Mending Fences: Adult Siblings

At a recent conference, an older woman approached me to tell me about her estranged sister. “We haven’t spoken in 15 years,” she confessed. “Our mother favored her and it led to lots of hurt feelings. We tried to connect after our mother died but it didn’t last. Too many bad memories.”

“Do you still desire to have a relationship with her?” I asked.

She was quiet until she answered, “I’m not sure how.”

I really can’t think of anything sadder. After all, siblings are supposed to be the only person that truly qualifies as a partner for life. What can make such a blessing become such a curse…and last a lifetime? Not every sibling has to be best of friends, I know that. But it is tragic when the relationship disintegrates entirely.

For most siblings, rivalry fades in time. Conflicts dwindle and leave no lasting effect. For others, the pain and hurt feelings linger. You don’t have to be a sibling expert to know that favoritism toward one child can easily cause harm and destroy a relationship between siblings.

Can adult siblings make amends? According to most experts, yes.

Is it worth your time and energy? You’ll have to decide.

Here’s a great place to begin:  Sibling Rivalry: Adult Siblings written by Jeremy Boyle, Research Associate, edited by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.In addition, to briefly reviewing the causes of adult sibling rivalry, the two offer some tips on mending fences. Here’s an excerpt:

Making Friends with Siblings

  • Take responsibility for your part of the sibling rivalry. Do your part in trying to understand your siblings and their feelings toward you.
  • Don’t waste your time envying other people’s sibling relationships. Even relationships that appear good on the outside most likely have conflict and baggage.
  • Your siblings are not children anymore. See them as adults and treat them accordingly.
  • Take the first step. Don’t let pride or stubbornness stop you from improving your relationship. If you wait around for the other sibling to approach you, it may never happen.
  • Realize your siblings have experienced different things in life that make them different from you. Don’t expect them to be like you or who you want them to be.
  • Clear up misunderstandings as quickly as possible. Holding on to resentment and misunderstandings only makes things worse.
  • Set boundaries for your relationship and respect those boundaries.
  • When you have a misunderstanding, don’t assume your brother or sister is wrong. Placing blame is always destructive to relationships.
  • Show up at family functions. If you don’t show up, siblings might think you’re trying to avoid them or that you feel hostile toward them. Even if you don’t feel like going, make the effort to go.
  • Don’t wait for your siblings to make all of the contacts. Do your part to keep in touch.
  • Be there for your siblings during hard times. These times can help you draw closer together.
  • Make time to be with your siblings. A good relationship requires spending time together.

You’ll have to decide if this is something you’d like to pursue…we’ll have more in the weeks to come.

We also invite you to share your story with us. Are you close with your siblings now? Does sibling rivalry still exist?

– Heather:

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