Aug 212016 2 Responses

When Family No Longer Speaks

One of the most surprising aspects of the pastorate is coming in contact with families who no longer speak. Feelings were hurt. Careless words spoken. Time has passed with no contact. It happens between parents and children, adult siblings, married couples with their in-laws, and a variety of relationships.

Each time it is heartbreaking.

Families are meant to love each other. No one grows up hoping to lose contact with their parent or refusing to speak to their sister. It is a rightful expectation that families will love and support one another through life. (See: I Know Who Is In Charge of Your Family)

But it doesn’t always happen. There are times in which a person has little choice but to cut out a majority, if not all, communication with a family member. However, those moments are far more rare than many admit. A vast majority of broken communication inside of families is unnecessary. With a little humility, a little love, and a lot of forgiveness, families can begin to speak again.

Two Key Truths

The way families can continue to interact despite disagreements is by keeping in mind two important truths:

1. I don’t have to agree with you to love you. Agreement and love are different things. There are plenty of people with whom I agree, but I don’t love them. We might have the same political or religious thoughts, but there isn’t an abiding affection for one another. Similarly, there are plenty of people with whom I disagree vehemently, but I have a deep appreciation for them.

Sometimes people, especially families, make the mistake of thinking the people we love should be just like us. Our emotions are so high that it clouds our thinking into assuming the object of our love will think and act just like us. When they don’t, it causes us to question our love. It shouldn’t. I can love you even if I disagree with you, especially if you are family.

2. I don’t have to like everything about you to enjoy time with you. Some relationships are defined by their environment. I can be best friends with someone in one setting and have little desire to be around them in another setting. We might have fun sitting next to one another at a meeting, but have no desire to go to a game with each other. If two people find the right setting, they can enjoy one another’s company even if they would strongly dislike one another in other situations.

Families should not expect to like everything about their loved ones. People are different. Families grow and new people are welcomed in. It’s understandable for dislikes and disagreements to be present. But those differences normally do not necessitate divisions.

What relationship is possible?

When differences occur, families must focus on a key question–what relationship is possible? There are situations where relationships have to be severed. Where physical or sexual abuse has occurred, a person should feel no pressure to interact with their abuser, even if it’s a family member. If someone is active in their addiction, a family might lovingly choose to exclude the person until they make better decisions.

However, in most situations, family members can find a manageable way to interact. Maybe it’s not the closeness and connection most desire, but it is better than the exclusion and avoidance many experience.

Finding the possible relationship is determined by the following questions:

1. Can we settle the issue between us? The best case scenario is to find a common ground on whatever disagreement started the division. Sometimes a professional counselor can assist or two people can just talk through the issue. Most disagreements are sourced in bad communication and misunderstanding. When this is the case, an issue can normally find a resolution.

2. Can we agree to disagree? Even if the situation can’t be solved, many differences can be recognized and appreciated. (See: Healthy Families Can Talk About Everything)

3. Can we set aside our differences when together? Even if the differences are important and can’t be settled, in many cases they can be set aside for important events. Maybe you don’t like how your sister treated your mom, but you can still attend a nephew’s wedding or niece’s graduation. Setting aside a difference doesn’t diminish it, but it values family above certain issues.

4. Can we at least treat each other with common courtesy? The lowest bar is that at minimum, two people can treat each other with the basic respect they would give any stranger. They can be in the same room together, say “thank you,” answer questions, and be civil while around one another.

What Prevents Reconciliation?

In most cases, reconciliation is prevented by two things–pride and fear. When families disagree, hurts occur and people become too prideful or too fearful to do anything to solve the issue. It’s always easier in the short term to fester hurts, avoid conversation, and harbor anger. But it is never the best choice in the long run. (See: When Bad Things Happen in Good Families)

Families need to have the humility to reconcile with one another. Admit your mistakes. Understand you may have caused pain you didn’t intend. Listen to the thoughts of the other. Seek the help of a professional.

Families also need to have the courage to reconcile. It’s not easy to walk toward painful situations in hopes of finding healing. It’s not natural to share one’s hurts. Yet it’s necessary. Without courage, problems will never be solved.

The mirage of being one big happy family is just that–a mirage. However, the division which many people experience inside family units simply isn’t necessary. There is a better way if people will do the work necessary to discover the best possible relationships.

Families are guaranteed to disagree. When they do, they must do everything in their power to reconcile relationships.

 

2 Responses to When Family No Longer Speaks
  1. Anonymous Reply

    I have a child that I have a very strained relationship with. If I don’t say or do things the way she thinks that I should she attacks me either in verbal or written form calling me all sorts of names not to mention the viciousness of her words. I want to find a path, but I am not willing to take 100% of the blame and fault for all the things that have been done wrong. I have apologized for things I have felt I did wrong. I have told her that I may not agree with her choices, but she doesn’t need my approval. I have tried. I still try. However I have to be cautious because the attacks are very hurtful and it takes me a long time to emotionally recover from them. I want it to be better. I pray for it, but both parties have to be willing to put their egos aside to proceed.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Sadly, some relationships aren’t fixable. I think you are right to be careful.

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