Family estrangement is not an uncommon situation, which develops from a number of complex causes, resulting in disagreement, disrespect and loss of affection.

Physical estrangement is when all contact – including visits, mail and phone calls – is ceased by one or more family members. Emotional estrangement is when family members maintain some perfunctory contact that is characterised by infrequency, discomfort and dissatisfaction.

Family estrangement often results in significant loss responses. Its ambiguous nature means that the loss may never be fully acknowledged and accepted (because the relationship may still have the potential to resolve).

It is often a loss that is not recognised by society or talked about openly, which can contribute shame and embarrassment to the estranged person.

Tips for living with estrangement

  • Recognise when your actions to reconcile are not working and take time to stop, review and/or change
  • Accept that you may not be able to change the situation (immediately, eventually or at all)
  • Take ownership of your own contribution to the estrangement (even the ‘right’ actions or good intentions can cause another pain)
  • Acknowledge the benefits of ‘relief’ from the relationship and take time to review the estranged relationship (and others)
  • Viewing this time as a chance to grow as an individual (couple or smaller family unit)
  • Remove triggers for pain
  • Make a commitment to self – to live a good life, to grow and to appreciate the friends and family you do have.

Recommended Reading

  • Agllias, K. 2011. “No longer on speaking terms: The losses associated with family estrangement at the end of life.” Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services no. 92 (1):107-113.
  • The Federal Government also has in information website: Family Relationships Online


  1. Charles
    October 26, 2016 @ 4:36 am

    I have been married for 29 years and it has been a struggle to say the least. My kids are grown now leaving me and the wife alone most of the time. It’s terrible. I am seeing another man and we have attorneys all set to go. I am 59 years old and am afraid to move forward. Spoke with therapists and a couple psychiatrists and they all give me the free light to move forward, including my priest. What’s my hang up? I love my partner very much. He is 42 years old.


    • spbloom
      October 27, 2016 @ 11:59 am

      Hi Charles,

      With just the information in your post it’s difficult for me to fully assess your situation. However, from the little I know about you I would say your “hangup” has a few issues. Fear is one aspect. The fear of change, of leaving your comfort zone and probably coming out to many people and making public your life with this other man.

      Lets put fear into perspective. Fear is a normal emotion. It’s built into our brains as a mechanism to protect us when we our lives are threatened by some external force. However, we’ve evolved beyond cavemen and the fear mechanism which protected us from wild animals or truly dangerous situations. In our modern world in most cases the thing we fear doesn’t actually threaten our life unless you’re standing on the edge of a cliff, or about to jump out of a plane, or you are in the jungle and a tiger is chasing you. Being afraid of life changes is normal, but is it something that should stop you in your tracks? Probably not. However, this doesn’t mean ignoring your fear or trying to manage it by convincing yourself it doesn’t exist. It’s a real emotion and needs to be deal with. How you deal with it will determine the quality of your life and success in the next steps. Fear is a reminder that you need to take action i.e. prepare to make a decision.

      Something that has helped me understand fear is this: FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real. The things you fear probably will not happen. It isn’t as scary as you might think it is and once you make the decision then it is my experience that you will more than likely feel a whole lot better. Will it be the right decision? I don’t know and this is part of your fear. You’re worried about what will happen next and are looking for people to tell you that everything will be fine and that this is the right decision. We all seek validation in one way or another, but its how you use it that will make a difference to your life.

      The door you are about to walk through may not be well lit right now, but only by walking through it will you be able to see what is on the other side. Continuing to ruminate won’t get you far. It’s decision time and sometimes there are risks. It sounds like you’ve taken the right approach to mitigating those risks, so now you need to take the next step. Take a breath, believe in yourself, have confidence in yourself and your own decisions, and take the leap of faith in yourself and the love of your partner.

      Wishing you all the best of success. Keep in touch and let me know how things progress.

      Steven Bloom
      President GAMMA NSW Inc.


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