Dear Miriam,

I am looking for advice on how to manage a family falling-out. My husband farms the family farm and a member of his family living locally no longer speaks to us. They are not interested in reconciliation and make their feelings about us very obvious.

I am personally finding it increasingly difficult to handle this alienation. I’m exhausted from hiding from social situations and worrying that everyone I meet thinks the same of us, as this family do. As much as I try to avoid it, we encounter each other through our children’s activities. I try not to let our children miss out because of this situation.

In an ideal world, I would like to move out of the area, but as the farm is our livelihood, we do not have this option. I feel increasingly trapped and would like to know of anyone who has managed a situation like this with any success. I have never fallen out with anyone and don’t know how to handle it.

Thanks very much.


Miriam responds

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for your letter. I can feel the strain of this situation in almost every line you write. I get the impression that each time you step outside your front door, you are almost “steeling” yourself for a stressful encounter. That all takes its toll, especially when you just want to be able to live your life in peace.

I don’t know what caused this family fall-out, but I can tell you that I found myself in a similar situation, but in a different context. I remember that queasy feeling in my stomach, worrying what others might think etc. But do you know what I eventually realised? They were the reason for the falling-out, not me, and yet I was the person paying the price for it. And I asked myself, why should I allow any person to have this power over me? Why should I make myself “smaller” so that they could feel “bigger”? Why should their issues impact my ability to live a happy and full life with the people I love and who love me?

So, I took my power back. I held my head up high and I lived my life the way that I wanted to. I’m not saying that it was easy at the start. But do you know what? When I realised that these people- or their opinions- really were of no consequence to me, they lost their hold over me. And I didn’t look back.

I know you might be thinking, “Well, that’s all well and good; but what about when you run into them at the shop? Or at the school gate? What can I do practically to deal with these situations?” I think to really figure this out, it would be a very good idea to work with a counsellor (maybe you have already; but if you found that they were not the right fit, it might be worth trying another person). You mention at the end of your letter that you have “never fallen out with anyone and don’t know how to handle it”. I don’t think that you need to figure out how to “fall-out” with somebody; but you need to make peace with the situation and focus on what is really important: your own happiness and that of your family. A counsellor could support you in re-building your confidence, strengthening your own boundaries and supporting your self-care practice, as well as giving you practical mindfulness-type tools for dealing with panic etc in stressful situations.

Of course, you also mention that you would be happy to hear from other readers and if people would like to share their advice for publication, I will be happy to hear from them. Family fall-outs are a lot more common than you might think, and while we fear that everybody might be talking about us, I find that most people get bored easily and move on to the next thing.

I encourage you to put yourself first; and to get all the support you need to put this behind you. I wish you the best of luck.

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