re you sad and confused because you can’t get along with your brother?

Or, does thinking about your sister increase your blood pressure?

If you clash with a sibling, you’re in good company. Many people are dealing with this issue.

Relationships problems with a sibling can’t be fixed overnight. But, they can be fixed over time – or at least mended.

“After years in therapy, I discovered that I fought with my brother, Daryl, for one stupid reason,” says a woman we’ll call Deanna. “I thought my parents loved him more. I wanted Daryl to pay. Now, I know they just loved him differently.”

Deanna and Daryl have mended their fences, but it took a lot of work.

“We don’t have major closeness yet,” says Deanna, “but we’re working on it. I’ve learned that Daryl and I can be around each other for about an hour. I guess that’s when the conversation starts to go downhill.

“It’s me,” Deanna admits, “who starts digging up old dirt. So, I’ve learned to end the visits before I start getting on Daryl’s nerves.”

The key to building a relationship, or repairing one, is to create a relationship that works – however small the connection. For instance, you might only call your sibling twice a year. That’s OK. Do what works.

Remind yourself to relate in ways that don’t set the stage for arguments. This might mean, for example, that you can only see each other in a group including other people.

Or, it might mean that you avoid certain subjects. If you argue over why your parents only paid for one of you to go to college, it might be good to retire that conversation permanently.

To get a relationship back on track, try the following tips:

• If you’re not speaking, extend the olive branch first. Tell your sibling, “I want to have connection with you. Not talking is too stressful.” Or you might say, “I don’t know why we argue, but I’m open to your suggestions on how we can get along.”

• Stop emphasizing your differences. Instead, build common ground. Center conversations around children, hobbies, movies, or any subjects that don’t expose your sore spots.

• Let your sibling know you value him or her. This lays the foundation of respect. For example, brag on your sibling to other people in front of him or her. Ask your brother or sister for advice.

Verbal validation is crucial to healing relationships. Imagine wanting to hurt or insult a sibling who treated you as a person of worth? Hard, isn’t it?

“Sometimes, it pays to meet on neutral physical ground, too” says a man we’ll call Ed. “I’m a doctor. My brother is an artist. I used to harp at him to get into something that paid real money. This was a terrible mistake. For years, we didn’t speak.

“I knew my wealthy lifestyle came between my brother and me,” Ed continues, “so I bought a cabin in the mountains where we can meet. In that cabin, we’re equals. We fish and hike, play the guitar, and watch videos. You can’t be close to a sibling if money or education is an issue.”

Tension between any two people doesn’t come on overnight. And, it will not go away overnight. Don’t expect miracles the first few times you attempt to reconcile. Take it slowly.

“Staying away from a sibling is like abandoning part of yourself,” says a man we’ll call Jim. “Siblings share your genes and your history. You’re not complete and whole without them. My life felt lopsided until I reconciled with my brother, Jason. I don’t have to like everything about my brother. Who does? But, I like the feeling of us getting along. I’m half a person without Jason.”

Jim says he sat down with Jason and apologized to him. “I told him, ‘I’m sorry if I ever did anything to hurt you. I wouldn’t hurt you on purpose for anything in the world. “‘

Jim says Jason confided where his pain was coming from. Jason said he felt the whole family gossiped too much. Jim says his brother told him, “I think you talk about me when I’m not there.”

“What’s awful,” says Jim, ” is that I was guilty. I’ve since learned to pull out of family gossip. You might think your sibling doesn’t know what’s going on, but that’s not true. Most of us can feel the attitude our family has toward us. We all have a radar screen. If family talk isn’t positive, it hurts.”

As you work to resolve your problems with a sibling, remember that all sibling relationships are flawed. Accepting small jealousies and imperfections between yourself and a sibling is important for maintaining a relationship.

In order to be close to anyone, you have to accept that discomfort-even pain-will occasionally be present. There are no perfect anxiety-free relationships. Why? Because every relationship involves two separate sets of human needs. The needs of two people will never mesh perfectly.

Help your siblings know that you’ve made up your mind to love them unconditionally.

Besides, as you grow older, your siblings can become your strongest allies. Hopefully, when older members of your family pass away, you will still have connections to your siblings. Your circle of life will feel more stable with them in the picture.

Judi Hopson and Emma Hopson are authors of a stress management book for paramedics, firefighters and police, “Burnout To Balance: EMS Stress,” published by Prentice Hall/Brady Books. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist. You can contact the authors through the Web site www.judi-light-hopson.com.


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