Although sibling rivalry is common at any age, strained relationships among siblings can take its toll on your physical, mental and emotional health, especially as adults. When tragedy strikes, such as the death of a parent, siblings may need each other's comfort more than ever. Learning how to strengthen a strained relationship with a sibling while grieving family loss is a challenge, but necessary to help form a family support system.
Take Care of Yourself
While forging through the grieving process, it’s important to take care of yourself before attempting to deal with an estranged sibling. Take responsibility for your own feelings, which may include resentment, sadness and even anger, suggests Linda Gryczan, a Montana-based mediator. Acknowledge your own behavior that may have led to sibling conflict and forgive yourself. Reach out to supportive family members and friends to help you through the grieving process. Once you have worked to heal yourself, it may be easier to mend strained relationships with your siblings.
While you are grieving the loss of a parent, keep in mind that your siblings are suffering with many of the same feelings. Do your best to empathize with their pain and express your concern. Instead of reviving arguments stemming from your childhood or past actions, focus on personal healing for the entire family, suggests Gryczan. If conversations are hostile, consider asking a mediator, pastor or trusted friend of the family to meet with you and your siblings while making funeral arrangements and dividing assets. Set boundaries for communication so that mutual respect is mandatory.
Strive for Equality
The death of a parent often brings about questions for siblings. How will we divide real estate and personal property? Will an argument ensue over family heirlooms? If you parents have not already made legal arrangements for the distribution of property, Gryczan suggests striving for equality. Decide on a system as a group to determine an easy and cooperative division. Siblings can openly express preferences and then take turns picking items. Another option is to auction all property with proceeds split between siblings. Although your relationships may be strained, consider the wishes of your parent and do your best to remain polite and cordial out of respect for the deceased.
Death can bring out the worst in some people, but it can also bond long-lost family members together while coping with grief. Take the opportunity to listen to your siblings in order to move forward with your relationship. Show that you want to understand how your sister or brother feels, and listen with an open mind. While it may not be easy to hear criticism, know that it takes courage to share feelings with each other. Mayo Clinic experts recommend meeting in a safe environment, focus on the issue at hand and speak to each other in a respectable tone. Take turns communicating with your siblings and avoid getting defensive. Although one discussion may not cure the pain you have experienced, it is a step in a positive direction to forming a bond again with your siblings.