Over Memorial Day weekend I was able to reconnect with someone from high school. I hadn’t seen him since the ‘80s, and it was fun to catch up. At some point in our trip down memory lane, I asked him about his only sibling, his sister. The mood went from light to serious as he explained how he and his sister aren’t close.
He shared a few things about why they haven’t spoken in years. It was clear that there was a lot of pain there, and it was also clear that he really loved his sister and even missed her.
Now that we are allowed to meet people where they are physically, why not also meet people where they are emotionally? Right now is a great time to reconnect with family and friends. Even those friends and family members that we haven’t spoken to in one, ten, or twenty years.
Life is short. Even if you’re anxious about it, pick yourself to be the one to mend broken hearts and relationships. Don’t worry that it could mean even more pain. I’ll help you get past that in a minute. Just be willing to take a chance on a new relationship with someone from your past.
How long it’s been doesn’t matter. What does matter, is that you never know how much time you have left. Do all the good you can, while you have life left in you.
Let’s go back to my old friend from high school I mentioned above. If he wanted to, he could choose to reconnect with his sister. He may not quite know just how to do that. He may wonder if putting himself out there is worth it. A lot of time has passed, and he wonders if it’s too late. What if he messes it up in trying to reconnect and makes things worse? Let’s address that.
Keeping the Right Perspective
If you decide you’d like to reconnect with a family member or friend you haven’t seen in a while, you must get in the right frame of mind. By that, I mean assume the best in that person. Consider that they’ll understand that you mean well- you’re coming from a good place. Consider that they’ll cut you some slack if you stumble on your words. Assume that they want to reconnect with you. Just because they haven’t reached out to you, doesn’t mean they don’t want to. Maybe they, like you, don’t really know what first steps to take.
The First Steps to Take
Now that you’ve given the other person the benefit of the doubt, go ahead and make that call. I know you may want to text. If you really truly cannot pick up that phone to make that call, then go ahead and communicate with your thumbs, but only to break the proverbial ice. Text that person and say, “Hey, I know it’s been a while. I’ve been thinking about you. Do you have time to talk?” A phone call is better because, in a text message, the other person can’t pick up on the tone, inflection, and sincerity in your voice. Remember most communication is non-verbal and much is lost in translation over a text.
Now that you’ve set aside some time for that phone call, instead of diving into whatever wedge drove you apart, you could use the pandemic as an ice breaker. The pandemic is something every human on the planet has experienced. You could say, “I’m sorry if I didn’t keep in touch during the past 15 months. This thing has affected me in ways I didn’t expect. I want to hear how you’ve been handling things.”
Then, listen. Resist the urge to get in a suffering contest- you’ve been an essential worker, for example, while your sibling had to stay home for a year. Under no circumstances, should you say, “You think YOU had it bad ____ (insert your own bad experience of the pandemic.)” It was difficult in either case for different reasons, so try to really hear and understand the experience of the other person. Give short responses so the other person knows you’re listening and engaged. Ask some follow-up questions.
Re-Membering Each Other
If for whatever reason, bonding over the pandemic doesn’t fit, you can try this instead. Think of a happy memory you both shared. If it’s your sister, like my friend, you could start with, “I was just thinking about _____ (insert happy childhood memory),” or “Hey, do you remember ______(insert person you both grew up with), I wonder what he is doing now,” or, “Remember that ______ (insert place you both used to frequent). I wonder whatever happened to that place.”
The point is to think of something happy that you both shared to break the ice. These topics are pretty neutral in that there’s no emotional charge but if you do stumble on a landmine and your innocent question is met with something like, “Yeah, I remember that person, they _____(whatever terrible thing they did),” or, “Well, that place has bad memories for me,” resist the urge to defend yourself or make the other person wrong. You could say, “I had no idea that person was capable of such a thing!” or, “I’m sorry to hear that. It’s weird how two people can share a memory but have totally different experiences.”
The word “remember” means not only to think about something from your past, if you break it down, it also means to bring someone back to being a part of the whole. So, when you re-member, you bring someone back to the group. They belong, they’re a member, once more. All groups have something in common. Try to find it so that you can rebuild the relationship.
I have a cousin, Michelle, who is the best at “remembering” all of us with the way she shares happy stories from our past. It’s hard to think of the bad times when we are around her. She always knows the dates of parties, who was at what event, and what we were laughing about at the time.
The Key To Healthy Relationships
In this article, they use the word “strong” to describe healthy relationships. It’s not “casual,” or “fun,” or “easy” relationships, but “strong” relationships that are good for your health.
How do you know if a relationship is strong? It’s been tested. It endured. It’s resilient and has weathered storms. This trouble you’re having with your family member can be viewed as a test of strength. Have the courage to choose yourself to lead. Pick up the phone. Make the first move. Stick with it. Try to make things better. It’s good for the other person, and it’s good for you. There’s too much divisiveness in the world. Fix your little corner of the world by making peace with those you love.