Sibling Rifts Need More than Time to Heal

The “new normal” of daily life has, for many people, shone a brighter light on what is really important – health, purpose, and close relationships with family and friends.  But in many families, there are rifts and they often occur between siblings.  In order to heal a sibling rift that leads to an estranged relationship, both parties need to do more than just give it time. 

According to a recent Maria Shriver media post, conflict resolution and reconciliation in families takes intent, commitment, goodwill, and mindfulness.  A single conversation isn’t likely to heal damage between loved ones. To reconnect in a meaningful way will take time and lots of listening with empathy to one another’s expressions of their feelings. 

There are certain milestones or turning points in life that can trigger estrangement between siblings.  The teenage years and young adulthood is a period of self-discovery where individuals may push back against the family dynamics, leave home for work or education, and seek to change their established role in the family unit.   Marriage, the birth of a child, divorce, illness or the death of a parent are also turning points that may lead to feelings of abandonment, competition, resentment, betrayal, or other conflicts.

When siblings experience a major trauma such as the loss of a parent at a young age, there is parental favoritism or a lack of good communication skills, they are at a greater risk for estrangement.  Some families are rigid and will not accept life decisions that are outside the family’s core values or identity.  When a sibling marries someone who leads them on a different path, there is often a fissure created between the outlier and the rest of the family. 

Sometimes siblings will distance themselves from one another for a period of time before reengaging in a relationship.  In some cases, a complete break occurs when siblings are unable to redefine their roles in one another’s adult lives.  The often complex issues that develop between siblings aren’t always fixable, but if there is a mutual willingness and sincere intention to find understanding, families can reconnect after a sibling rift. 

Learn more about sibling estrangement and reconciliation in a new memoir by researcher and author Fern Schumer Chapman; Brothers, Sisters, Strangers:  Sibling Estrangement and the Road to Reconciliation.