September 18th, 2020

Life Tools

How to mend fences with family members

Kim Giles and Nicole Cunningham

By Kim Giles and Nicole Cunningham KSL

Published July 9,2018

How to mend fences with family members
Q: I'm a 40-year-old woman and I am truly struggling with the relationship between myself and my parents. From the time I was 19 to now, our relationship has continually gone downhill. I believe this has to do with differing life choices, values and lack of respect for our different views. At times I would like to resolve the issues, but the majority of the time, I'm fine not having a relationship with them. What would be your advice on how this should be handled? Should I try to get counseling with my parents and I? Should I just accept it's an unhealthy relationship and move on? Avoid and evade them? I acknowledge that I'm as much of the problem as they are ... and that I'm holding on to some hard feelings. So what could or should I do?

A: Most relationships are worth trying to salvage and improve, especially with your family members. It's hard to avoid your relatives and if you are going to have to interact with them, you will want these hard feelings repaired. So here are some things you could try:

Work on forgiving all involved (them and yourself) for all your past wrongs to make this easier --- work on these 5 perspective shifts.

Understand their bad behavior is driven by fear. We are all scared, struggling students in the classroom of life, who are scared of both failure and loss all the time and those fears are the reasons we sometimes feel unsafe and behave badly. When you understand your parents are just scared people and their behavior is about their fear (it isn’t really about you), you might have more compassion and less judgment toward them. Their value system may have taught them to have great fear about your value system. They may not be able to separate loving you from fearing for you, and when they react from this fear, the behavior isn’t very loving or validating. Understand this isn’t personal, it’s just hard for them to access their love when they are so scared.

We all have the same value no matter what we do. No one is better or less than anyone else, despite their values and choices. This is a choice you make to view all human beings as having the same value. This perspective helps to make you bulletproof, so nothing anyone else says can diminish you.

The universe is your perfect classroom. If you choose to see this conflict as your perfect classroom and here to serve you and them, you won't have as much fear, stress and charge around it. You won't feel as threatened and you will show up with more love toward them. Choose to believe you got these parents for a reason, because you could both teach each other important lessons that apparently you both need. Resolving the conflict and learning to love people with different values is part of this lesson. So, embrace the challenge to stretch the limits of your love.

Not forgiving them for past wrongs isn't doing anyone any good. It isn't hurting them and it's not helping you. It won't create justice and it won't protect you from further pain. It will make you feel better, lighter and happier, though, if you can forgive.

Forgiving gets a lot easier when you trust the universe that it knows what it's doing, and this is a perfect classroom lesson on love for all of you.

Once you have worked on forgiving and shifting your mindset, you may decide to have a loving, mutually validating conversation with them. These conversations mean, upfront, you do a lot of listening (not talking) and validating their right to their thoughts, feelings, ideas and opinions (even if you don't agree with them.) It will require you to remember nothing they say diminishes you unless you decide to let it. If you handle this conversation exactly as we advise and don't let them trigger you and pull you into fear, this could fix the whole thing.

Get a professional involved to help you have a conversation with them. We do these types of meetings with families all the time, and we have found it works best if we meet with each person separately first, to prepare them for the meeting together. Find some professional who will do this prep work so a family meeting session accomplishes as much as possible. This also makes people more willing to attend this kind of meeting because they have had the chance to tell their side to the professional beforehand.

If family members are unwilling or unable to change

If they feel threatened or unsafe about any kind of conversation or meeting, or if they are unable to accept any fault on their side, or show any willingness to change or work with you, you are then left with two options:

Be in their life, but don't let them hurt you. This means seeing them accurately as people who are not capable of behaving better, and then not taking what they do or say personally, or let it hurt you. This requires great strength and wisdom. So, you might need some professional help yourself to get here. You will have to become bulletproof and let all offenses bounce off.

Avoid and stay away from them. If you can't be around them without feeling beaten down, hurt, or offended, then avoiding them might be the loving choice. It is loving toward yourself. Remember you are just as important as everyone else is, so making a loving choice to take care of you is not selfish, it's wise.

You can do this.

Kimberly Giles is a life coach and author of the new book CHOOSING CLARITY: The Path to Fearlessness.