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book cover fault lines

Fault Lines: Fractured Families and How to Mend Them

Karl A. Pillemer


In Fault Lines, Cornell professor and family sociologist, Karl A. Pillemer addresses the common, but not commonly discussed, issue of familial estrangements. One study found that around 27% of American adults have experienced estrangement from at least one family member. The book outlines the collateral damage and intergenerational trauma that can stem from these estrangements, addresses the issue of reconciliation, several paths towards reconciliation, and examines boundaries that may need to be in place in order for a reconciliation to happen. The real impact of the book comes from the wisdom that Pillemer collected in long-form interviews with people who are experiencing, or have experienced, estrangements. Through their words, the reader may experience the universality of their own experience and, possibly, find a path forward. Pillemer presents categories of causes of estrangements including: The Long Arm of the Past, The Legacy of Divorce, The Problematic In-Law, Money and Inheritance, Unmet Expectations, and Value and Lifestyle Differences. 


TRIGGER WARNING: The book is largely written with a focus on reconciliation. If you are experiencing a family estrangement and you are not wanting to reconcile, or just don't feel that this is where you are in your journey at this time, this book could be triggering. The majority of the people interviewed in the book are endorsing reconciliation as a path toward peace, but, for many estrangements, a certain amount of healing and work on developing healthy boundaries may be necessary before taking those next steps.




"Of all the regrets older people have, a family estrangement is often the most painful."


"The groundwork for an estrangement can be established early in a person's life, through disruptions and difficulties that occur while growing up in the family. A history of harsh parenting, emotional or physical abuse and neglect, parental favoritism, or sibling conflict can shape relationships decades into the future."


"People describe estrangement in precisely these terms: a form of chronic stress that never goes away. It may be punctuated at times by a burst of contact from the estranged relative, followed by silence. It is characterized by attempts to reach out that become highly stressful sources of disappointment."


"You can and should, perhaps with the help of a counselor, piece together the incidents that led to a rift, understanding your role and that of others involved. However, when it is time to reconcile, the relationship must be lived forward. For many people, the attempt to create a shared 'backward understanding' will fail, because our narratives are our own and form part of our identity. If you are considering an attempt at reconciliation, you must ultimately move forward together, whether or not the two pasts can be aligned."

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