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Family Feuds
Posted by Eileen Lenson on Jul 14, 2012 - 10:55:38 AM

BEVERLY HILLSJ:" I haven't talked to my sister in over 15 years.  She owes me money and refuses to pay me back.  She says I shouldn't have to worry about money, since my parents paid for my college education and not hers.  But that's not my fault.  Mom and Dad knew she would have just messed around in college and wasted their money."


Family feuds have been around since the beginning of time.  The bible story of Cain and Abel's disastrous sibling rivalry reflects family conflict at its worst.   

Whether starting over something small or significant, feuds can continue long after the cause of the argument has been forgotten.  In my life coaching session with estranged family members, there are several recommendations I make to help reconcile a family feud.

1.  Since one cannot fix something that isn't broken, it is imperative that the real problem is identified.  Sometimes the argument is not about what is being discussed, but is something deeper.  It can feel safer to argue about money, for instance, rather than the meaning that money carries, such as love, importance, or power. 

2.  Remember the better times with the family member.  Do you really want all the good experiences and potential for future positive feelings to be discarded based on the feud?

3.  It is very difficult to fight, if one isn't fighting.  Remember the children's toy, Chinese handcuffs, where two people each insert a finger in a bamboo tube shaped cylinder?  If one person tries to quickly pull his finger out too quickly, the bamboo tightens around both people's fingers, making withdrawal impossible.  On the other hand, if either person withdraws his finger slowly, the bamboo tube remains loose and withdrawing fingers is easy for both participants.  Like this child's toy, the more resistant one person, the more immovable the other person becomes. 

4.  Try being the flexible one for a change.  Give to the other family member your time, attention, and care.  You are 100% responsible for your own behavior, and are not responsible for others.  However, your behavior will influence the other person.  Any change with regard to being less resistant, will in some manner influence the other family member.   

5.  Consider the feelings, wants and needs of the other person with the same amount of energy you place on your feelings, wants and needs.  In other words, develop empathy for the other person's position by putting yourself in his or her shoes.

6.  You don't have to be right to win.  Watch out for competition and power plays.  Consider different options for how both of your needs can be met without competing.  Focus less on the fact that you feel you were wronged, and more about how you can use this opportunity to grow.

Unfortunately, all too often it takes a major crisis for people to recognize what they have lost.  Do not wait, as some unfortunately do, until a life threatening illness reminds you of the potential that could still exist in the estranged relationship.  Look for the gift that can come following a reconciliation with the estranged family member.  It may very well be a gift that lasts a lifetime.

  Eileen Lenson, MSW, ACSW is a Board Certified Coach in private practice.  For inquiries about telephone or office life or business coaching sessions, email her at or visit her website at


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