How well do you get along with your siblings? Are you “bosom buddies” or more like “fair-weather friends”? Do you make contact only when there’s a reason … birthdays, weddings, an illness, or an emergency? Or do you frequently talk, text, get together just to be together? If you and your siblings are estranged and wish you weren’t, what can you do to turn that relationship around?
Like a close friendship, brotherhood and sisterhood are bonds to cherish and nurture when the feeling is mutual. Siblings have a shared history. You grew up in the same environment, share the same parents, have common memories and experiences. If an illness or traumatic event occurs, who can be any more comforting and empathetic than your own kin? Studies even show that siblings who have good relationships with one another tend to be more satisfied with their lives and less depressed later on.
Ties That Bind
Sometimes those horrific times strengthen the bonds between siblings … without making a conscious effort to do so. Tragedy, bad luck, an illness can sometimes be a catalyst. Emergencies and events where you need their help or vice versa can bring warm familial feelings to the surface. But how can you rekindle a relationship when bad stuff isn’t happening and you or they don’t need help?
How do you begin to re-establish or begin a closer relationship? What exactly does it take to make meaningful connections with your sister or brother? How can you resolve differences, forgive and forget what might have drawn you apart?
A good place to begin is to show up for one another for no other reason than to have some quality one-on-one time with your sib. If you don’t already know, learn what makes them feel loved and appreciated and demonstrate your love and appreciation based on that. Maybe it’s a hug, a gift, helping them with a task or solving a problem, working on a project together, planning outings and vacations together.
Offspring often play certain distinct roles when growing up. Were you treated differently than your brother or sister by your parents when growing up? Maybe you were considered the troublemaker, the adventurer, the extrovert, introvert, the smart one, or the baby. If your relationship is to progress, you’ll need to drop those labels, and begin to relate to one another with a clean slate, as adults who require respect and admiration.
Maybe your parents didn’t take enough into account that each of you has your own unique set of traits, differences, likes, dislikes, personalities. Maybe they wanted to see you in certain roles that they envisioned for their own personal reasons. If so, you may have a lot of work to do to unravel a dysfunctional sibling relationship, a relationship that spawned animosity, indifference, or otherwise drew you apart.
In some families siblings find themselves pitted against one another, compared to one another, made to feel superior or inferior or jealous that you don’t have what they have. If you are serious about reconnecting with your sis or brother, you’ll need to examine and drop those roles.
One way to show your sibling that you have moved beyond typecasting is to look for opportunities to point out to them and others in the family that you are not living the role you were assigned to growing up and neither are they. If, for example, Sis was considered “the quiet one,” in the family, make it a point to comment on how much you admire her leadership qualities … using specific examples.
Likewise, pat yourself on the back for overcoming bad childhood behaviors like thoughtlessness or cruelty by “walking the talk.” In other words, show by example, that you no longer that same bratty kid … you are a caring, mature individual in adulthood.
Bashing and Rehashing
· It goes without saying: slamming your sib won’t get you far. Avoid petty comments. Sore spots can be comments about their food choices, their physical appearance, proper use of English (or other) language, who they hang out with, digs about their mate or their kids. Be loyal and accepting. Praise them. Appreciate them.
· Encourage communication, expression of feelings. Show genuine concern. Ask them what’s bothering them on more than a superficial level.
· Express empathy, love, and respect. Drop the “little sister” or “big brother” act. Treat one another as equals, like adults.
· Forgive misdeeds, especially those that occurred in childhood. Let go of silly childhood arguments, incidents, childhood pranks, stuff that you kept inside that bothered you about your sib.
· Stay away from hot button discussions. Or if you go there, tread lightly. Avoid coming off as judgmental, preachy, holier than thou, a know-it-all. Subjects that can set those behaviors off often are politics, current events, religion, morality, money, how you chose to care for your body, food choices, bad habits.
· Don’t get in the middle or take sides when family in-fighting occurs. If your parents want to complain to you about your sibling, don’t get sucked into their rants about your wayward brother or inconsiderate sister. Likewise, if some of your siblings are fighting, don’t get involved. Don’t take sides. Say no to getting involved in negative discussions and gossiping. But do say yes to productive discussions and interventions when altruistic help is in order.
More Sibling-Building Relationship Pointers
· Talk often. Spend time together. Create emotional bonds.
· If you can’t be there, call, text, use social media or video conferencing.
· Accept one another as they are.
· Be trustworthy. Keep your word.
· Offer advice when needed or asked but don’t force it if not welcomed.
· Be friends, not just brothers or sisters.
· Be a good listener, not a superficial one.
· Give them more than lip service when they need your help. Be genuinely helpful.
· Be accepting if they are pointing out your blind spots. Take criticisms graciously and accept that they are not malicious. Learn from their comments them instead of being mad and upset.
There’s no right or wrong way. What constitutes a meaningful sibling relationship is different for different people and different families. What you and/or your sibs consider deep bonds may be on a different level than other families’ siblings. Explore with one another the kind of relationship you desire. And whatever form your relationship with them takes, cherish them and continue working on strengthening bonds.