What Is A Broken Family Relationship & How To Fix It

By: Jessica Anderson

Updated November 18, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Guilbeault

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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 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 used to have.

Estrangement happens all the time, and for various reasons. Sometimes, all it takes is an apology to make things right. Other times, it takes more effort to repair a relationship. Sometimes, the relationship may not be repairable, or it may require 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 a 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. This is especially true if that person's religion causes them to not communicate with non-believers. It's also true if the parent keeps wanting the child to be a part of the religion, and they choose to not respect the child's right to disagree.
  • Abuse: This is one of the most understandable reasons why someone would separate from a family member. If the parent is abusive, the child will likely want to stay away, especially when they grow out of the parent's care.
  • Disagreements about one's spouse: If a family doesn't support their relative's marriage, that relative may choose to create a healthier life with their spouse by distancing themselves from their unsupportive family.
  • Overbearing grandparents: If a grandparent is overbearing in advice or action while their child raises their own children, they may feel that space from the grandparent is necessary.
  • One person refuses to apologize: Family disputes can cause trouble at varying levels, the largest being estrangement. This is fairly common with actions that one relative considers wrong, while the other refuses to apologize or even acknowledge the wrongdoing.
  • Some people just drift apart: After long stretches of time apart, it can be hard to reform the lost connection.
  • Boundary Crossing: Every person has boundaries. When these are firmly established and a relative continues to cross it or threatens to cross it, estrangement can occur.

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 speak to them again.
  • You have fond memories of them that outweigh the bad. While nostalgia can be blinding, good memories shouldn't be tossed. Perhaps, you even want to make new memories.If this is true, reaching out to your relative can be a good idea.
  • 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. When your forgiveness is genuine, the repaired relationship will be able to be meaningful as well.
  • The family member is in poor health. If your estranged family member is ill or nearing the end of life, you may feel better if you repair the relationship before your chance has been lost. This can be challenging since a time restraint may be in place, but if you feel you will regret not reaching out to them in the future, it can be an important task.
  • You have 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. If you feel like it's time, feel free to begin seeing your relatives again.

How To Repair A Relationship

There is not one right solution that fits all relationship challenges. However, you may be in search of some advice to get yourself started. We've gathered a few tips for you below:

Be Realistic

When you reach out to reconnect, try not to make assumptions, whether good or bad, about how the meeting will feel. Remember that you are doing your part by reaching out when you feel ready, and that you will not lose anything by trying.

Try A Letter

Letters are personal and heartfelt. They show that instead of sending a text message or email, you took the time necessary to sit down and put your feelings down with a pen and paper. They also give your relative some time to really consider your request and plan out their response, as their answer is not required as quickly as that of an electronic message.

Start Slow

When you're trying to reconnect, try not to jump right into the difficult conversations. Consider saying "Hello," and simply catching up on life beforehand.

Meet Publicly

To avoid conflict, try to meet on neutral grounds. A public meeting place can bring about lighter conversation, so the two of you can get to know each other once again without immediate arguments arising.

Think About How You Want To Handle The Past

Before you meet, consider how you feel about the events that have happened in the past. You may need to discuss them for closure, or you may feel the desire to put them in the past to build a healthy relationship in the present time. Make these choices before you reconnect, so you know what to expect and how to move forward with the relationship.

Looking For Ways To Heal Broken Family Relationships?
A Board-Certified Therapist Can Help. Talk To A Family Expert Online Now.

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Set Boundaries

Boundaries are important in every relationship. If you do not want to speak of a certain topic, such as religion, create a line right away that both parties promise not to cross. You may also consider setting boundaries to protect yourself, and make sure you are not hurt again (if you were in the past).

Seek Counseling

If you are still having trouble reconnecting with your family member after several attempts, you may feel it is not worth the effort. However, it is likely that you could make progress in your relationship if you had a neutral third-party guiding you along the way. A great way to move forward is with a family therapist.

Going to a therapist means that you're willing to repair the relationship, and want a professional to repair it in the best way possible. It shows that you are truly committed to letting your estranged relative back into your life, even if past efforts have not gone so well.

Studies show that family therapy is actually the most successful tool in resolving family challenges. A therapist can look into your relationship and your past from an outside view, and provide you with both the ability to talk to each other in a calm setting, as well as a guided discussion that leads toward conflict resolution.

If you have a busy schedule, or if it would be difficult for you to attend in-person counseling with your family member, consider an online option. ReGain has mental health professionals who can speak to you from the comfort and privacy of your own home (or wherever you have an internet connection). Below are some reviews of ReGain counselors for you to review, from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

"Yumi is amazing and a perfect fit for us. Just having one video session help our family so much in so many ways. He responses are on point and we value it greatly. I can't thank her enough for all she has continued to do to strengthen our family. I would recommend her to the world that's how amazing she is."

"I had left my family when I contacted Regain with the hope of salvaging a completely broken down relationship. Bradley was allocated to us. Bradley made one step at a time, said the right things at the right time and just seemed to get in tune with us to understand what was required in order to help resolve our relationship. He worked with us about once a week at the start then going more to once every ten days in the latter part of the counseling for about six months. We have managed to resolve our differences and are looking forward to a prosperous future in a healthy relationship. Bradley has given us the tools required to make sure we can quickly identify and know how to resolve any problems arising in the future. We couldn't recommend him more. Thank you so much, Bradly and ReGain!"


Having a broken family relationship can be so challenging. However, help is available. Whether you would like to mend the relationship that is causing trouble in your life, or you would like help moving forward without this family member, a mental health professional can provide you with an unbiased ear and the support you need. Remember that you are strong enough to move forward, and that seeking help will allow you to grow toward a happier, healthier life.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is a broken family?

A broken family is a unit where the family members have significant emotional problems with one another. As a child, you don't realize it, but this environment's effects are life changing. There could be abuse or neglect. And there's definitely a lack of support for a child or children in the family. The environment isn't a loving one. The members of the family don't trust each other. The reason it's a toxic dynamic is that these individuals aren't caring for one another. These behaviors have been happening for a long time. The parents didn't give the children the home life that they needed, and the family dynamics were unhealthy. The children don't feel loved or safe. For healthy child development, there needs to be a stable family unit where parents and children care for one another. When kids see that their parents are unhealthy or toxic at a young age, the child's life is at risk of developing further emotional problems. These are long term effects because the vast majority of children who are abused grow into young adults who have psychological or mental health problems. You can read articles on broken families on Psychology Today. There you can learn about the different aspects of the family unit and child development. If you come from a broken family, it can be helpful to attend a support group where you can get advice from other people who have grown up in dysfunctional family units. A broken family could have short term effects on a person as well as long term ones. In your life, no matter what, you will interact with your family. But, you get to choose what happens to those familial relationships after you become an adult. You get to decide what level of involvement you want to have with your family. If you are estranged from your biological loved ones, you may not know how to cope. There are articles on Psychology Today that show us how to deal with setting boundaries with toxic family members. Coming from a broken family doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. It's a frame of reference for why you have your set of core beliefs about family. 

What are the effects of a broken family?

A broken family can be life changing. It can have severe effects on a person. In your life, no matter what happens, you will meet people who have endured a broken home environment. People in broken families may seek out support groups as adults, because they were put through neglect or abuse at a young age, and they don't know the best ways to cope with their lives. Children in a broken family don't feel safe. They're afraid that at any moment something will go wrong. That anxiety will likely follow them into adulthood. As grownups, they may have mental health problems, such as PTSD, anxiety, or depression. These individuals may have difficulty connecting with others, forming attachments, or maintaining healthy relationships. There's a large percent of children from broken families who don't trust others and have difficulty forming emotional bonds with people. When you come from a broken family, you can create a better tomorrow by seeking therapy. The home life you experienced as a young person will influence the adult you become. You may have had a lack of support as a child, but you can recover from the effects of a broken family in your life no matter what, by finding a therapist who can give you that lasting support. If you're unsure if you have been raised in a broken family, you can read about these dynamics in Psychology Today. You may gain some clarity into your childhood after reading these articles. Psychology Today has a wealth of resources for people who have suffered from childhood trauma. Depending on what issues you're experiencing, you can find experts who have written about that type of trauma. On Psychology Today, you can also search for a therapist in your area. Getting treatment for trauma is crucial. And you don't have to see a therapist in person! There are an increasing number of therapists available as online therapy becomes more and more popular. Our childhood scars don't go away and can be painful if they are not addressed. Therapy is an excellent and safe place to talk about your pain and work through it with a mental health professional who cares.

What causes a broken family?

The causes of a broken family are that the parents have significant mental health problems, and they are not getting treated. You can read the studies about this on Psychology Today. When you have a mental illness, and you get the treatment, it can be life changing. That's why therapy is so valuable. In a broken home, there is no treatment happening for mental health problems. There's abuse or neglect, or substance abuse. The home life is unsafe or unstable. The family dynamics are unhealthy and causing dysfunction. Child development is crucial, and if you don't have a healthy childhood, that can impact your adulthood. 

What to do if you have a broken family?

If you have a broken family, it's important that you seek help in the form of therapy. People don't ask to be born into a toxic environment. But, you can get support after enduring one. Your home life as a child doesn't have to define who you are now. When you seek help for your trauma, it's life changing. There are many resources where you can read about traumatic experiences in early life. You can find articles about family dynamics, and what it's to survive a broken home on Psychology Today. They may also have some articles that bring you out of your comfort zone. In the long run, it's better to get treatment rather than ignoring how your childhood broken home is affecting your current life. One of the best ways to address these concerns is with an individual therapist or family therapist. 

What's considered a broken home?

A broken home is one where the parents are not caring for the children. The kids are abused or neglected. Any situation where the family dynamic is so toxic that the members are in crisis is considered a broken home. When the children are victims of abuse, and they don't get treatment, that's one example of a broken family home. In a broken home, quality time isn't important. Surviving the next minute takes priority over bonding with your family members. 

Can a broken family be fixed?

A broken family can be fixed if the family members are willing to examine the family dynamics in therapy and work through these problems. You can read about family therapy in Psychology Today and see what the value is to people. 

How do you love someone with a broken family?

Love has to do with acceptance. When you find someone who you love, it's life changing. It brings you outside of your comfort zone. When you're starting a new life with someone, it's crucial to accept who they are. If you love someone who has a broken family, it means that you accept that they've had some trauma in their life, and you're there to support them. You weren't there, and you don't know what they're family life was like, or how it felt to be them as a child. You can ask them questions about it, but understand that some of these memories may be too traumatic to talk about at times. Everyone has a different family life. Psychology Today has many different resources for broken families. You can read about the life changing effects that broken homes have on children. 

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