Looking For Answers? Talk With an Expert Local Advisor For Free.

By clicking Submit, you agree to the terms and conditions of our privacy policy. You also consent that we, or our partner providers, can reach out to you using a system that can auto-dial. Your consent is not required to use our service.

Estrangements in the Family: What Causes It, and How to Cope

Estrangements can be excruciatingly painful—and they’re not uncommon. In some cases, reconciliation is possible, however. If you’ve been thinking of reaching out to an estranged loved one, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Try to understand the situation from their point of view

Woman in Wheelchair

Estrangement can be extremely painful. It usually occurs when two people who love each other very much reach an impasse in their relationship, and this often does not occur out of the blue.

You may not be ready to reach out to the other person until you’ve given the situation a great deal of thought and are able to understand the other person’s point of view. This can be extremely difficult, and it may not be possible in some instances. But it’s important that you try—including talking to a therapist as part of your preparation. The best way to approach the other person is from a place of understanding and sympathy.

Know what you want

If you’re planning to get in touch with someone and want them to apologize, acknowledge you were right, or change their behavior, your reconnection attempt will probably not work. The other person may be at fault for the occurrences that led to the estrangement—you may in fact be right, in other words—but it doesn’t matter. If you are the one who wants a reconciliation and are reaching out, you will need to approach the other person without demands.

Accept responsibility

The other person may be harboring bad feelings about your behavior—and it will be important to them that you acknowledge your role in the estrangement, even if the other person was the one who initiated it. Before you contact the other person, be sure you’re ready to acknowledge what you did wrong and apologize for it. Pride isn’t likely to get you the relationship you want.

Keep your expectations low

When you contact the person, it’s possible there will be a dramatic reconciliation, apologies, and a new, strengthened relationship. But it’s more likely that even if your approach is accepted, there will be a lot of issues to work through—and the relationship will not be perfect. It’s important to recognize that high expectations may not be realistic.

Don’t take it too hard if the other person does not respond

For many people attempting a reconciliation, the worst thing that can happen isn’t that the other person won’t respond the way the reconciler wants. It’s that they might not respond at all. It’s possible that the estrangement weighs more heavily on you than on the other person. It’s also possible that the other person is simply not ready for a reconciliation. But trying and failing to start a reconciliation is better than not trying.  

Sometimes reconciliation isn’t the ideal scenario

The truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all estrangement scenario. Every family and situation is different, and in some cases, estrangement is preferable—at least to some family members. It’s also possible that the events leading up to an estrangement are strongly tied to one person’s mental illness or addiction problem, or to instances of abuse in the past. If this is the case, reconciliation can be more complicated.

Estrangement can be extremely painful. It usually occurs when two people who love each other very much reach an impasse in their relationship, and this often does not occur out of the blue—it can take many years of hurt feelings on both sides to lead up to an estrangement. If you want to heal the rift, you may have to meet the other person more than halfway. Try to understand the situation from their point of view, and don’t approach them with any demands or expectations. In particular, do not expect the other person to apologize, admit they were wrong, or change their behavior to fit your expectations. The more understanding you can be, the better the chances that you’ll be able to reconcile.