Cultivate a Healthy Sibling Relationship

“We used to be so close. What happened?”

“We’ve never been close. Is it too late?”

“I wish we were closer.”

“I want to forget the past and move forward.”

“I wish we could go back to how it was.”


Perhaps the relationship you have with a sibling has become frayed from the weight of history, misunderstanding, resentment, or simply a lack of genuine connection. It’s a weight on you and you want to make things better. Here’s a collection of concrete actions that can help.

Get to know each other in the here and now

Who hasn’t bumped into someone after many years and thought, “Wow…that’s not how I remember her.” That’s because while we change, our memories of others tend to remain “fixed.” It’s not intentional, but we are startled nonetheless. It is similar with our siblings. We know them as we knew them which doesn’t allow for how they may have evolved and changed. That’s what makes this step so crucial. It’s about suspending what you know and creating a space to get to know your sibling as they currently are. If you find this challenging, think about  yourself.  Haven’t you grown as a person? Changed your point of view about some things? Healed in significant ways? Allow for the very real possibility that they have, as well.

Respect that you may see the past through a different lens

Memories and perceptions can be startlingly different between siblings. If you’re competitive or feel you were the least favored in the family, you may have a hard time accepting that your sibling has their “truth,” and you have “yours.” If you absolutely need to be right and need to convince them that you are, you are on the road to greater frustration, distance, and brokenness. Go back to your goal: a better relationship with this person who has and will always be your sibling. By saying something as simple as “I know we see this differently, and that’s okay,” you respect your sibling as well as yourself. Then, let that be.

Focus on making things better, not holding onto resentments 

We humans get stuck on Resentment Road far too often. And even when we get moving, we often stall all over again. It can be a vicious cycle. Remember that you can’t change whatever caused your resentment because it resides in yesterday. What you can do is make your peace with it and let it go. If you sincerely want a better relationship, then forward is the direction. So, recommit to that choice, forgive, and, if it seems appropriate, acknowledge that maybe you had a part in what caused your resentment. Then shift your attention to making things better.

Let go of comparisons and win-lose thinking

Do you keep a scorecard? Still? Does your sibling’s lifestyle, accomplishments, bank account and who-knows-what-else make you green with envy? As children we compare and keep score to assess who is up and who is down and how we fare in the scheme of things. As adults who value relationship and connection, we need to give this thinking the heave ho. Your sibling’s journey is completely and utterly their own. Just as yours is. Instead of measuring, think in terms of valuing. What do you value in yourself and about your life that brings you success in the form of contentment and joy? What can you appreciate about your sibling’s journey and its joys – without comparing them tit for tat with your own?

Cultivate, cultivate, cultivate

Want a better relationship? Then take some action. That might start with an unexpected text message or sharing a silly YouTube clip. Maybe it’s proposing something that’s outside of the box in terms of your history. You don’t need to wait until the usual, planned, annual family party to cultivate. In fact, it’s better to create new experiences so that you can experience each other in new ways, in the here and now.


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