may cause divide, especially if that person's religion commands them to shun any non-believers. Or, the parent keeps wanting the child to be a part of the religion and doesn't respect their right to disagree.
  • Abuse. One of the most understandable reasons why someone would separate from a family member. If the parent is abusive, the child will want to stay as far away from them as possible once they are free from any influence the parents may have.
  • Disagreements about one's spouse. You marry someone your parents don't like, but instead of accepting you and learning to tolerate your spouse, your family members decide to sever all ties.
  • Overbearing grandparents. If you have a child, and your parents are overbearing about how you raise them, it's understandable if you want to distance yourself from them. We all are going to have disagreements about how we raise our children, but if someone is constantly criticizing your parenting, then it can be difficult to care for them.
  • One person refuses to apologize. If the parent has done something wrong to the child, and as an adult, the child wants to hold them accountable, not willing to admit fault may cause estrangement.
  • Finally, any boundary crossing can cause estrangement. People have their boundaries, and when someone has firmly established a boundary, and one keeps crossing it or threatening to cross it, it can be understandable lead to estrangement.
  • Again, some people just drift apart, and it's sometimes hard to form a connection.

Should You Repair a Relationship With Your Family?

You are not obligated to have a relationship with a family member just because they're your family. In some situations, they are irredeemable, and it's best that you stay away. You wouldn't repair a relationship with a lover who did you wrong, so why would you repair a relationship with an abusive family member?

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However, there are some cases where time has healed the wounds, or your family member is a good person, but you two just had a disagreement. Here are a few signs that you should consider repairing a relationship.

  • Time has healed some of the wounds and made you think more objectively about the situation. In the past, you may have become emotional when you severed all ties with your family member or vice versa, and time has allowed you to look back and wonder if you should.
  • You have fond memories of them that outweigh the bad. While nostalgia can be blinding, good memories shouldn't be tossed, and perhaps you want to make new memories.
  • You are willing to forgive the family member for what they did. Forgiveness can make the other family member feel comfortable with talking to you, but you need to make sure your forgiveness is genuine. Don't make a backhanded remark while trying to forgive someone.
  • The family member is in poor health. If your parents are dying, the last thing you may not want to do is not see them before they pass. Even if you are still upset, you can reconnect and talk to them one last time.
  • Put yourself in the shoes of the other family member. There are times when the opposing family member is completely in the wrong, but there are other times when you aren't so innocent, either. Sometimes, you may have done something wrong as well or may have entirely been in the wrong. It's hard to admit that you were at fault as well, but if you were, admitting it is okay and a sign of a strong person.

These are just a few factors to consider, but ultimately, it's up to you to decide. Do not feel like you have to repair the relationship if you aren't ready, but at the same time, try to repair it if there is something there still.

How To Repair A Relationship

There is no right way to repair a relationship, but here are some steps to get you started.

Be Realistic About It

When you try to reach out to reconnect, don't think the situation will be sunshine and rainbows, but also don't believe it will end up as a disaster. Instead, have moderate expectations. If they want to reconnect, great. If not, it stings a bit, but at least you tried, and you're the better person for doing so.

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Try A Letter

By a letter, we don't mean an email or a text. We are talking about a handwritten or typed letter delivered through snail mail.

Why is that? First, it's more personal. Everyone gets texts and emails from people, but few get an old-fashioned letter, so the novelty of it is good alone. But second, it gives your family member some time to think about it. With an email or text, they are expected to respond as soon as possible, or you expect a reply from them immediately. With a letter, they have some time to let the letter sit and to think of a response. It may take over a week for them to receive the letter and then send a reply. This gives a much better window to respond than a few hours or even minutes.

Start Slow

When you're trying to reconnect, do not dive right in. Put your foot in the pool. Say "Hello," make small talk, and try to have a friendly conversation.

Meet Publicly

To avoid conflict, try to meet on neutral grounds. A place in public means you may have fewer chances of getting into an argument. No one wants to be screaming at each other in a coffee shop. A public meeting can keep the conversations as light as possible and help the two of you repair your relationship.

Think About How You Want To Handle The Past

Some people say you should just let go of the past and start anew. Clean slate. As if it never happened. While this may work for some, for others, they may want to address that elephant in the room.

With that said, if you focus on the past and bring forth the same arguments, then it's not going to go anywhere. You have to strike a balance. The past still hurts, and you should address it, but don't go about it the same way you did a long time ago.

Set Boundaries

Boundaries are important, especially when repairing a new relationship with your family member. For example, if you became estranged due to differing religious beliefs, make a firm boundary not to mention religion in your conversations. Make sure that boundary isn't crossed, even by a small remark.

If your family member can't handle the new boundaries, especially if they're reasonable, there may be a chance that you shouldn't reconnect.

Seek Counseling

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If you are still having trouble reconnecting with your family member, you may feel like giving up again. However, some problems can be fixed if the two of you could have cooler heads and perhaps have a neutral party help you resolve your issues. One way you can do this is by talking to a family therapist.

Going to a therapist does not mean the relationship is over; quite the contrary. It means that you're willing to repair it and want a professional to repair it in the best way possible. There are some instances when you should go to a professional to repair a situation, and counseling is one of those cases.


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