Joe Rich, a relationship expert and author of Parenting: The Long Journey (Wiley, 2006), knows the importance of these relationships, and he offers some tips for how to make things right with your siblings -- even if you want to do anything but.
1. Remove the baggage
The first step to a conflict-free relationship with your siblings is to rid yourself of any tension and judgment your parents may have unknowingly created between you, explains Rich. "To make your relationship with your sibling work, you have to edit your parents out of it," he says.
We often carry a lot of what we have learned through our families with us, such as identifying ourselves (or our siblings) as the good or bad child, the favourite child or the successful child, and this can spill over into adulthood. Starting with a clean slate will allow you to see your siblings in a whole new and, ideally, more positive light.
2. Break the ice
Some siblings let their rivalries get so out of hand that they stop talking to each other altogether. "If you aren't talking to a sibling, start talking immediately," Rich advises. "I don't know what you're going to talk about, but just talk to each other." If this sounds impossible, Rich suggests starting small: Invite a third party (your spouse or another relative or mutual friend) to join you and do whatever it takes to begin reopening the lines of communication.
"The first thing we know from a therapeutic perspective is that people don't realize their sibling relationships are the longest relationships they will have in life. It's probably a more important relationship then at first glance," Rich explains. Knowing this helps make it worth the effort to break the ice and make things right.
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3. Give it context
If you can't even recall why you and your sibling are at odds, it's time to take a closer look at what's going on between you. "People say they don't get along very well, but they overlook the details," says Rich. Once you establish the core of the issue, you can start taking the proper steps to deal with it. Change comes from awareness, so sit down and figure out the context of your relationship and why it has splintered so that you know what you need to work on. Rarely do people take the time to analyze their relationships, Rich says.
4. Deal with feelings of jealousy
Jealousy might not be healthy, but it is normal among siblings. "Sibling rivalry is about the feelings of envy and jealousy," says Rich. Rather than simply remaining jealous, which will continue to come between you and your brothers and sisters, try owning up to those feelings, he advises. Instead of stewing, acknowledge to yourself that you're jealous, and if you're having trouble being happy for your siblings, share what you're feeling with them in a genuine, honest way.
5. Don't give up
If you've tried to reach out to a sibling to no avail, don't give up. It's natural to feel like your brother or sister is a lost cause, or like it's not worth trying anymore, but keep making attempts to reconnect. "If you really feel like your sibling won't change, then you should change. Change your expectations, change how you see the situation," Rich advises. It's also important to understand what's not working and to stop being part of the problem, which often stems from avoidance and lack of communication. "Fundamentally, you have to address the issue of not talking and of not communicating," he says.
Knowing that our siblings are here to stay means we often take them for granted. We fight, we argue, we hold grudges and we let time lapse between visits. But it's because our brothers and sisters have been around the longest in our lives that they deserve to be treated with love and respect. Take the time to examine your relationship with your siblings and to start rebuilding the bond.
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