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Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-ReynanteMending fences

By Cheryl Dizon-Reynante

Since my last article, I’ve received several questions about feuds and how to fix broken relationships. Chances are, at some point in your life, you’ve had a disagreement with a loved one. Perhaps you can identify with one of these situations:

  • After a disagreement about how much money to send back home to the Philippines, Jane and her mother haven’t spoken in weeks.

  • Miguel was frustrated with his brother Tony telling him how to live his life. Tony felt that he was only trying to help. Three major disagreements later, they stopped talking. Five years have passed by.

  • Andrea was angry at her best friend Marie who did not call on her birthday, and then did not show up at her baby’s christening. She posted this on Facebook, which caused a huge falling out between the two friends.

Reality is, conflict between two people hardly ever involves a one-way street of blame. Often, long lasting disagreements can be avoided if you look at your own actions and words, rather than focussing on the faults of the other person.

Consider your contribution to the disagreement

Did you listen and hear their side of things? Active listening means that you were paying close attention to their message, and were not just busy thinking about your next point. This can be a tricky skill to master.

How open were you to the concerns of the other person? Did you have a respectful, open expression on your face and a calm voice? Or was your body language already one of defensiveness – crossed arms and an angry or hurt expression on your face?

Did you yell, slam doors, or stomp your feet? Once arguments get to this point, emotions are running high and neither person is looking at solving the problem.

The argument happened. Is reconciliation possible?

Both parties must want to make amends. Getting past conflict can actually strengthen the bond between two people.

I want to fix things. Where do I begin?

You must take action. It is not enough to hope and pray that the other will come to you first. If both people take this approach, there may be weeks, months, even years of estrangement. All because no one was willing to swallow their pride and make the first move. If you are scared to act first, just consider that the worst-case scenario is that your loved one will yell at you and tell you they never want to see you again. Yes, you will be hurt, but even if this happens, you can at least know that you tried and can be at peace that you made an effort. However, the likelihood that this will happen is low. Your loved one is not a person off the street; they are someone that you have built a close relationship with, and they are probably hurting just as much as you are.

How do I approach the other person? What do I say when we meet?

Call the other person to set up a meeting on neutral territory, like a coffee shop or the park. If it’s too awkward to call, send an e-mail without harsh words or accusations. Simply state that you want things to get better between you both and that you’d like to meet.

Once you see each other face to face, it is not necessary that you revisit the argument itself. This may simply re-start it, and then everyone is back at square one. You would be on safer ground if you talked about how you are feeling (e.g. “Not having talked to you for a month made me miss you” or “I felt so angry after our fight that I thought I never wanted to see you again, but I realized this is not what I want”). Some people feel awkward with these types of statements because they feel vulnerable and weak. But you’re already in a vulnerable position if you’ve initiated the meeting. Usually, the other person will offer similar sentiments, and hopefully, an honest exchange can happen.

It can be helpful to apologize for any part of the conflict you were responsible for. At the very least, saying “I’m sorry that we fought” shows that you are truly sincere in wanting things to work out.

Extend an olive branch

Suggest that a truce be called and that you both start anew. If the original problem still exists, take out a piece of paper and write out the different options. Or discuss whether a third person can assist with finding alternatives. Perhaps communicating about the issue over e-mail is a better option than face-to-face. This way, people have time to think about what they want to say, rather than making a spontaneous, emotional comment that can be hurtful.

Have realistic expectations

Don’t expect that the relationship will be exactly the same as it was prior to the falling out, especially if a long time has passed since you last spoke to each other. You may not be as close as you once were. On the other hand, your relationship may grow stronger, especially if respect between you both has grown.

However the situation turns out, at the end of the day you can be at peace knowing that you took action and tried to salvage the relationship.

“I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done” – Lucille Ball

Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is the founder of Nexus Counselling and a licensed counsellor with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. She provides counselling services at the Nest Family Centre on Stafford St. and is a proud member of the Manitoba Filipino Business Council. Cheryl has experience helping clients with issues such as grief, depression, relationship difficulties, parenting, aging and illness. She can be reached at (204) 297-6744 or