Prince Harry and Meghan Markle open up about Royal Family relationships: How to heal a family rift

Watch: What the Sussexes really think of Charles, William and Kate

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have opened up about the reported rift between them and other members of the Royal Family.

Harry talked about his relationship with his father, during the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey, which aired on US TV on Sunday 7 March.

The duke said Prince Charles stopped taking his calls when he wanted to discuss the couple's plan to step aside from royal duties.

“By that point I took matters into my own hands, it was like, I needed to do this for my family," Harry said. "This is not a surprise to anybody.

"It’s really sad that it’s got to this point, but I’ve got to do something for my own mental health, my wife’s and for Archie’s as well.”

The Duke went on to say his father is now taking his calls but “there’s a lot of hurt that’s happened” and the pair have “lots to work through”.

“I feel really let down,” Prince Harry added. “He’s been through something similar, he knows what pain feels like.”

Read more: Meghan Markle defended against those who don't believe she suffered suicidal thoughts

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge speaking to Oprah Winfrey. (Photo by Harpo Productions/Joe Pugliese via Getty Images)
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge speaking to Oprah Winfrey. (Photo by Harpo Productions/Joe Pugliese via Getty Images)

The Duke also opened up about his relationship with his brother when asked by Winfrey to detail where it currently stands.

"As I said before, I love William to bits," the Duke of Sussex responded. "We’ve been through hell together and we have a shared experience, but we are on different paths.

"The relationship is 'space' at the moment," Prince Harry continued. "And time heals all things, hopefully."

This isn't the first time Prince Harry has spoken about the brothers being in different paths.

In October 2019, he first seemingly confirmed rumours of a distance between the pair, telling Tom Bradby that he and William were "on different paths at the moment," before adding that he "loves his brother dearly".

The Duchess of Sussex also opened up to Winfrey about a rumoured rift with her sister-in-law, denying rumours she made the Duchess of Cambridge cry before Prince Harry and Meghan's wedding.

“The reverse happened,” she responded when asked about the reports.

She went on to describe her sister-in-law as a “good person” before adding: “A few days before the wedding she [Kate] was upset about something, pertaining to – yes the issue was correct – about the flower girl dresses, and it made me cry. And it really hurt my feelings.”

She said her sister-in-law apologised at the time and bought her flowers.

Read more: Harry and Meghan reveal Archie's 'hysterical' newest word

In addition to answering questions about her relationship with the Royal Family, the Duchess of Sussex also briefly addressed her falling out with her estranged father, Thomas Markle.

“I grieve a lot,” she told Winfrey. “I mean, I’ve lost my father."

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex opened up about family rifts in their interview with Oprah Winfrey. (Photo by Harpo Productions/Joe Pugliese via Getty Images)
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex opened up about family rifts in their interview with Oprah Winfrey. (Photo by Harpo Productions/Joe Pugliese via Getty Images)

How common are family rifts

The Sussex's tell-all interview is unlikely to immediately mend the rift between the families, in fact it could add further distance, but though the reported rift within the Royal Family is being played out in front of a public audience, family rifts are actually pretty common.

Almost a third of the UK population are familiar with the concept of cutting contact with a family member, or know someone who has experienced it, according to the charity Stand Alone.

Around 8% say they have cut contact with a family member, implying at least 5 million people in the UK have made the choice to no-longer be in contact with a member of their family.

"Family rifts, as we have seen with the Royals, can tear families apart, and cause long term effects, sometimes for generations," explains Şirin Atçeken, psychologist and family therapist at WeCure.

"Sometimes, rifts are beyond repair, but it’s important to try and heal them, even if not for the family, but for yourself.

"Sometimes, it is better to walk away knowing you have tried, even without a solution, than regret not trying."

According to Atçeken, family rifts are sometimes not straightforward, can be layered and often arise from unexpected events.

"When Prince Harry met Meghan, I doubt he fully understood the fallout it would cause, both from the public and his own family, and this would have brought up a lot of painful memories for him, making it more difficult to deal with," she explains.

Family rifts can have enormous long term, damaging impacts on both mental health and personal development, including for young children.

"We carry these rifts with us, and they very much shape who we are, and how we view relationships, and ourselves." Atçeken explains.

"We will carry a lot of blame, guilt and shame, and in most cases, it’s misplaced or unwarranted. Our family should be our first port of call, and without this, many individuals will develop unhealthy relationships outside the family circle, and with ourselves."

How to heal a family rift

According to psychologist Dr Maryhan Baker family rifts play out in most families to varying degrees, so it is therefore important we know how to safeguard ourselves from the fall out.

Get perspective

Dr Baker says one of the first ways of tackling a rift is to try to put things in perspective, and understand that rifts occur because we have different viewpoints.

"It doesn’t make our view, or their view right, it just makes it different," Dr Baker explains. "It’s not about changing people’s minds but accepting the differences and coming from a place of compassion and tolerance."

Read more: Five things we found out for the first time from Meghan Markle’s Oprah interview

Create boundaries

The next step in healing a rift, according to Dr Baker, is about creating healthy boundaries for ourselves.

"If we are finding the rift has taken over our daily lives, all our conversations, and we are finding it hard to sleep because all we do is think about it, then we need to create some space for ourselves," she explains.

"We don’t need to be confrontational when it comes to communicating our need for space, instead we can simply say, for our own wellbeing we have chosen to take a step back for a period of time."

Don't rush things

It is important to remember, however, that healing a family rift will likely take time.

"We might be ready to work on healing the rift, but the other individuals involved my not," Dr Baker explains.

"Remember our experiences are all individual, and being respectful of these differences is where tolerance comes. When we model tolerance, others see this and are more likely to do the same."

Watch: Duke of Sussex wants to 'heal' relationship with his father

Acknowledge your role

Even if you are the target of a family rift, you must try to acknowledge the role you've played.

"It’s important to accept your part in the rift, whether you had done anything to cause it, or if you could have behaved or reacted differently," says Atçeken.

By acknowledging this, you can start to change things, and see things from other people’s perspectives. "It’s important that we don’t see family rifts from a fixed position, as you’ll never find a solution or path of communication."

Don’t expect an apology

Saying sorry is difficult, and you’ll only end up disappointed if you don’t get one.

"Work out what your best end result will be, and set clear boundaries," Atçeken advises. "Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, and what you need them to do in order to heal the rift and continue the relationship."

Then explain what you’re willing to do. "Don’t play the blame game, but treat it like a transaction - you're just trading in behaviour patterns," she adds.

Don’t make any promises

As soon as you make a promise, you have to keep it and if you break it, you’ll be held accountable and deemed untrustworthy, or that you don’t want to put in the effort.

"Keep things simple, and set realistic expectations and goals," advises Atçeken. "Don’t set the bar too high for any party, as no one will reach it and you’ll keep coming back to square one."

Stay in contact

Reaching out on important dates is a great way for family members to know that you’re there and supportive, even if you can’t be there physically.

"You’re keeping the door open, and letting people know you’re thinking of them, which is quite powerful," Atçeken explains. "Also, you’ll know quickly where you stand depending on if they do the same to you."

Know when to walk away

"If you have done everything in your power, spoken your truth, and know that you mentally can’t do anymore, and yet nothing is changing, then it’s ok to walk away," Atçeken says.

"For the sake of your own mental health, it’s important to know when to stop, and understand that not everything can be fixed."

Watch: The questions that remain after Harry and Meghan’s Oprah appearance

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