Help on dealing with adult siblings


Here's help on getting along with siblings gleaned from an interview with Peter Goldenthal, a Philadelphia-area family psychologist and author of Why Can't We Get Along? Healing Adult Sibling Relationships (Wiley, $14.95).

* Make a decision to get along.

Goldenthal says he and his brother used to fight a lot. "We get along well now because we want to. He hasn't changed; he's still one of the most difficult people I've ever met, and he probably feels the same way about me. We approach things differently, but we independently decided it's important to be close."

So they decided "not to be ruled by differences," he says.

* Don't mistake distance for closeness.

Some siblings don't see each other often "and then after they're together for 24 hours, baboom! You're fighting like teen-agers." When that becomes a pattern, "You really haven't changed anything. You've just figured out a way to get along when you're distant. The cure becomes: Never see her. Don't talk to her. The heck with it."

Instead, Goldenthal encourages siblings to "be real." People have to keep putting energy into sibling relationships, he says. "It's like a lawn, or keeping a clean desk. If you leave the relationship alone, it will get worse."

* Treat siblings as well as you'd treat a friend.

"There are people who feel they shouldn't have to say 'please' or 'thank you,' that it's not necessary with family." If you disagree with a co-worker, you wouldn't tell him he is dumb or stupid. You would start a conversation about the situation, he says.

"If you don't hear 'thank you' from a friend or co-worker, you get ticked off and don't extend yourself so much next time," he says. But if it's your brother or sister, you would be obligated to help. "Say your sister has the flu, you bring soup, help with child care, take kids to the dentist. She doesn't say 'thanks.' If she then breaks her leg, you'd help her again. But you wouldn't do it if you didn't have to."

In this case, siblings should "be real about it." Goldenthal says the helpful one could say, "I felt good doing that, but then I started to wonder, 'Did it make any difference, when you didn't say "thank you"? So I'll do these things for you, but I'm not happy about it.' "

* Use "I statements."

Instead of phrases such as "You make me mad" or "You make me feel bad," try messages that describe your feelings without making accusations. "I don't feel good when this happens," or "It feels as if my opinions don't count" are examples of describing feelings in a way that's more likely to start a conversation as opposed to picking a fight.

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