Being estranged from a family member is an odd feeling. We are often showered with imagery and stories of families having issues, but ultimately being happy and loving. Movies show families that have faced struggle, but eventually come to an understanding and find common ground.
Unfortunately, this is not everyone’s reality. Family relationships are complicated and complex, featuring many nuanced layers founded on blood and/or labels. Ideally, these relationships offer love, support and a foundation, yet there are many people who do not experience this.
I am estranged from my brother. We had a disagreement two years ago and have not spoken since.
The disagreement itself was not a be-all and end-all type of disagreement; if it had just been that incident, I’m sure we could have been able to work past it. Sadly, the disagreement was the accumulation of many parts of our past that we had never fully dealt with or talked about. For us, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
There is no need to delve into the complexity and history of our relationship, but it’s the aftermath of that disagreement that warrants attention. Family estrangement is not regularly talked about and this adds to the weight a person carries throughout their daily lives as they try to navigate how to deal with that estrangement.
For me, no longer speaking to my brother has been one of the hardest and one of the most freeing experiences.
It has been hard because my brother was my best friend. He was the one I always wanted to spend time with and talk to. He was my confidant. He’s nine years older than me and our dynamic of big brother/little sister was the envy of many people we knew. It is incredibly difficult to know that this is not who we are anymore and that we will likely never be as close as we once were.
It has been freeing because there was always this underlying tension between us. There were things he did that I didn’t agree with and times that I believed he was in the wrong in how he responded to situations. I was often worried and stressed about how decisions he made affected his life and our family, but I would hold my tongue in order to not upset him or strain our relationship. Now that we no longer speak, his choices do not affect my everyday life anymore.
It is a tough situation to talk about with anyone because there is so much backstory that usually comes with family estrangements and there can be a sense of failure that is attached as well.
Talking to other family members is not necessarily a good option either because the estrangement can also be hard on them. Seeing two family members not getting along, no matter the reason, is never easy to witness.
My family all has their own complicated relationship with my brother, and everyone is dealing with it differently. We are trying our best to create a new normal for our family that is respectful of these complicated relationships — and that’s tough. There is also an element, for me at least, that I don’t want to put anyone in the middle and make them feel as though they have to pick sides.
I am not expert on this topic. How I feel about this estrangement changes weekly, but I have learned some things that I wish were more common knowledge.
- Deciding not to speak to a family member or not continue a relationship with them does not mean you do not love them. Very likely there will be a part of you that cares about them and their well-being, but love is possible from a distance.
- There is no timeframe on how long estrangement should or will last. If you are not ready to rebuild your relationship, that’s okay. Take your time. If you decide that this relationship is no longer healthy for you to continue with, that’s okay too. And, if you decide one thing and then change your mind, that is also okay. You do whatever you are most comfortable with.
- Relationships are a two-way street. The responsibility to mend things does not lie solely on your shoulders. Obviously, each situation is different and there are different expectations of each individual based on that situation, but do not feel that you need to put anything into a relationship if you are not getting anything in return.
- It is okay to set boundaries for yourself. Knowing what you need and what you will accept is not selfish or unkind. Boundaries are healthy and necessary components of any relationship. If someone does not honour them, they do not have to be a part of your life.
- Do not compare your situation to anyone else’s. Everyone’s situation is different and maybe they were able to fix things or maybe they weren’t. Family relationships have many components specific to them or specific to the individuals within them. What worked for one person is not necessarily going to work for another.
- It might be a good thing to go talk to someone (I admit, I struggle with this part, but I have benefitted from doing so). There are support groups and counsellors that will give you a safe place to dissect your feelings and talk it out, even if to simply get it off your chest. Whether you believe you have made the right choice to end a relationship with a family member or not, navigating the emotions that come with that choice can be hard and seeking out support is helpful.
I do not know if my brother and I will repair our relationship, if we can or if I even want to. I do know though that I am not ready to try. I still need some time to work through my emotions and decide on what type of relationship I want. Our relationship won’t be the same as it was before, I’ve accepted that, but what it will end up being, I have no idea.