How do you repair family ties with those you consider difficult? The six steps here will take you far but start well before the big family dinner night. This post from The Wall Street Journal puts together a six step outline to help you bridge the uncomfortable distance between you and your family.
If you’re fighting with someone in your family, you might want to hurry up and call a truce.
The holiday season can be a good excuse for estranged relatives to reconcile. But you’ll need to start the process well before you sit down at your big family gathering, says Melanie Booth-Butterfield, a professor in the department of communication studies at West Virginia University, who has lectured on how to manage family disputes and developed a step-by-step approach for reconciliation.
“There’s a lot of pressure for the holidays to be perfect, for everyone to be together and be happy,” says Ms. Booth-Butterfield. If you’ve been sparring with someone you love and want to repair the bond, she says, “it’s much better to have a lot of smaller talks starting somewhere neutral, like Starbucks.”
How do you repair a serious rupture in a relationship? Follow these 6 steps that will help mend family ties and bring the family closer together.
1. Start with yourself
Start with yourself, Dr. Booth-Butterfield says. Stop ruminating on the issues that caused the rift. When you dwell on negative thoughts you create a downward spiral, she says. Each bad thought leads to another. Break this pattern by replacing the negative thoughts with something else. Think of a beautiful view, such as a sunset. Listen to happy music. Watch a funny movie. Read a great book. Play with a puppy.
2. Send a card
Dr. Booth-Butterfield, who has written a textbook on communication called “Interpersonal Essentials,” says that the longer you are estranged from someone, the harder it will be to patch up the rift.
It might be a good start to send a handwritten note. Start with a compliment: “I’ve always admired your sense of humor.” “I respect your work.” “You are such a great parent.” Then tell the person you miss him or her and would like to meet. “You are opening the conversation,” Dr. Booth-Butterfield says.
It will come in handy to practice something communication researchers call “deceptive affection.” This means that you pretend to like the other person more than you really do at this point. Research shows it leads to greater relationship satisfaction. Think of it as social grease. “You don’t have to be a deceiver; but you don’t have to be up front in everything you say either,” says Dr. Booth-Butterfield, who has studied deceptive affection.
3. Follow up with a call
Follow up with a call. And make a plan to meet somewhere neutral where you can sit undisturbed. Be respectful and show interest in the other person. Keep the initial conversation limited to small talk: the children, spouses, jobs, extended family.
4. You need to apologize
You need to apologize. This doesn’t mean you have to accept blame for the rift, Dr. Booth-Butterfield says. You acknowledge the other person’s pain and your part in it. Don’t blame the other person either.
5. Ask for their view
Should you rehash the issue that caused the split? That depends on how deep the hurt is, how long the rift has gone on and how comfortable you both are with conflict. Ask your loved one how he or she views the issue and decide if you need to talk about it at a later date, Dr. Booth-Butterfield says. Keep the first meeting light and short. “When you like each other again, then you can ask if they want to talk about it,” she says. If your loved one gets angry, do your best to control your own temper.
6. Plan the next step
Ask your loved one how he or she wants to proceed. This shows you want to keep talking. And make it clear: “I care for you and want you to be part of my life. Will you come to holiday dinner?” “The goal is to repeatedly talk to each other like close family members do. They don’t just talk once a year,” Dr. Booth-Butterfield says.