The question: I had a huge fight with my daughter. She had only moved out last September to go to university in another province, and was home for the holidays. She hasn’t had a great first semester, and perhaps we were being a bit too critical of her while she was here. We ended up having a bit of a blowout on the way to the airport. She rushed to her flight and I feel we didn’t get a chance to properly make up. I communicate the best when the other person is in the same room as me – how do I best reconcile with my daughter if she’s miles away?
The answer: Expressing how you feel to a loved one – particularly when hurt feelings or conflict has arisen – is so very important. Surprisingly, however, most of us struggle to effectively communicate with those closest to us. We tend to have the most apprehension and hesitation about talking – and making sure we say just the right words – to those that know us best. This is often because of the history (good and bad) we have with those we love; the vulnerability we feel around those whose love and acceptance we desire; and the consequences we fear of being rejected by those we care about.
It’s important for you to communicate how you feel to your daughter as soon as possible. Time unnecessarily prolongs hurt feelings and may lead to needless animosity that grows. Avoiding the uncomfortable can also result in an easily solvable conflict becoming a larger-than-anticipated source of negative feelings in your relationship with your daughter.
For many of us, communicating an apology in person often feels easier. Because non-verbal signals (gestures, body language, touch, voice tone) comprise a more important part of our communication than the actual words we say, in-person discussions about serious topics are almost always preferable. Sitting face to face with someone provides us with important feedback on how the person we are speaking to is receiving our apology.
As this isn’t possible for you right now, you need to go with a less comfortable means of communicating with your daughter – via Skype or phone would be my first recommendation (to retain some element of non-verbal communication); by e-mail or by text would be my second.
Open up the lines of communication with a very simple message: “I’m sorry about the blowout we had. I love you and wish I could apologize in person.”
Provide a specific apology for the things you said or did that you regret. Then listen to your daughter’s perspective. Make a concerted effort to understand how she is feeling and the challenges she is facing. Find out how you can best support her. Ask her what you can do to repair things, and how the two of you can move forward in a way where both your needs are being met.
Have trust that the foundation of your relationship is a strong one, and that you will be able to effectively move on from this fight.
Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych., is a clinical psychologist and organizational & media consultant. She is the host of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network’s Million Dollar Neighbourhood and is the psychological consultant to CITY-TV’s The Bachelor Canada. Her website is www.drjotisamra.com and she can be followed @drjotisamra .
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