Emotional rifts are breaches in ongoing relationships. They can happen between any two people — think neighbors, in-laws or co-workers. In families, protracted rifts are known as feuds or estrangements.
Rifts are similar to grudges. One person harbors negative feelings about an event or another person and may resort to payback in the form of a grudge match or turf war.
Regardless of the cause, all emotional rifts follow a similar pattern. First, there’s a precipitating incident that creates a perceived slight. For instance, when a child isn’t invited to a neighboring child’s pool party, her mother feels offended by the girl’s parents.
Neither party is willing to resolve or communicate about the hurt feelings. In fact, supposed perpetrators are often unaware that they’ve committed a social faux pas.
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Injured persons repeatedly retell their version of the incident, justifying their anger and intensifying their feelings of self-righteousness.
Ultimately, the lengthy passage of time declares the rift as both a statement of fact and etched in psychological concrete.
Emotional rifts are most common in people with rigid, my-way-or-the-highway personalities. They view the world through black or white lenses; subtlety and forgiveness are in woefully short supply.
Rifts tend to be repetitive. Those who estrange from one person are more likely to estrange from another. They also run in families. If one member has a pattern of breaching relationships, others are likely to follow suit.
Emotional rifts are equally damaging to both parties. Relationships are needlessly ruined. Perpetrators develop hardening of the empathies. Vast amounts of mental energy are poured down the psychic drain. Fortunately, they need never happen. There’s plenty each of us can do to keep our relationships healthy.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.
How to heal and avoid emotional rifts:
▪ Value relationships. No event or competition is ever worth ruining a relationship. Make getting along—especially with family members—your No. 1 goal.
▪ Apologize quickly, even if you’re not at fault. If you’ve messed up, admit your wrongdoing. If you haven’t, say “I’m so sorry this has happened. I never want anything to come between us. Let’s make things better.”
▪ Accept apologies when given. When someone asks forgiveness, give yours swiftly and completely. If you’re not ready, say “I appreciate your offer. I’ll need a little more time to heal.” Then work hard to put it behind you. Never make anyone grovel, no matter what they’ve done.
▪ Build a workable relationship. If there’s someone in your life you don’t like yet must see often, find topics and activities you can share. Avoid anything that ignites hostile emotions.
▪ Reach out. Be the first to extend an olive branch, regardless of the crime. Admit to the breach. Express heartfelt remorse. State your desire to put this in the past.
▪ Keep the doors open. Sometimes family members estrange from us, rebuffing our best efforts to make amends. Don’t give up. Send birthday cards, even if they’re returned unopened. Express your undying love and sorrow at this course of events. Then wait patiently until they hopefully come around.