Sibling Reconciliation: A Beginning

Years ago, when I wrote SISTERS, Rosanne, a woman whose sister had died, attended a seminar I led on sisters’ relationships. After listening to the participants discuss the myriad joyous and painful sibling interactions, she commented how fortunate everyone was to have their siblings alive. She said that she could never again fight and then make up with her sister. Nor would she be able to work through the difficulties which she now realized, helped her to grow as a person. Those conflicts provided her with valuable life lessons which only her sister could teach her. She underscored the value of appreciating that when there is life there is the possibility of hope for healing and transformation within relationships.

In many families, adult siblings consider one another “persona non grata”; they just do not factor into one another’s lives. They may see one another from time to time, but their interactions are superficial, coated with a protective shield. When they talk, they “walk on eggshells” avoiding potentially explosive topics. There is little if any depth or true sharing. Some siblings hold onto pain and hurt for years, refusing to consider either forgiveness or reconciliation. Their brother or sister may or may not be aware of the reason for the schism.  Sometimes, the difficulties stem from personality differences, lifestyle choices, parental or in-law influences, or behavior that is perceived to be intolerable. Whatever the reason, siblings avoid and fall out of each others lives.

Rosanne’s commentary can be seen as a cautionary tale and for many, that day, it was. It is often a serious life event that is the catalyst for siblings to attempt to reconnect after months or years of separation. (the opposite is also true. It can be a serious life event that triggers a cut.)

Over the years, I have sat with adult siblings who decide that they want to reconnect with one another but do not know how to begin. Often they just don’t know a language necessary to move toward reconciliation. It can be challenging to understand ourselves and our siblings in the context of our family as we attempt to create a different relationship based on reasonable expectations. Sometimes we as siblings are too focused on our past to envision a relationship different from the one we had. Most often, allowing our sibling to be who they are without the need to change them or alternatively, understanding ourselves in the context of the relationship is a good place to start.

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