How to Mend a Relationship with Your Sibling

Five Methods:Getting Along with Your Brothers and Sisters as KidsReaching Out to an Estranged Sibling as AdultsTalking Things Out with a SiblingMaking a Plan to Improve Sibling Relationships as AdultsSeeking Outside Help

If you are having problems with a brother or sister, you are not alone. It can be difficult to get along with a brother or sister all the time. But breaking old patterns with your siblings and learning to communicate better can lead to an entirely new and deeper relationship with them. The bond between brothers and sisters is often one of the longest lasting relationships people experience over the course of their life. Mending a broken relationship can be complicated, and it may take time before things get better. But regaining a loving relationship with a sister or brother is well worth the effort.[1]

Method 1
Getting Along with Your Brothers and Sisters as Kids

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    Avoid comparing yourself to your brother or sister. Remember that when you do something special, your parents probably make a big deal out of it, just like they're doing now with your sister or brother. Nobody thinks your sister or brother is better than you.[2]
    • It's okay if your sister draws really well, and you're not so good at that. Everyone is good at different things.
    • There are things you can do well, that your sister or brother can't. Don't brag about it or try to make them feel bad.
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    Take turns being the center of attention. You can't have all the attention, all the time. But when you feel like you're not getting enough, it can feel pretty terrible. Try not to be jealous of your sister or brother when they're getting a lot of attention, because this can come across as mean.[3]
    • Tell your parents if you are feeling left out, and they will find some way to include you in the fun.
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    Tell your sister or brother what is bothering you. If your sister keeps borrowing your things and not returning them, tell her that this makes you want to stop loaning her things. Ask her to be more careful in the future, and promise to be careful when you use her things. It is always best to talk things out, and get problems into the open.[4]
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    Don't blame your brother or sister for something that isn't their fault. Remember that kids are treated differently at different ages. Does it seem like your little brother gets all the attention? You probably did, too, when you were his age. Does it seem like your older sister gets to do things you aren't allowed to do? You'll most likely be allowed to do the same things, when you are her age.[5]
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    Take a deep breath. If your sister or brother makes you angry, try to take a break for a few minutes and cool down. If you yell at them right away, it can turn into a big argument and it will be difficult to get things back to normal.[6]
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    Talk to your parents. If you have been trying to fix your relationship with a brother or sister, but you feel like you're getting nowhere, ask your parents for help. They know both of you better than anyone else does, and they can probably come up with a few good suggestions.
    • Don't complain about your sister or brother in front of your parents - this will just make your sibling angry.
    • Talk to your mom or dad sometime when they are alone, and your sister or brother won't over hear you.

Method 2
Reaching Out to an Estranged Sibling as Adults

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    Plan your opening. There are certain times in life when change is more likely. When other major shifts are occurring, people tend to be more emotionally available and they may be more receptive to mending a relationship with you. The dynamics of your relationship are more fluid at these times, so it may be easier to redefine them. If possible try to time your approach to coincide with a major life event.[7]
    • The death of a parent, a divorce, or the birth of a child or grandchild often makes people reconsider other relationships in their life.
    • People are also more open to change when their children leave home for the first time, or right after they retire.
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    Call a ceasefire. If you have the feeling that your sibling wants to repair the relationship as well, call a ceasefire. Acknowledge that you are both contributing to the animosity, and agree to stop attacking each other. However, both parties have to want to make peace, and they also have to want it at the same time. If you try to push the other person when they aren't ready, they will resist, or they may even pretend to agree while secretly resenting it.[8]
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    Reach out in a personal way. When you are ready to ask for a reconciliation, you can contact them initially via text or email if that is the usual way you communicate, or if that's the only means of contact that you have. But never try to have the actual conversation via email – this will almost always lead to miscommunication and to more hurt feelings, which will only make things worse. Always have the main conversation in person, or on the phone, where you can talk in real time and hear the tone of each other's voice.[9]
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    Give them time. Reach out, but then give them time to respond so they can adjust to the information and prepare for the conversation. Depending on how serious the rift is between you two, it might take awhile for them to decide if they want to speak to you at all. The worst thing you can do is try to push them into a dialogue before they are ready.[10]
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    Avoid involving other family members. Parents, spouses, and other siblings will only complicate the situation members complicate the situation at this point. It is best to speak for yourself, rather than having other people try to put their spin on the situation. Your brother or sister may also resent the interference and become defensive, if they feel that another family member has taken sides against them. This will make it nearly impossible to work through the hurt feelings on both sides.[11]

Method 3
Talking Things Out with a Sibling

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    Avoid blaming statements. Accept your share of the responsibility and don't blame them for the problems you are having. Ask them to explain how they feel, and listen to them without becoming defensive. [12]
    • Be open to what they have to say – don't assume you already understand how they feel.
    • Give them time to talk, without interrupting. There might be something you don't know about the situation.
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    Acknowledge hurt feelings. Begin by acknowledging that a problem exists. Investigate the cause of the conflict, and try to figure out where it began. Tell your sibling that you realize their feelings are valid, and assure them that you will do your part to work toward a loving sibling relationship. When you let down your guard and begin to communicate openly and honestly, it will be easier to forgive each other.
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    Apologize. Understand that you created part of the problem, and figure out where you went wrong. Then apologize sincerely, without being defensive or flippant. You can mend a broken relationship over time, but the process must start with a real apology.
    • If trust was breached, be honest and tell them why you did what you did, and what you were thinking at the time. You may need to do some soul-searching to determine your motives, so you can give them a genuine explanation.
    • Avoid making excuses. Don't try to rationalize your behavior, because your sibling won't be fooled by this and they won't believe that you genuinely want to change.
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    Be willing to forgive. In order to move forward, at least one of you must apologize. If the situation involved bad behavior on both sides, your sibling will want to apologize as well. Be sure you are open to their explanations, and accept their apology. Don't harbor resentments, or you will never be able to move on.
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    Agree to disagree. Some issues can't be resolved, and sometimes you won't be able to truly understand why your sibling behaved as they did. You may not always agree on every point. If you both want a relationship, you can agree to accept each other's differences and leave room for disagreement.[13]

Method 4
Making a Plan to Improve Sibling Relationships as Adults

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    Plan one manageable change. Once you have figured out what is at the root of your disagreement, try to make one small change in your behavior to try to change the relationship dynamic. If your sister habitually comes to you for help and you sometimes feel overburdened, try coming to her with a problem that she can help you solve. [14]
    • Be specific regarding steps she can take to help, so she won't have to guess.
    • Changing a relationship is a process. Take small steps at a time, and you will feel that you are making progress.
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    Be on the lookout for emotional roadblocks. Changing the familiar pattern of a relationship can be unsettling to everyone involved. Don’t be shocked if your sibling tries to return to your usual dynamic. Be aware of this, so you won't automatically react in your old manner, and make things worse.[15]
    • For example, if your sibling has always relied on you, and now you want to expect mutual support, they may resist at first. They may suddenly come to you with a new problem to solve, so be on the lookout for it.
    • Family members may complicate matters at first, by reinforcing old patterns. A spouse, for example, may express suspicion that your sibling is being genuine, stirring up negative emotions. Ask family members to support you and your sibling's decision to change.
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    Stand your ground. Change can be frightening, even when it is change for the better – it is easy to fall back into old patterns of behavior, simply because they are familiar. Pay attention to your sibling's reactions, and resist falling back into your old ways. Remind your sibling that you decided together to try something new.[16]
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    Continue to work on your communication. Once things have begun to improve between you, open another dialogue and ask your sibling what your ideal relationship would look like to them. What changes would they like to see, going forward?[17]
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    Spell things out. Decide together how you want to communicate. Don't try to guess how your sibling feels, or what they expect from you – that is how you got to this point in the first place. Decide in advance what will happen if boundaries are not respected, such as a temporary break from each other when the rules are broken.
    • If there are hurtful words that are off-limits, agree to avoid them.
    • If you haven't always communicated as well or as often as you should, come up with a schedule of how often you will speak, and how. Is email sufficient? Would your sister be happier if you spoke on the phone instead? Who should call whom, and how frequently?

Method 5
Seeking Outside Help

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    Try family counseling. In the US, romantic partners are ten times as likely to seek counseling as sibling partners. Siblings often live far apart, and they don't need to find ways to deal with things together on a daily basis, like money or children. Siblings don't always invest as much in their relationship as they do with their significant other, simply because it is easier not to.[18]
    • While few adult siblings sever ties with their family completely, as many as one-third describe their relationship as “rivalrous” or “distant.”
    • Counseling for siblings can be just as effective as marriage counseling, if both partners are genuinely willing to work things out.
    • Experts say the number one cause of rifts between siblings is an inheritance or family assets – money is also a leading cause of divorce.[19]
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    Try One-Person Family Therapy (OPFT). If the rift with your sibling is causing you emotional distress, but your sister or brother is not willing to try therapy, consider going on your own. One-person family therapy is based on the idea that family dynamics can be affected, and eventually altered, by changing the behavior of just one family member. Learning to understand the underlying problems in your family may help you change the way all of you relate to each other.[20]
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    Enlist the aid of a neutral family member. If there is a family member or good family friend whom you and your sibling both feel is a neutral party, consider asking them to mediate your discussion. An outside party who is able to listen to you both – without taking sides – may be able to spot the root of the problem when you can't.
    • A caring mediator will offer support for both of you, which may help you get through a potentially unpleasant, emotionally-charged conversation.

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Categories: Improving Sibling Relationships