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Can You Forgive the Unforgivable?

There are times when it's worth reconnecting with a loved one.

Key points

  • When is reconciliation worth it?
  • In considering a reconciliation, ask yourself whether the good outweighs the bad in the relationship.
  • Keeping expectations realistic is a requirement for reconciliation.

Is it possible for people to find their way back to each other after what might feel like a permanent rift in an important family relationship?

A surprisingly high number of people have no contact with a sibling or a parent or other family members either because of one ultimate betrayal or a series of offenses that culminate in a breaking point. People can go years without talking, and then for one reason or another wonder one day whether they should consider reaching out and possibly trying to mend the crack.

Take Britney Spears, for example. There have been rumors that in light of losses she has experienced lately, including her divorce from Sam Asghari, she is considering reconnecting with her father. The two have been alienated from each other for some time, and it is widely known that she has said he acted as her conservator against her will and allegedly abused her for over a decade.

The big question is, can a relationship come back from that? Is it worth it to try? How can you make sure you don’t end up exactly where you were when the relationship ended? And finally, can you forgive and forget?

There are many circumstances under which someone might rethink a schism with a family member. There might be a loss or traumatic event in your life, as with Spears' divorce. Maybe there has been a loss of a job or someone important moved away. Maybe a child has been ill, and you are feeling adrift and wanting more support. Or maybe the person you haven’t spoken to in some time has become sick themselves. That might have been another motivation for Spears, since there was talk of her father being ill.

When that happens, people might either feel guilty about not having contact or realize that they may not have forever to make amends. Whatever the case, it is often an event or situation that makes someone long for the family bond, sometimes prompting thoughts of the fragility and brevity of life life and the desiret to reach out.

If you are in such a position, before taking any action toward a reconciliation, it's important to understand that your estranged loved one is likely to be the exact same person they were before the estrangement. There is the chance they may have softened over time, especially if they are facing their own mortality, but it is more probable that they have not. Whatever it was about them that led you to turn away—perhaps they they were judgmental, demanding, or controlling in a way that made it dealing with them difficult, or they were selfish and behaved in ways that left you feeling rejected, neglected, or unloved—it’s likely those traits remain.

Distance can make it easy to forget how hard it was or how bad you felt around them and encourage you to view them as who you want them to be rather than who they are. The reality is, however, that people often don’t change that much. With that in mind, ask yourself whether that’s okay with you, whether there is any comfort to be found with someone who is as they were..Despite the difficult moments you encountered, were there any positive and loving ones? Is there enough good mixed in with the bad to make getting back in touch worth it?

If you think there might be, then consider how much their old ways will affect you now. Maybe they were selfish and never asked about you or your kids. If you make contact with them and they are still as self-absorbed as ever, can you handle it better this time and not let it get under your skin?

Or maybe your sister is struggling and always asked you for financial help. No matter what you did, it was never enough. If you reconnect and she begins that cycle again, will you be able to deal with that and not get swept into a tornado of guilt and anxiety as you did last time? Or wuoldl it be opening a can of worms you would really rather keep closed?

The key question is whether you accept the person for who they are but knowing how to protect yourself and keeping your expectations realistic. If you use what you know from the past about their likely response, you will likely be able to cope with any emotional turmoil. Reaching out could be a good thing.

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