January is a time of reflection and resolutions. People often think about goals for the new year, and relationship repair is one of the most admirable. We are also on the heels of many family gatherings, some of which may have been strained, awkward, or uncomfortable.
In our practice, we see the lasting and detrimental effects that difficult family relations can cause. This January, why not take a moment to reflect on your interactions with family in 2023 and resolve to work on repairing an interaction that you regret.
The concept of repair has been circulated lately by Dr. Becky Kennedy, a clinical psychologist who has been dubbed the “millennial parent whisperer”. In her 2023 Ted Talk titled “The Single Most Important Parenting Strategy,” Dr. Kennedy prefaces her talk by explaining that the concept of repair applies to all relationships, not just parent-child.
Here’s how it works: Go back to a moment when you either acted in a way that you regret, or something just felt off. This is the moment of disconnection.
You first have to separate your identity from your behavior. It is important to be able to see that the action that you regret taking does not define you.
Think of the difference between these statements: I am a bad person. I am a good person who did something bad. Dr. Kennedy suggests using the following statements: “I am not proud of my behavior. My behavior does not define me.”
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Once you acknowledge to yourself that the action you’re not proud of does not define who you are, the next step is to take responsibility for your action. Then acknowledging the impact it had on another. This is different than an apology because it opens up the conversation with the other person rather than trying to end it.
For example, if you found yourself falling into old family habits and made a snarky comment about how much food your sister had on her plate at dinner, reflect first on why you did this and understand that the behavior does not define you. Then let your sister know that you are not proud of your reaction and acknowledge that you understand it was probably hurtful to her.
The conservation can go something like this: “I was thinking about something that happened on Christmas Eve. I made an inconsiderate comment about the amount of food on your plate, and I’m sorry. It must have made you feel bad. I’m working on unwinding coping mechanisms that I developed and learned to help my own self-esteem.”
You may be thinking this is too simple and won’t have any benefit. But before you brush it off, think of an interaction where you feel someone did not treat you right. How would you feel if you received a short but heartfelt message like this?
If you’re struggling to even think of something that happened in 2023, it does not mean you and your loved ones would not benefit from this exercise. The more we repair our relationships, the more we can help to change the story of a memory, even if the incident occurred many years ago.
I’ll leave you with the words from the Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness, Ho’oponopono, which can be used to release negative emotions and past traumas, thereby elevating well-being. This mantra is a way for you to repair internally if reaching out to another is too difficult right now.
Please Forgive Me.
I Love You.
Wishing you the best in 2024 and, as Dr. Kennedy says, even if it’s not all sunshine and roses, those difficult moments just give you more opportunities to repair!
Joan Reed Wilson Esq. – Managing Partner
Practices in the areas of estate planning, elder law, Medicaid planning, conservatorships, probate and trust administration, and real estate. Admitted to practice in the States of Connecticut and California, she is the President of the CT Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), an active member of the Elder Law Section of the Connecticut Bar Association, accredited with the PLAN of CT for Pooled Trusts, with the Veteran’s Administration to assist clients with obtaining Aid & Attendance benefits for long-term care needs and with the Agency on Aging’s CareLink Network.