When Family Members Stop Speaking to Each Other - By Mark Sichel
We read so much about family estrangement, about
mothers and fathers and their grown children who simply enter a cold war of ceased communication. Eminen and his mother, Jennifer
Anniston, Kim Bassinger, Jenna Malone, and their mothers, Gerard Depardieu and his son, the Reagans, whose estrangement from
their children even merited prominence in the TV special about the former First Family. The list goes on and on. While glamorous
stars get into the spotlight when there's a rift in their family, the problem afflicts ordinary folk with a surprising frequency
as well. There's a shocking lack of statistics available on the subject of family estrangement, but as a psychotherapist in
practice for many years, it's my impression that cut-offs have become a lot more common than they used to be. I hear this
from other therapists, too. I also teach family counseling to pastors of all faiths and they tell me that family rifts are
an increasingly frequent problem brought to the clergy's attention.
In my own practice, I’m reminded of Gail,
a young mother and free-lance commercial artist in New York. Gail has two of the most wonderful daughters in the world, but
her mother hasn't spoken to her since she married Carlos, her college sweetheart, who's unacceptable to her mother because
he's Latino. Janet is a grandmother of four who’s got a great relationship with her two sons but whose daughter Shelly
hasn't talked to her since she divorced Shelly's father.
Why are so many family members not speaking to each other
these days? If I had to isolate the common thread in these situations, I'd have to say it's because of intolerance. Certainly
that's evident in instances where family members bury each other for lifestyle choices such as homosexuality and choices to
marry outside one's religion, race, nationality or ethnicity. But intolerance is also the root cause of family fights that
lead to rifts, and by that I mean a prejudice toward differing points of views, small-mindedness when it comes to giving up
a grudge, or pettiness and nastiness about forgiveness. It's very similar to the intolerance, bigotry, and prejudice that
create rifts between nations and among diverse groups in our cities, states, and nation.
There are other factors, of
course. For example, these days people feel freer to stand behind their convictions and don't feel as much of a demand to
comply with rules that don't make sense to them. This may be expressed in intermarriage or coming out of the closet. People
are increasingly unwilling to deny their real selves and their genuine feelings and desires. I think that's a wonderful sign
of progress in our society. Unfortunately, often their family doesn't think that's so great. They think that by cutting off
the family member they will change his or her behavior.
Increased freedom has also brought on changes in rules for
civil behavior. Family members who at one point might have been constrained by religion or social custom now feel free at
times to act on impulses that are devoid of spiritual or social appropriateness.
Living with a family estrangement
is extremely painful and can even be debilitating. But I know from personal experience and from treating hundreds of patients
in this situation that healing is possible. The central premise of this article is that all healing starts from within. The
most important reconciliation is the one you make with yourself.. That way, your family's willingness or unwillingness to
participate in a healing process will not be able to take away your peace of mind. When you feel good about yourself and the
ways in which you relate to others and are at peace with your spiritual side, you'll be okay whether or not your family speaks
How to Deal with Your Mother-In-Law - By Debbie Mandel
Just the word, mother-in-law, fills
the heart with trepidation and self-doubt. This woman has assumed mythic proportions wielding criticism, guilt and coldness.
When she visits, you feel like the inspector general has marched into your home. When she interacts with the children, she
is evaluating their manners, academic performance and fitness – tracing it all back to you!
However, in reality
you can dramatically improve the situation simply by changing the premise underlying the relationship - two women in love
with the same man. Now, all the conflicts and criticisms make sense. Next, let your mother-in-law know that she occupies
the primary spot in her son’s heart and always will - after all she is his mother.
Then you need to stop licking
your wounds and spring into action. Change the habitual responses and stick to neutral territory. Here are some suggestions
to befriend your mother-in-law thereby making your husband and children happier:
- Have a sense of humor - See your life as a sit-com. Look at
it from a distance. You laugh at the TV comedy, Everyone Loves Raymond, particularly Marie and Debra’s relationship;
try to see the humor in your own relationship with your mother-in-law. Humor goes a long way to defuse hostility.
- Break the pattern of criticism - When your mother-in-law criticizes
you, listen calmly for a few minutes then distract her by changing the topic, pulling out some photos of the children, new
make-up or a magazine about a subject she’s interested in like gardening, golf or shopping. Get her into grandma mode
by having your children sing, perform or show an award they received.
- Reinterpret negatives into positives - Anything can be reinterpreted!
Be creative and release the anger. Practice it so often that it becomes a reflex action. For example, if your mother-in-law
doesn’t even refer to you by your name, if you don’t even merit a “hey, you,” then reinterpret to,
“She’s being sensitive to my needs. It is awkward for her as I am not her daughter. So rather than confront me
or offend me, she avoids calling me anything.”
- Affirm your mother-in-law. Compliment the qualities you want
to reinforce. Wouldn’t you do this with your child or pet? You don’t want to comment on bad behavior and create
the self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Schedule one-on-one time around her interests to do something
fun together: a day at the spa, lunch and shopping, visit the new exhibit. Get to know her on a personal level and bond. Ask
about her dreams, her career and her past. Knowledge is power!
- Be patient and lower your expectations. Don’t envision
an immediate transformation or a Kodak moment of love. You can expect mutual respect and loyalty. One step at a time. It took
my mother-in-law twenty years to love me, but she finally came around. Where there is life, there is hope.