Healing a Rift Between Friends or Family

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By Lynette M. Smith
By Lynette M. Smith

Even good relationships can be damaged by an argument, jealousy, misunderstanding, insult, rumor, or buildup of small resentments.

Sometimes things blow over quickly, but other times the upset lasts for years or even indefinitely. As time passes, people may even forget why they originally became upset.

Meanwhile, discord eats away at the peace of mind of those involved, and that affects the body. Negative emotions can release adrenaline and cortisol, chemicals useful in short-term fight-or-flight responses but destructive to the immune system when circulated in the bloodstream for extended periods. Augustine of Hippo (St. Augustine, 354–430 A.D.) wrote, “Resentment is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies.”

Further bodily damage can be wrought. Many believe the mind delivers to your body whatever you speak, think, or otherwise focus on. If true, what bodily symptoms might result from expressing such thoughts as “He’s a real pain in the neck/butt,” “She makes me sick,” or “I’m so sick and tired of that guy”?

Friends surrounding this ailing relationship are affected, too. After a friendship breaks up, party hosts may rightly invite both feuding friends; but then they may be asked awkward questions regarding whether the other person plans to attend. If both individuals attend anyhow, they may avoid or confront one other, making others uncomfortable.

What about innocent bystanders within the family—parents, children, siblings, and grandparents? Some family members feel forced to choose sides if two of their children or siblings aren’t speaking to each other. And how do you manage family holidays together? A schism within the family destroys peace.

All these unpleasant side effects are ample incentive to try to mend the torn relationship and restore peace and harmony between the two of you and among those dear to you both.

Writing a reconciliation letter is a good first step. Deliver your truth with compassion. Start with a sincere compliment or other positive statements; then create an emotional connection by mentioning what you’ve always enjoyed about each other or what you once enjoyed doing together—times you both treasured.

Acknowledge that no two people ever perceive or recall a situation in exactly the same way. Truthfully but kindly describe the situation—as you recall it—that you believe has caused the current upset. Avoid starting sentences with “You,” such as “You said,” as these statements seem accusatory. Instead, describe your own feelings in response to circumstances at the heart of the upset, e.g., “I was devastated when I heard that statement made in front of everyone at the party.”

Accept responsibility and apologize for any part you may have played in the upset. Then ask for and/or extend forgiveness—whatever is appropriate. End by expressing hope of reconciliation, or at least an agreement to “live and let live,” for personal peace as well as harmony among affected family and friends.

To allow the other person a chance to offer a considered response, not an emotionally charged one, mail your letter. Don’t ask for signed proof of delivery; this could be interpreted as a pressure tactic or power play. Just write “Personal & Confidential—Please Deliver Unopened” to the right of your return address to help ensure privacy.

If you receive no response within a month, send a brief note stating you hope the note finds him or her well, you care about your relationship, and you’re hoping to hear from him or her regarding the letter you sent on (date). Consider attaching a duplicate of the letter, just in case.

With that, you’ll know you’ve made your best peacemaking effort; accept the outcome. Forgive yourself, if you haven’t already, for anything you might have contributed to the upset, because this, too, is healing. Finally, should you find yourself face to face with the other person, behave as if the upset never happened in the first place. This makes it easy, if the other person so desires, to gracefully resume that good relationship, without embarrassment or any need to explain.

And if, in the future, any resentment toward the other person creeps back into your thoughts, immediately forgive him or her mentally, and then once again forgive yourself. Repeat as often as needed.

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Lynette M. Smith is a professional copyeditor and owner of All My Best Business and Nonfiction Copyediting (www.AllMyBest.com) in Yorba Linda, California. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed comprehensive reference book, How to Write Heartfelt Letters to Treasure: For Special Occasions and Occasions Made Special (www.GoodWaysToWrite.com)..

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