When family members aren’t speaking

Erika asks: My sister had a big misunderstanding with her daughter (who is suffering from anxiety disorder). It has been two whole weeks that they haven’t talked to each other. My sister thinks that my niece has to make the first move, as she is younger, but it seems that my niece has no plans of doing so, as she is still hurting. What should my sister do, especially since her daughter’s birthday is fast approaching? Should she make the first move or not?

Hi Erika –


What a good sister and aunt you are, to take this on.  They’re lucky to have you.

I have a bit of a problem in not knowing how old your niece is.  I’d see different issues if she was eight, eighteen, or twenty-eight.

But not knowing, I can still speak on a few issues.  Firstly, your sister might be working to train her anxious daughter to face her fears and difficulties.  And if so, it’ll help if you support her in this.  But that support might include telling her if you think she’s doing part of it the wrong way.  For example, perhaps she could “make the first move” by calling her daughter and offering to listen to whatever she has to say, just to get the conversation going, but not promising to do anything in response unless the daughter offers some concession too.  Your job, though, is to let your sister know that you’re on her side, whatever she does.

But secondly, I’m a big fan of Modeling.  And what your sister is modeling now is exactly the same stubborn refusal to speak that her daughter is doing.  And especially with her daughter’s anxiety, that might actually make it harder for her daughter to speak up.  So it might be best for her to change strategies, as a teaching lesson.

But of course there’s the third side to it.  Which is that we are only here in this life for a limited time – and none of us knows exactly what that limit is.  When two people who love each other aren’t speaking, they are literally throwing a part of their lives away.  And if something were to happen to either of them before they resolved this issue, both would hate themselves for it.

So I guess what these all add up to is that I’d encourage you to encourage them (!) to find a way to move through this, to learn what they need to learn from it, and to rejoin each other.  Life offers lots of serious and devastating reasons for friendships and loves to break up.  Misunderstanding is the opposite – a stupid and petty one.  Why let that something that silly ruin your life?!  I mean, no dog would ever do anything that ridiculous, and aren’t you folks supposed to have the bigger brains?!


Good Luck!


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