Sibling relationships can be complex. At an early age, tattling, arguing and jealousy can complicate the formation of friendships between siblings. As adults, siblings struggle to cooperate with differences of opinions, values and personalities. When conflict exists among siblings, it challenges the family dynamic. Learning how to work out differences with siblings, communicate effectively and co-exist in peace will alleviate the strain on the entire family.
Pinpoint the Cause
Sibling rivalry is a common occurrence at any age, but certain factors foster conflicts from early childhood on. If one child believes that mom or dad favors her brother or sister, the sibling relationship will suffer. Joan Grayson Cohen, senior manager of Access Services at Jewish Community Services in Baltimore, notes that gender, birth order and personality also contribute to rivalry and conflict between siblings. To resolve conflict, assess the causes of your feelings and your siblings’ feelings. Has jealousy reared its ugly head? Did someone’s actions leave you feeling betrayed? Has trust been violated? Isolating an event or even a feeling can help siblings begin to communicate about conflict, ultimately leading to a resolution.
Conflict between siblings can fester for years. Far too often, siblings find themselves in adulthood harboring hurt feelings from childhood. Instead of coping with regret or holding a grudge, adult children should have open discussions about the conflicts that exist within the relationship. Acknowledge each others' feelings and actively listen to what your siblings have to say. The Mayo Clinic recommends family meetings starting when the family is young to give children a chance to voice their concerns and work out conflicts in a safe environment. Allow all siblings to express their feelings during a family meeting and validate your siblings' feelings during these discussions to help alleviate harbored feelings from the past or present.
Once you have a chance to listen to your siblings’ thoughts and feelings, it may be easier to understand why and how a conflict began. Instead of continuing a blame game or spewing verbal insults, take responsibility for your part in the conflict and apologize. If your sibling is genuinely sorry, it is time for you to offer forgiveness. Although trust may have been broken, siblings cannot work to rebuild a relationship until they are willing to give one another a chance to regain trust. On his blog, leadership and trust consultant Randy Conley notes that offering excuses for behavior will not lead to a resolution. Instead, siblings should outline and discuss how to change the behavior that caused the conflict in the first place.
Conflicts between siblings often evolve because of individual differences, beliefs and values. It’s unrealistic to expect your siblings to have the same views, opinions and convictions that you do. Avoid future conflicts and manage existing ones by assessing your ability to respect the different qualities of your family members. If your sister is religious but you consider yourself spiritual, avoid deep discussions that may lead to hurt feelings. Agree to disagree and respect the values that you both possess. Take the opportunity to get to know more about how your siblings view the world with an open, non-judgmental approach. Family dynamics are made up of personalities that will collide at times. Managing conflict and differences in opinion in a healthy, respectful manner will ward off hurt feelings in the future.
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