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Advice Column #11: What can I do when loved ones push me to reconcile?

This month, the advice columnist answers a question about how to handle loved ones who push you to reconcile with estranged relatives.


Together Estranged Advice Column. "My mom takes any chance she can to push me to reconcile."

Q: My father is emotionally, financially, and physically abusive. I am currently low-contact, but other than my relationship with my mother, the rest of our family just ignores the issues. My mom takes any chance she can to push me to reconcile with him, even going so far as to say losing him means losing my whole family. I know what I'm doing is the best thing for me, but how do I continue being close to my mom when she won't listen when I ask her to stop pushing for me to give him another chance?


A: Hi there, anonymous friend!


Thanks so much for writing in.


I wish there were some magic words I could give you, so your mom would listen when you ask her to stop pushing you about reconciling with your father — but I think we both know that’s not how this works.


So, before the next time you two talk, here are some questions I’d like you to consider:


In the best possible world for you (where your feelings and opinions take priority), and;

Knowing that your mom might push you to reconcile with your father, at some point, during any substantial conversation you have with her;


How often would you actually want to talk to her right now?


If your first reaction was something like ‘oh, no, I could never pull back on how often I talk to her, she (and/or other family members) would feel so sad, or so angry, or they would make it such a big problem for me that it would just be easier not to rock the boat, or I’d be scared of how they would react …’ that’s a really important thought — but I would ask you to set it aside for a moment.


For you. Just you. What feels good? What feels right? For you as you are right now, with your mom as she is right now, what would be the perfect amount of relationship with her?


And then I’d encourage you to aim for exactly that much, and let her meet you there.


If you’re used to hearing advice that sounds a lot more like “relationships are built on compromise” or “we’ve all got to go along to get along,” basing your decisions here entirely on what you want might seem like a strange, even selfish, thing to do.


But, really, this is a compromise position — where you bring your framework for the perfect ‘amount’ of relationship to the table, and she brings hers, and you settle on the least common denominator; sharing the time and closeness you can, without anybody giving more than they are able, prepared or willing to give.


Now; how do you know what amount of relationship is right for you? And going forward, how can you build this relationship up in the best possible way?


Let’s start from here:


When your mom pushes you to reconcile, will that leave you feeling unsafe? As in, will this conversation have a significant, short-term negative impact on your physical and/or mental well-being?


For example: “These conversations with my mom leave me in a really dark mental place that I struggle to get back from,” or “Whenever we have these conversations, I can’t sleep for days afterward, and I’m so exhausted I’m not sure I’m safe behind the wheel when I’m driving to work.” If so, stop — do not pass go.


You’ve already done a fantastic job of looking out for your safety when it comes to going low-contact with your father, so let’s make sure we’re keeping that same energy for the rest of your relationships, too.


If talking to your mom (when you think, or know, she’s going to push you to reconcile) is not a safe option for you right now, then now is the time to focus on your safety, not on (re)kindling a close relationship.


If you want, you can send her an email or a text message briefly explaining that you need to take some space, then block or snooze her contact info, and re-engage on your terms, when you’re ready.


But let’s say that’s not the case, and you do feel safe (or, safe enough) to go forward.


When you’re having these conversations with her, how else do you feel?


Do you feel unheard, like she doesn’t believe that he abused you? Do you feel like she’s saying you deserved the abuse, or that your well-being matters less than keeping the peace? Do you feel angry, or sad, or worried, or threatened? Many feelings all at once?


How strong are these feelings? Are they manageable, or overwhelming?


Are they a full-on conversation-stopper, or would you be able to (and want to) continue? (And, once your mom has raised the topic, would she let you steer the conversation to another topic?)


If her pushing you to reconcile is an immediate conversation-ender (because you can’t or don’t want to keep talking, or because she will stay on the topic no matter what you say), then all you can do is come up with some exit strategies to give you the softest possible landing.


These can sound like:


“Mom, you know I don’t want to talk about that with you. I’m going to go now, and we can try this again another day.”


“This, again? I’m going now — next time, let’s try talking about something new.”


“I know I made the best decision for me. Pushing me is not going to change my mind.”


“Wow. It’s so weird that you keep bringing this up.”


“I just checked the time; I’ve got to dash.”


In other words: You can keep asking her to stop pushing you to reconcile, or you can just end the conversation where it’s at — but you’ll notice that none of these are open-ended questions, and you’re not asking her for permission.


You aren’t talking about this with her, and you are going away now. A conversation is not a single-player sport — your mom can keep stepping out onto the court of “but why don’t you just give him another chance?” but that doesn’t mean you have to meet her there.


And if this isn’t necessarily a full conversation-stopper — if you think it would be possible to move on to other, better topics — most of the same strategies still apply.


“I understand, you have to say your piece; moving on. How about that new class at the Y? Is the instructor any good?”


“Oh! Let me just jump in before I forget, I’ve been dying to ask you about [topic of interest].”


“Nope, not doing this again. Let’s try something new. Did you see anything good on TV this week?”


These aren’t just topic-changes, and signals that you’re the wrong audience for her reconciliation talk — you’re also throwing her a conversational lifeline.


Feel free to play around with this structure, and find your own ways of telling her that:

  1. You aren’t going to talk to her about reconciling with your father, but;

  2. You’d be happy to talk to her about something else, so;

  3. Here’s something else to talk about.


If she chooses not to take that lifeline, you can go back to the previous step in this decision tree, and let yourself exit the conversation.


And I’ll leave you with a few last thoughts to consider. You talk about wanting to continue being close to your mom, and that’s a valuable goal — I’m sure there is a lot about this relationship that is precious to both of you, that brings you warmth and comfort and joy. But something that stands out to me, from your question, is that your mom knows your father has been emotionally, financially, and physically abusive to you, and is still taking “any chance” to push you to reconcile with him.


You deserve better.


In a lot of my advice to you, I’ve been thinking about ways to make these conversations more tolerable and less painful; carving out a path for the two of you to meet on neutral ground.


But you deserve more than ‘neutral ground,’ and I hope there are people in your life who are able to surround you with safety, support, encouragement and celebration of all that you are and all you’ve accomplished.


I certainly hope your mom will be one of those people for you, someday, if that’s the relationship you want to build with her — but since she’s not there yet, look for the people who are. Look to your old friends, to new friends, to chosen family. And when you find them, lean into those relationships, and to all the ways you can flourish with the people who treat you with the care and kindness you deserve.


And that goes just the same for the rest of your family members — the ones your mom keeps saying you’d lose, if you stay low-contact with your father. Maybe you really will lose them; maybe, when the chips are down, they’ll choose to stand with you (which, in my experience of estrangement, is more common than you’d think. Not universal, but not rare).But if your family members decide that having a relationship with them is contingent on you reconciling with the father who abused you … again, you deserve so much better.


You’ve done an absolutely brilliant job up until this point, getting yourself free from an abusive relationship and maintaining the boundaries that keep you safe and sound.


So keep on being brilliant — and know that better is out there.


Wishing you all the best,


Hila


 

 

Hila (any pronouns) is the Advice Columnist for the Together Estranged Newsletter. They have been happily estranged for a number of years, and now live with their chosen family and beloved, silly dog in rural Canada. They have a background in mental health, peer support, writing and journalism. Outside of work, Hila can be found recreating desserts from The Great British Bake Off, running on the beautiful trails near their home, singing show tunes, and learning to knit.


 

 

Please Note: The peer to peer Advice Columnist is not a licensed mental health professional; this is not medical advice. If you are in crisis or you think you may have an emergency, please go to your local urgent care center to talk to a professional counselor.


The views and opinions expressed by Advice Columnists are those of the Advice Columnists and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Together Estranged.

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