How To Fix A Strained Relationship With A Sibling

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two sisters jogging together

If you have a brother, sister, or both, you're probably already aware that, just like any other relationship, sibling relationships can be complicated.

Siblings may be as close as best friends, as distant as mere acquaintances, or anywhere in-between.

Siblings can provide a sense of fulfillment, connection, and love for each other. However, they can also be the cause of pain, hurt, and betrayal, which creates family discord.

Think of those images in mainstream media of siblings fighting at their parents’ Thanksgiving dinner. Or the empty seats at the table due to feuding siblings who refused the invitation.

How awkward!

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Moving past the hurt caused by strained sibling relationships is not easy, regardless of the reasons.

Discord may have been brewing since childhood. Or, maybe your feud is more recent. Either way, fixing the strain goes more smoothly when siblings learn how to recognize the bigger picture.

Family harmony benefits the entire family.

When the feuding becomes so intense, it's easy to forget that tension, awkwardness, and distance due to a strained sibling relationship affects more than just the rivaling siblings.

Everyone in the entire family unit is affected when siblings don't get along.

Moving past the strain is possible, but requires effort. Any "fixing" done by sweeping conflict or grudges under the rug is likely temporary — and it's not really a "fix."

Band-Aids don’t stay on for long. A wound requires more than a bandage in order to truly heal.

The same is true for strained sibling relationships.

Sincerely addressing the rift requires maturity and a mutual desire to move on. Remember that an incentive for moving on is that each of you benefits, as does the entire family.

Unlike a dating relationship, your family is your family forever.

So, if you want to fix strained sibling relationships, here are 3 ways to get started.

1. Update your new sibling roles.

Siblings have roles in a family that they tend to stick like velcro. "The baby," "the goody-goody,” and "the rebel" are examples of labels that often remain, no matter how much time has passed.

Recognize that sibling conflict often has deeply seeded roots, to the point where the original reason or cause for the strain has gotten buried in the meantime. Maybe the reason is no longer even relevant.

Update your place in time. You're not children anymore. Use your adulting skills to improve your relationship with each other.

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2. Look at the conflict from your sibling's point of view.

You're fixed in your version of the strain to the point where you see it as fact. But maybe there's another side to the conflict.

Rarely is a strain the sole fault of just one person.

Understand your sibling’s perspective. Put yourself in their shoes and loosen your grip on your need to be "right." Keep in mind the big picture of a more stable family unit.

What do you want to model for your own kids, especially when it comes to their sibling relationships? Modeling behavior is a powerful form of teaching.

3. Understand your envy.

Is there unresolved jealousy or envy between you and your sibling? Maybe you were artistic and your sibling was a four-season athlete.

At the time, you didn't have the life experience to recognize the reason for the envy — or even what to call it. You just knew there was a tension you two felt toward each other.

As adults, you have insight into any envy you may have felt. Discuss it. Have a heart-to-heart. Clear up misunderstandings. Be on the same side.

Keep in mind that everyone carries wounds and are doing the best they can with what they have to work with.

Maybe you can even find some pride in your sibling's strengths. That's your sister or brother! You may even consider replacing envy with pride.

Use your energy to move forward, rather than to stay stuck in the past.

For better or worse, your siblings are a link to your past and, hopefully, to your future.

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Dr. Elayne Daniels is a private practice psychologist. As a daughter, sister, and mom, she attests to the benefits of fixing a strained relationship with a sibling.