A Therapist Gives Advice On How To Repair A Family Rift

It’s never too late to rebuild burnt bridges, especially with family members.

By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | March 6, 2023

Many people come to therapy troubled by a rift that has developed between themselves and a member of their family. They may say things like:

  • "I haven't talked to my brother in years. I don't even know where to begin to try and reconnect."
  • "My sister and I used to be so close, but now we hardly speak. I miss her so much, but I don't know how to bridge the gap between us."
  • "I feel like there's so much history between us, and I don't know if we can ever get back to where we used to be."

Family relationships can be complex, and certain circumstances, sometimes far outside of our own control, can cause us to become estranged from one another. However, with effort and persistence, it's often possible to repair those relationships and build new connections.

If you feel like a gulf separates you and a certain sibling, parent, or child, here are three ways to start rebuilding your bond.

#1. Begin with an apology

If there's been a falling out between you and a close family member, it's important to acknowledge any role you may have played in the situation. Whether it was a specific action (like hiding something crucial) or a pattern of behavior (like pathological lying), taking responsibility for your part in the conflict can be a powerful first step toward reconciliation.

When apologizing, it's important to be sincere and avoid making excuses or justifications. Focus on acknowledging the hurt that was caused and expressing your regret for your actions.

You can say something like, "I wanted to reach out and apologize for how things ended up between us. I know I did some things that hurt you, and I'm truly sorry for that. I want to make things right between us and start rebuilding our relationship."

It's important to remember that, after a certain point, it does not matter who was right or who takes the blame as long as both of you decide to leave the bitterness behind. A study published in Personality and Individual Differences highlights the restorative powers of forgiveness and suggests that choosing to let things go is far better than acting vengefully or holding a grudge in the long run.

#2. Focus on the present and the future

While it's important to acknowledge past hurt and conflict, dwelling on these issues can prevent you from moving forward and rebuilding your relationship. Instead, try to focus on the present and the future.

Start by finding common ground with your sibling. This could be shared interests, values, or experiences. Make an effort to spend time together and engage in activities that you both enjoy. This can help to create new positive memories and associations, which can help you both move past an old wound.

It's also important to be patient and realistic. Rebuilding a relationship takes time, and there may be setbacks along the way. Remember that progress is often slow and incremental. Focus on small steps towards reconnection.

#3. Seek help if needed

Reconnecting with an estranged family member can be a difficult and emotional process. It's okay to seek support if you're struggling with the process.

Therapy can be a helpful resource for working through difficult emotions and developing strategies for reconnecting with the family member.

A therapist can also help you to identify any patterns or dynamics in your relationship that may be contributing to the estrangement, and develop new communication and relationship skills. According to a study published in the American Journal of Family Therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy with a professional family therapist is a great choice for resolving family estrangement.


Reconnecting with an estranged family member can be a challenging process, but it's often worth the effort. By starting with a sincere apology, focusing on the present and the future, and seeking support if needed, you can begin to build new connections with this person and create a more positive and fulfilling relationship.