Can tensions between siblings be reduced?

April 15, 2015

Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D.

Unfortunately, the answer is an inconclusive, "It depends." The factors that influence whether or not siblings can reduce their tension/conflict and move towards supporting one another and working co-operatively is attached to a number of things.

The first and foremost is history. Sometimes the emotional history is too much for siblings to address. Siblings carry their own individual burdens. In order for them to have a constructive relationship with their brothers or sisters, they first have to be able to overcome some of their own challenges.  Unfortunately, people place their burdens or troubles at the feet of others-- whether that be their parents or siblings-- and refuse to take responsibility for their own situation. In that context, the sibling rivalry will linger until each sibling has addressed his/her own challenges sufficiently to feel good enough about himself/herself to risk participating in changing the relationship with their sibling in a meaningful way.

The second factor is that sometimes, “Too much water has passed under the bridge.” In those cases, trying to reconcile differences can be too overwhelming.  in other instances, the siblings once had a positive relationship, or at least a neutral one; but, unfortunately, they never learned how to talk to one another in a way that either put aside or addressed the many conflicts and misunderstandings that are inherent in family owned businesses. Over the years, walls build up and due to lack of attention to it, the relationship gets lost.

In each of the above situations, the reasonable resolution is to accept the reality that family history is too much to overcome; to withdraw the emotion/disappointment surrounding the loss; and to move towards developing a business relationship that is at least functional. Unless one of the siblings chooses to leave the business or is driven out, not accepting and dealing with the reality that overcoming sibling tensions isn't likely will be a disaster for the entire family and a significant wound to the business.

On the other hand, I have seen situations where step siblings and siblings that share one natural parent work out their differences.

The only people who can decide that the situation is untenable and unfixable are the siblings themselves. So before you “throw in the towel “and decide that your relationship with your brother or sister cannot be fixed, first take one hard look at yourself. If you have the inclination to try to fix it, share that with your sibling.