By Joan Grayson Cohen, LCSW-C, Esq.
Senior Manager, Access Services
Jewish Community Services
One of the most quoted teachings in the Torah is: “You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your fellow as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). So, if we are commanded not to take revenge or hold a grudge against fellow human beings, why are there so many people who do not apply this edict in their own sibling relationships? After all, the relationship with a brother or sister is one we have for a lifetime.
Sibling relationships are complicated. Many variables affect the dynamics, such as birth order, gender, temperament, special needs, a parent’s manner of resolving problems and geographic distance. Sibling relationships can be very fulfilling but also very painful. So many of us live with challenging sibling relationships, or know others who do – situations in which siblings don’t speak to each other or are jealous or spiteful of one another. It is always astonishing to me that if you were to talk to those siblings, they very often cannot recall what the original issue was that caused the conflict. However, sometimes decades later, they are still not in communication with one another. Siblings may have very different reactions to a conflict. Some become hostile, some distance themselves, and others move on from the conflict, but do not receive the same reaction from their sibling.
When there is discord between siblings, the goal should be to get from hurt, anger and fear to reconciliation and inner peace. But this is far easier said than done. There are some natural opportunities when attempts for reconciliation can occur. Holidays are times when families get together; a discussion beforehand can be used as an attempt at reconciliation. In the Jewish calendar, many holidays and events call for new beginnings, such as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover.
Sometimes the issue that was causing the conflict no longer exists. For example, the responsibilities of caring for an elderly relative may have created stress and conflict. When this person passes away, a door may open to a discussion about the change that has occurred. Sometimes the proper time for reconciliation can be when one or both siblings grow tired of the conflict and realize they are better being together than apart, even if they don’t always see eye to eye.
Attempts to reconnect with a sibling come with the risk that the other sibling may not desire the reconciliation. Here are some critical questions to think about when you want to mend discord in a sibling relationship:
• Are you able to forgive?
• What are the risks and benefits of reconciliation?
• Can you avoid trying to assign blame, and seek common ground instead?
• Is it a win/win solution to agree to disagree?
• Will you be okay with the outcome?
If you are in a problematic sibling relationship or know someone who is, it can help to go back and remember when times were better and when there was a more peaceful relationship. Positive memories can become the force that drives you to move forward and seek a more positive sibling relationship. It doesn’t have to be a perfect relationship. However, if you can agree to move past the conflict, there will surely be more happiness for you and your sibling. Not everyone can resolve a sibling conflict, but even the attempt at reconciliation can bring peace. Those who do not hold grudges in their heart will be happier people. Find your way to move on.
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