Reconciling with an estranged sibling means embracing the present while accepting the past
For the better part of 40 years, I had no relationship with my only sibling, my brother, Scott. I never knew why; we never spoke enough for me to find out. I ruminated endlessly. In time, I began to feel that I was mourning the living.
The moment of change came when my brother, who was on the ropes financially and emotionally, called on our mother. Desperate, she begged me to help.
The crisis was the catalyst that led us to reconcile. My brother and I met with a therapist, who guided us as we reconnected. I needed to understand how our split came about, and how we could heal our relationship for good. Fascinated, I began to study sibling reconciliation.
First, I delved into scholarly research about estrangement, but I also wanted to hear from real people with similar problems. So I created an online survey, which I publicized on Reddit and in other chat rooms where estranged siblings gather to discuss their painful circumstances. The survey yielded compelling, moving stories, each one unique but rooted in common experiences.
Many people reported having found ways to establish a fresh, functional relationship with a sister or brother. Some siblings, nostalgic for a lost childhood connection, sought to reconcile with the hope of resurrecting their original relationship. That will never happen. The adult relationship may be better or it may be worse. It can’t be the same.
“It’s important to approach the reconciliation as a ‘new’ relationship, rather than with someone you’ve known for your entire life,” says psychotherapist Alexandra Butler. “The connection that you and your sibling are building is fragile. It will ultimately take time, patience, and a commitment to each other to develop in a healthy manner.”
The work of reconciling succeeds in varying degrees. Here are a few survey comments:
I wouldn’t exactly call this a “reconciliation,” but perhaps a surrender that I’ ll graciously accept. I invited my only full biological brother, with whom I was estranged, to stay in my home while he got on his feet.