It is common for siblings to have disagreements at any age, but when the relationship is estranged in adulthood, the family dynamics suffer. An estranged relationship with your sister or brother can take its toll on your mental and physical health, too. Finding a way to deal with the relationship and patch up differences is a start to a healthier you and a happier family.
Pinpoint the Problem
Investigate the cause of the distance between the two of you. Many times, siblings hold on to bitter feelings from the past and later realize that the hurt feelings have grown for petty reasons. According to Joan Grayson Cohen, senior manager of Access Services at Jewish Community Services in Baltimore, gender differences, perceived favoritism and even birth order often contribute to estranged sibling relationships.
Determine your responsibility in the disagreement and be honest with yourself about them. Have you said something out of line to your sister to cause hurt feelings? Is there an unresolved issue from childhood?
Once you determine the issue, clarify your own feelings and thoughts as a starting point before confronting or approaching your sibling.
Keep an Open Mind
Listen actively to what your sibling has to say. It’s not easy to hear criticism about your actions or relationship habits, but if you want to deal with an estranged sibling relationship effectively, you have to first understand how your sister or brother feels, regardless of how that makes you feel.
Take turns communicating your concerns with each other to further investigate what has caused or fostered bitter feelings over time.
Avoid becoming defensive and agree to listen respectfully before the conversation begins. It often helps to validate each other’s feelings by paraphrasing what you heard during the conversation.
Meet in a safe environment, the experts at the Mayo Clinic suggest. If needed, bring in a trusted family member or mediator to keep the conversation focused on the issue at hand. An effective mediator should prompt each side to equally speak in a respectable manner.
Admit the part you played in the conflict. Many times, you may not even be aware that your actions caused anger or frustration until your sibling shares her thoughts and feelings. If it appears that you purposely or inadvertently caused your brother or sister pain, admit it, accept the responsibility and apologize.
Offer forgiveness. Patching up differences requires give and take. If your sibling apologizes for an action or behavior that has caused you pain, acknowledge the courage it took to admit wrongdoing and offer forgiveness.
Let the past be the past. Once you have had a productive conversation with your estranged sibling, leave the conflict in the past. Avoid blaming each other for behaviors and words that happened years ago, says Randy Conley, Trust Practice Leader for The Ken Blanchard Companies. Making excuses for your behavior and bringing up old conflicts will hinder your efforts to re-establish trust in the sibling relationship.
Acknowledge that your siblings have unique qualities. Although some of these qualities may frustrate you, know that it is not a realistic expectation for your siblings to act and react how you want them to.
Recognize that differing personalities, goals and interests can enhance your family dynamic. Your brother does not have to conform to your religious beliefs or adopt your sense of morals. As an adult, he should be free to exercise his own beliefs and values, even if they differ from yours.
Make the best of differences by trying to learn more about your siblings. Conflicts often exist because others do not take the time or make the effort to understand each other. Celebrate these differences by showing interest to avoid future misunderstandings with your sibling.