Distant Sibling


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Sandra A Doron LCSW

Dear Sandra:

My brother and I do not openly fight with each other, but we are becoming more and more distant as we get older. I am 29 years old, my brother is 33, and both of us are married with small children. Our mother keeps pushing me to spend more time with him, but I do not feel comfortable being alone with him, because we have so little in common, and I do not want to bring up our differences. I welcome your thoughts. DISTANT SIBLING


Thank you for writing about your relationship with your older brother. You are not alone when you speak about a distant relationship with a sibling. About one third of adults feel very much the way you do about their siblings. While sisters generally feel more comfortable bridging their differences and talking about their feelings, brothers often cut themselves off from each other, telling each other how incredibly busy their life is, how hard it is to find time when they are so preoccupied with their work, their wives, and their children. It sounds like your mother is trying to bring you closer together, but she may not understand how difficult it is for you to be with your brother. You do not mention specifically what the differences are that are separating you, but those differences, and your not talking about them, may be the “elephant” in the room that is making you so uncomfortable when you are alone with your brother.

If you are interested in improving your relationship with your brother, it is never too late to do so. Here are some steps you may want to consider:

1. Discuss your relationship with someone you can trust. To speak directly to your brother without preparing yourself is too difficult. You could speak about your thoughts and feelings with your wife if you think she could be helpful. Others who might be helpful could be your mother, a sister, another brother, a close friend, or a minister, priest, or rabbi. A good therapist could also help. This person needs to be a good listener, one who can understand your fears, your anger, your hurt, and your disappointment—and not be judgmental.

2. Initiate contact with your brother when you are clear about what you need to say to him. Your discomfort in speaking openly and honestly with your brother is probably the reason for feeling so distant. Paradoxically, the more we talk about differences with those we care about, and share our fears about doing so, the closer that relationship becomes. What you must tell your brother is that you love him, and want this relationship to be a closer one. Tell him that you think your lives have taken such different paths, and you are afraid that you have little in common with him any more. The mere saying this—the fact that you show you care—is what will change your relationship. Be prepared to experience anxiety about being open with him in this way. Your brother will no doubt feel the same way. But both of you will be aware of a powerful shared experience that will create a closer bond. Talk to him about how this disclosure affected you, and how difficult it was to say it.

3. Agree to speak to each other on a regular basis, either by phone, if you live far from each other, or if you live in the same city, plan to get together. Take a walk, or meet for coffee or at a restaurant. The only time we can share our thoughts and feelings in an intimate way is when we are alone with one other person. Continue each time you talk or meet to talk about differences. You may then discover how much you both have in common with each other.

Family therapists seem to focus their attention on the husband-wife or the parent-children bond, inadvertently giving the impression that the sibling relationship is not that important. This is a mistaken perception. While friendships come and go, sibling relationships can exist for more years than any other relationship. Our siblings can share with us a lifetime of memories and are the link to our family of origin. Brothers and sisters who have positive contact with each other mutually benefit from their relationship. In old age, they report higher life satisfaction and lower levels of depression. In times of illness or other crises, siblings provide unparalleled emotional and psychological support to each other, whether they live near each other or far away. Most significantly, those siblings who are distant with each other often become estranged from other important relationships because they have never learned how to communicate in a meaningful and intimate way with those they love the most.

I would be delighted to hear from the readers of this column. Do you have a similar situation? What has worked for you, and what has not worked? Please call me at 619-985-7545.

Sandra A Doron is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker A & A Couples Counseling Acknowledge and Appreciate (Keys to a Successful Relationship)


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This site was last updated 01/22/06