Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: How does one end an estrangement? My sister and I haven’t spoken for five years. Despite the fact that I see her as the one who needs to apologize, as does my family, I have continued to send birthday and Christmas cards, with nothing in return. She even left a dinner event without even looking at me or saying goodbye. I was only five feet away.
I’m getting sick of this, but at the same time, part of me wants to prove that she’s the one who’s causing this, not me. This is ridiculous! I don’t know where to start, and the last thing I want is “let’s sit down and cry and talk this out” bullcrap. Help.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Idaho Statesman
Get this message to her, somehow: “I would like to end this estrangement, for the rest of the family’s sake if nothing else. What would it take from me for you to agree to put this behind us?”
If she doesn’t answer, then that’s your answer – there’s nothing you can do.
If she answers and it’s something you’re willing to do, then you either agree to it, give her what she wants and end it right there – or you say you’re not opposed to that, and have a request of your own. Then you request something modest but significant. As in, don’t ask her to assume blame for everything, but do say, “I would appreciate it if you acknowledged X,” where X is a clear and provable thing.
If instead she asks for something you’re not willing to do, then you reply accordingly – “Unfortunately, I am not willing to do that” – and offer an alternative. “However, I would be willing to ... (blank).”
This is all assuming you won’t see her anytime soon. If you will, then you just go up to her and say, “I’d like to get past this not speaking. Are you willing to talk about it?” You see where that goes, and your relatives make popcorn.
Either way, if you do reconcile or something like it, please update your expectations of her to reflect what her recent behavior has taught you. Lasting peace often depends on meeting people where they are, versus where you think they should be.
To: Estranged: You don’t end an estrangement by “proving” anything. I think it’s an either/or situation – you can try to prove she caused it, maybe even succeed in getting her to admit that, but end up being right and estranged, or let it go and work toward ending the estrangement.
True, thanks – “winning” is a stand-alone goal.
To: Estranged: Remember what you can and can’t control. You CAN request an apology, but you can’t make your sister apologize. You can try to reconcile, but you can’t force your sister to forgive or speak to you. Focus on what YOU can do to get to a peaceful place, whether that’s reconciliation or accepting the status quo. If you find yourself thinking “If she would only X” – stop and remember that only YOU control your own feelings and actions.
Right – thus my advice to have each spell out what each one needs to be willing to move on. That is, if each is willing to do even that.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.