Three steps to resolving deep family conflict

‘I had an argument with my sister over three years ago and we haven’t spoken since. I don’t know how to fix what went wrong’

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Faith Wood knows how to resolve conflict. Her years in front-line law enforcement taught her how to effectively de-escalate any situation to a successful conclusion. Faith will use her knowledge of conflict management to guide you through the often stressful experiences you may encounter in your personal or professional life. Her Conflict Coach column appears every two weeks.

Faith WoodQuestion: I had an argument with my sister over three years ago and we haven’t spoken since. It’s been a rough three years. Now I don’t know how to break the ice and fix what went wrong between us.

I was talking to my Mom about it the other day and she said she feels my sister has somehow drifted out of our lives. We miss her and don’t know how to reconnect without sounding passive aggressive. Do you have any suggestions for how we might repair this?

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Answer: Conflict is one of the more common problems facing families. Conflict within will break apart any family faster than any outside force ever could. When you resolve to fix this kind of conflict, though, it can feel like an uphill battle. You’re going to need to dig deep to make this happen.

I would suggest you start with these three steps:

Have a discussion

Talking things through should be the go-to in any family conflict. Sitting down and talking to the other person to clear the air generally will deal with any minor disagreements very quickly.

Be ready to express your side of things, sticking to how you feel and how you perceive things.

Read: More advice on resolving conflict

Don’t attack the other person, using ‘you’ statements. Instead, stick to your point of view.

Be prepared to listen and, yes, even apologize if necessary.

Practise forgiveness

But what do you do when the other person isn’t interested in talking or if the talk goes badly?

Here’s where it might be better to take the high road. Forgiveness is a hard thing sometimes, especially when the other person hasn’t asked for forgiveness in the first place.

You’re going to have to ask yourself how much you want peace and how much you want to be right. If you’re serious about removing the conflict, then you’re going to have to let it go.

Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting. But in small matters, this might be your best option.

If the other person has been abusive toward you, you can forgive. But you might want to curtail further interaction, keeping a safe distance to keep yourself from being hurt again, which leads us to the next point.


Sometimes you’re just not going to reach a healthy relationship with this person. When discussions and forgiveness don’t work, consider dropping the relationship entirely for the sake of your peace of mind or, in extreme cases, your safety. You still have to take care of yourself.

This might not seem like a resolution of the conflict but in a sense, it is. You’re not allowing the other person to engage in conflict with you again, so it’s over.

Peace within your family matters. So do you. Remember this as you dig deep to work on difficult family relationships.

Troy Media columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications. 

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