Mending Sibling Relationships

by Shannon Philpott

Growing up with siblings can be a blessing if the relationship is healthy. However, many siblings drift apart when conflicts arise. These conflicts can cause hurt feelings, distant communication and even jealousy among brothers and sisters. Mending a sibling relationship takes time and effort from the entire family.

Recognize Differences

Sibling rivalry or conflict can arise from differences such as gender, personality, birth order or even a perception of favoritism from one or both parents, according to Joan Grayson Cohen, senior manager of access services at Jewish Community Services in Baltimore. When there is conflict, it’s important to recognize that each sibling has unique qualities, needs and interests. The first step in mending a broken relationship is to acknowledge and recognize that your sibling is unique and may make different choices and have different reactions than you do. Once you recognize the differences in personality and conflict management styles, it may be easier to work toward common ground in your relationship.

Acknowledge Feelings

When there is disharmony between siblings, the goal should focus on how to move from hurt and angry feelings to a peaceful resolution, Grayson Cohen said. However, that’s not always easy. Begin by acknowledging that conflict exists. Rather than rehashing an old argument and placing blame, investigate and evaluate the cause of the conflict. Validate your siblings’ feelings and listen actively to show that you are willing to work toward a committed sibling relationship. When siblings can communicate honestly and openly, the long road to forgiveness becomes shorter.

Apologize and Forgive

If it is truly genuine, the phrase “I’m sorry” never loses merit in the eyes of your siblings. When siblings, whether young or old, can admit that they are sorry for actions that resulted in a conflict, the relationship can then move forward. A sincere apology and a willingness to forgive can mend a broken sibling relationship over time. If trust was breached, provide an honest explanation of why you or a sibling lied or betrayed that trust, according to Randy Conley, trust practice leader for the Ken Blanchard Cos. Avoid making excuses, evaluate your ability to put the actions in the past and truly forgive one another to mend the relationship.

Set Expectations

There is no such thing as a perfect sibling relationship. But with clear expectations and a conflict resolution plan prepared, you and your siblings can work through difficult times with ease. Siblings should decide how they would like to communicate. For example, outline hurtful words that are off-limits and set an action plan, such as a temporary break from each other, when the rules are broken. They also need to discuss appropriate actions and rules when working or playing together and outlets to vent hurt feelings. Set a timer for 10 minutes to cool off and then determine how to get the conversation started again to work out differences. If possible, especially with adult children, parents should let their children try and work out conflicts on their own, according to experts at the Mayo Clinic. Younger children may need some mediation, but for the most part, allowing siblings to learn how to mend relationships themselves will help them prepare for committed relationships in the future.

Move On

If all else fails, siblings should agree to disagree and decide to respect that differences in opinion are inevitable. Simply stating, "I don't agree, but I respect your right to voice your opinion," is much more respectful then lashing out at each other and rehashing the same argument each time you are together.

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