Secrets. Lies. Betrayal. Anger. Bitterness. Resentment. These words aren’t the tagline for a shmaltzy movie or a daytime soap opera. It can describe the average American family at a Thanksgiving table, and how the closest of relations can interact. Families don’t all look the same, and the personalities and histories of each family will be unique. However, one commonality is that there will be family rifts of one kind or another.

While conflict is inevitable in every relationship, that doesn’t mean it can’t be resolved amicably or constructively. It requires skills such as empathetic listening and problem-solving to deal with hurt and develop a renewed mutual understanding. When well-managed, conflict can help a relationship deepen as needs are expressed and overtures are made to meet those needs.

Family conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s only when conflict meets poor communication and a lack of other important relational skills that it becomes problematic. One way for a family to overcome this lack of skills and grow meaningful relationships is to seek out family counseling.

Family counseling briefly outlined

The term ‘family counseling’ refers to a form of talk therapy or psychotherapy in which a family unit meets with a counselor to work through issues affecting the cohesion and well-being of family members. If all family members are willing to meet with the counselor, the counselor will meet with them as a group, but may also meet individually with certain family members where necessary.

Counseling sessions will typically be an hour long once or twice per week. Depending on the number and complexity of issues that need to be addressed, the sessions will run for several weeks or months. Family counseling works best when the whole family is involved and willing to participate. However, it can still be effective for those willing to engage and grow beyond their current limitations.

In family counseling sessions, your counselor will pose questions to get to know and understand your family and the situations that have brought you to counseling. As you share your family history and explain what’s happening in your lives, your counselor can discern the dynamics that inform your interactions, and they can help you understand the unhelpful ways in which the family communicates or handles issues.

The process isn’t all about finding the negatives, but about helping your family come to a deeper self-understanding. It includes a clearer understanding of your family’s strengths, too. Abilities such as being honest, being willing to listen, considering decisions carefully before making commitments, or having close-knit bonds are all strengths that can be built upon and improved to strengthen your family.

Why family rifts happen

People don’t always get along, and that happens for a variety of reasons. Families don’t all look the same. Some families are related by blood, while others are blended or have been brought together through adoption and marriage. Some families are tight-knit, while others are somewhat distant and cool. Some families want their boundaries to end with the nuclear unit, while still others are large and include relations from far afield.

All this is to say that families aren’t all built the same, and what a rift will look like won’t always be the same across varying families. For one family, not inviting a member of the extended family to an event like Thanksgiving will cause a serious rift, but in other families, it won’t be an issue because they understand those events as being intimate and reserved for close family members.

Having said this, some things can indicate a rift in familial relationships, including when resentment or discomfort exists toward a particular member or part of the family. It can also signify a rift if family members avoid one another or are constantly mired in conflict. Family is often an important support network, and the absence of that might also be another sign of a rift.

These family rifts can occur for many reasons, and they manifest in different ways. They could manifest as family members taking sides against one another, competition and jealousy, avoidance and a lack of contact with one another, and refusing to offer support to one another in times of crisis. Some of the reasons why family rifts can occur can include the following:


Sibling rivalry and splits in the family can occur because one child is seen to be favored more than the other. It could be receiving compliments, gifts, and support, or not being dealt with the same as the others are.

Differing ideals

You might be part of the same family, but that doesn’t mean that you share the same ideals and values. More than ever before, the last few years have seen American families separated because of political ideology, but families can also be divided because of religion, lifestyle, and other values.

Lack of support

Family rifts can result from one or more family members feeling like they did not receive the support they needed from the family. This could be support regarding a career choice, a relationship, pursuing an education, or another endeavor that requires financial or emotional support. Not getting that support when it’s needed can hurt, and it can result in rifts forming.

Poor communication

Being able to listen and express yourself well without blaming, judging, or shaming others is a difficult skill to master. Family rifts can occur because people in the family don’t know how to talk to each other, and they overlook each other’s needs or are abrasive with each other. Different communication styles can also result in unnecessary conflict or the escalation of a current conflict.

Benign neglect and disconnection

Sometimes family rifts occur due to neglect. We may have technology at our fingertips that allows us to connect instantly with others across the world, but it’s hard to connect with the people in the same home. With everyone having their nose in their own devices and activities, families can easily drift apart and lose their sense of connection and intimacy.

Unresolved conflict

The key thing with conflict is to understand the underlying needs being expressed, and then work together to find ways to address those needs with the available resources. When conflict isn’t resolved, needs aren’t being met, and that can result in frustration toward other family members.

Disappointment and disillusionment

We all carry expectations into our relationships, and sometimes these can get disappointed. A parent or sibling can disappoint us badly, perhaps through a personal or moral failure, and that can create emotional distance. Seeing the weaknesses in your own family can bring about a sense of disillusionment, and that may also result in a rift forming.

There are many ways for a rift to form in a family. That rift can form gradually over time, or quite suddenly and violently. Whatever the case, family bonds and relationships are strained, perhaps to the breaking point.

Healing family rifts through family counseling

Family counseling provides a safe space for family members to name what’s going on between them. It isn’t always easy to say how another person hurt you, and a neutral space like counseling can provide the right platform for that sort of conversation. Your counselor is trained to handle complex family dynamics, and they will create the right environment for you and your family to begin working through everyone’s concerns.

Through family counseling, family members can learn how to communicate their needs better, and they will also be better equipped to help each other work through conflict in a healthy way. Each family has its strengths and quirks, and counseling helps you to appreciate your family for what it is and to dream a new future together. If you and your family are working through current or past concerns, you can do so with the help of a family counselor.

Reach out to our office today at San Diego Christian Counseling if you would like to speak to a family counselor in San Diego, California who can help you and your family develop healthier and joyful relationships with each other.

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