A 14-Step Plan to Improve Your Sibling Relationship
So you and your sibling don’t get along. You’ve tried talking, writing, even begging, but your sibling is not interested in what you have to say. Yet, you don’t want to write off this important person in your life.
Siblings, typically, are the longest of your relationships. They are the only ones who remember you jumping rope in the living room and breaking the vase, who remember when Mom found her car keys in the freezer, who secretly shared your first cigarette when you were eight.
While you may not ever be great friends again, you may want to get back to some type of satisfying relationship. Chances are you know what she (or he) did that upset you. Are you as clear what she feels you did that upset her? Before she is willing to hear your side, she may have to feel you truly understand how you hurt her.
It is hard to hear another person’s complaints about you if you don’t feel your side is being heard. Unfortunately, everyone wants to feel heard first, so that means someone has to listen first. Since you are initiating this effort, you need to be prepared to hear your sibling’s complaints about you first. You have a better chance of being heard if your sibling feels you have heard her, that you understand why she feels the way she does, how you have hurt or angered her.
So, here is a step-by-step plan that has a chance of breaking through the hostility, silent treatment, and resentment.
- Make a list of all of your complaints about your brother or sister.
- Make a list of the list you imagine your brother or sister would make about you.
- Write a letter (not to be sent) to yourself – as if from your sibling — about these complaints. Make sure your sibling “tells” you how angry she or he is as well as how hurt. Use specific examples.
- See if you learn something new by doing this to help you understand the problems from your sibling’s perspective.
- Now, write a letter (not to be sent) to your sibling about your complaints. Make sure you express how angry you are as well as how hurt. Use specific examples.
- Put both letters to the side – for the time being.
- Now, you are ready to approach your sibling
- Write your sibling (even if you live in the same city), saying you are unhappy about your relationship. You would like things to be better. So, to help you understand the problem from his or her perspective, you invite a letter explaining the problem as she sees it.
- When you get a return letter – before you react to what has been said about you — respond to how your sibling must feel – given his or her perspective of the problem. (Even if your sibling has the story entirely wrong, only respond to the feelings. Remember, you’ll have your turn later to correct information or tell your side.)
There’s a good chance you may get a response to your empathetic letter.
- You may have to do several rounds of letters from your sibling’s perspective before you have a chance to tell your story.
- You’ll know when it is the time for you to write your perspective –when you truly understand the problem between you two – from your sibling’s perspective.
- At that point, using your letter from above (#3), edit it so it is clear you are talking from how you experienced the situation. Do not tell your sibling what he or she did wrong, only how it felt to be on your side of what happened.
- You can continue writing back and forth, using these “I Statements.” At some point, you may want to suggest meeting to talk in person. But, don’t rush that. The problems took a long time to evolve, so give yourself time to resolve them.
- Consider getting together for a sibling weekend, perhaps a sibling retreat, where you can get into more depth about the causes and how to get past the problems.
- As a resource in helping you think about what your sibling was experiencing from you, read my book on Siblings: The Ghosts That Haunt Your Love and Work.
If you have questions or comments or want more information, contact me at:
Dr. Karen Gail Lewis
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