Family Matters: Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Apologies can be difficult, but Yom Kippur is a time to put conflict aside and embrace a fresh new start.

Couple watching sunset (photo credit: Wikicommons)
Couple watching sunset
(photo credit: Wikicommons)
Yom Kippur is the day in which we ask God to forgive us for all our sins. This is also the day when we are asked to arrive with a clean slate, having asked the forgiveness of all those we might have hurt during the past year.
But asking someone close to us for forgiveness or even just initiating a meeting with them seems to many a more daunting task than splitting the Red Sea.
In my work as a counselor, I was asked by one of my clients to mediate between him and a very close friend of his who he considered family. A few months earlier they had a small argument and they haven’t been speaking since. Now, months later, he is still very angry with his friend, not sure why, and wants things between them to go back on track. I agreed to help mediate and gained a few insights along the way.
Take the Band-Aid off with one pull
Everyone has a few chores that they do their best to avoid. For some, it’s taking out the garbage, for others paying the bills. These tasks will probably be pushed to the bottom of our to-do-list time and time again. This happens because we have negative emotions, such as anxiety or repulsion associated with these specific tasks. But even worse than that- these negative emotions will intensify as long as the task is still undone. Every time we postpone it we remind ourselves it’s still there, which makes us even more anxious about doing it.
It’s no wonder then, that making that first phone call to someone we haven’t been speaking to in a long time would be so hard.  It’s so much easier to delay it, and then delay a little more… and soon enough one Yom Kippur has passed and the next is approaching.
The best advice here is to define this job as the most urgent and important thing you have to do; put this task at the head of your to-do-list. Promise yourself you’re not going to move on to any other task on your list before this task is well and truly done. By doing so you will ensure that the task doesn’t get pushed further along the list and your level of anxiety will be significantly reduced. Whatever this phone call brings, at least you know you struck it off your list.
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Memory is a funny thing
We ordinarily tend to trust our own memories and doubt memories of others, especially when those seem to contradict ours.
When faced with the question: “When did it all start?” we might be absolutely sure we know the right answer. We will be very surprised to discover that the other party has a completely different answer at hand.
In the scenario I mentioned earlier, one of the parties declared with hesitance that the conflict began when an idea he put forward was made fun of. The other party claimed that in his eyes, the conflict started when his friend kept on screening phone calls from him. That really hurt his feelings. He didn’t realize at the time that a stupid joke he made was the reason his friend didn’t answer any of his calls.
If there is a disagreement as to the cause of the conflict it means that there will be two different monologues going on instead of one dialog. Each of the sides will be discussing a different conflict, in a way. Therefore, try to explain as early on in the conversation as possible, what you see as the cause of the conflict. At the same time, don’t forget to encourage the other side to offer his take on things.
Avoid starting World War III
Don’t fall into the trap of starting another argument - this time over what led to the first argument. It doesn’t matter if they are mad at you for a reason different to what you’d imagined. It’s better to listen to what they have to say and respond to that, rather than disregard their opinion or challenge it.
This is one of these times in which it is more important to do right than to be right. Before you respond, spend a few moments thinking if what you’re about to say is more likely to get you out of the argument, or to inflame it. Of course it takes two to tango, but at least you can do your bit.
Shimrit Nothman has a Masters degree in Conflict Resolution and believes that like charity, conflict resolution begins at home. If you have any questions for Shimrit, please use the comments section below or email her at [email protected].
This column is brought to you as general information only and should not be a replacement for professional advice.