Real solutions to a hidden epidemic: family estrangement.
By Karl Pillemer, Ph.D.
Estrangement from a family member is one of the most painful life experiences. It is devastating not only to the individuals directly involved–collateral damage can extend upward, downward, and across generations, More than 65 million Americans suffer such rifts, yet little guidance exists on how to cope with and overcome them.
In this book, Karl Pillemer combines the advice of people who have successfully reconciled with powerful insights from social science research. The result is a unique guide to mending fractured families.
Fault Lines shares for the first time findings from Dr. Pillemer’s ten-year groundbreaking Cornell Reconciliation Project, based on the first national survey on estrangement; rich, in-depth interviews with hundreds of people who have experienced it; and insights from leading family researchers and therapists. He assures people who are estranged, and those who care about them, that they are not alone and that fissures can be bridged.
Through the wisdom of people who have “been there,” Fault Lines shows how healing is possible through clear steps that people can use right away in their own families. It addresses such questions as: How do rifts begin? What makes estrangement so painful? Why is it so often triggered by a single event? Are you ready to reconcile? How can you overcome past hurts to build a new future with a relative?
Tackling a subject that is achingly familiar to almost everyone, especially in an era when powerful outside forces such as technology and mobility are lessening family cohesion, Dr. Pillemer combines dramatic stories, science-based guidance, and practical repair tools tohelp people find the path to reconciliation.
The breakdown of your family unit can mean the destruction of each individual emotionally. Is your teen controlling your household? Do you feel like you’re constantly walking on eggshells? Have you exhausted your local resources? Is this tearing your family apart? It might be time to consider outside resources.
Are you struggling with family conflict in your home?
Does your teen make you feel like your walking on eggshells?
You’re not alone!
Conflict can happen when family members, especially teenagers, have different views (wants or needs) or beliefs that clash. Sometimes conflict can occur when people misunderstand each other and jump to the wrong conclusion. Issues of conflict that are not resolved peacefully can lead to arguments and resentment.
It is normal to disagree with each other from time to time. Occasional conflict is part of family life. However, ongoing conflict can be stressful and damaging to relationships. Some people find it difficult to manage their feelings and become intentionally hurtful, aggressive or even violent.
Communicating in a positive way with your teen can help reduce conflict so that family members can reach a peaceful resolution. This usually means that everyone agrees to a compromise or agrees to disagree.
Sometimes, strong emotions or the power imbalances that can be present in relationships are difficult to resolve and can only be addressed in a counselling situation.
Common causes of family conflict
It is well recognized that some of the stages a family goes through can cause conflict. These may include:
Learning to live as a new couple (new step-parents)
Birth of a baby (new siblings)
Birth of other children
A child going to school (changing schools)
A child becoming a young person (puberty)
A young person becoming an adult.
Each of these stages can create new and different stresses and potential conflict.
Changes in the family situation can also take a toll on the family and contribute to conflict.
This may include events such as:
Separation or divorce
Moving to a new house or country
Travelling long distances to work
Commuting interstate for work.
Change in financial circumstances.
All of these common events can impact a teen’s young emotional life as much as a parent will try to make the transistion seamless.
Agreeing to negotiate
Usually, our first angry impulse is to push the point that we are right and win the argument at any cost. Finding a peaceful resolution can be difficult, if not impossible, when both parties stubbornly stick to their guns. It helps if everyone decides as a family to try listening to each other and negotiating instead.
Work out if the issue is worth fighting over.
Try to separate the problem from the person.
Try to cool off first if you feel too angry to talk calmly.
Keep in mind that the idea is to resolve the conflict, not win the argument.
Remember that the other party isn’t obliged to always agree with you on everything.
Define the problem and stick to the topic.
Respect the other person’s point of view by paying attention and listening.
Talk clearly and reasonably.
Try to find points of common ground.
Agree to disagree (within reason with a teen).
Try to listen
Conflict can escalate when the people involved are too angry to listen to each other. Misunderstandings fuel arguments. Suggestions include:
Try to stay calm.
Try to put emotions aside.
Don’t interrupt the other person while they are speaking.
Actively listen to what they are saying and what they mean.
Check that you understand them by asking questions.
Communicate your side of the story clearly and honestly.
Resist the urge to bring up other unresolved but unrelated issues.
Work as a team
Once both parents and teen understand the views and feelings of the other, you hopefully can work out a solution together.
Come up with as many possible solutions as you can.
Be willing to compromise.
Make sure everyone clearly understands the chosen solution.
Once the solution is decided on, stick to it.
Write it down as a ‘contract’, if necessary.
There are services available to help family members work through difficult issues of conflict. Seek professional advice if you think you need some assistance. A local therapist through your insurance provider or a referral from a friend or family doctor could help get you started.
If your teen continues to cause contention and conflict in your home, it might be time to consider resources such as residential therapy to determine where their anger is stemming from.
Order the new best selling book on family conflict, Fault Lines.