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Mending a deeply fractured relationship with a sibling?

(29 Posts)
Avienus Sun 08-Dec-13 18:01:24

I am in my mid-thirties. My slightly younger (and only) sibling and I have always had a difficult relationship, but this blew up into an almighty row prior to the birth of our first children (separated by only a few months).

There began an extended period of estrangement - I did not meet my nephew until he was four. Since then, relations between us have varied from tolerable to barely civil. Right now, we ignore each other when we meet, which thankfully is not often as I live several hours from my mother so only see my sister when I am visiting there.

I acknowledge that I have behaved badly at various points over the years. I feel more sinned against than sinning, but I am aware that she feels similarly.

I dislike her - I do not want to be her best friend, nor anything approaching this. I do, however, want to stop the cold war that is now dragging into its seventh year. My reasons for this are: I feel embarrassed that I am Not Talking To someone, like a spoiled child; the situation is painful for my mother; it would be easier and more pleasant for everyone if there was civility.

Do you have any practical advice for achieving this? I am aware that I must sound deeply immature and lacking in social skills. In my defense, in other parts of my life I have warm, empathetic and healthy relationships. I really don't know how to behave like the adult I am in this situation as my feelings are so raw and ancient patterns of behaviour are so hard to break.

FunkyBoldRibena Sun 08-Dec-13 18:06:43

Say sorry and ask how you can both be friends one day?

Avienus Sun 08-Dec-13 18:25:38

I don't want to be her friend.

I am sorry for some of my past behaviour. But I am wary about saying sorry as I can't trust that she won't take this as confirmation that the problems in our relationship are All My Fault and I don't think they are. I suspect that me apologising will change nothing except that in her head she will think that I have admitted to being a total bitch to her all her life and this is her confirmation that she is beyond reproach and therefore need not address her own behaviour in any way.

Incidentally, I don't need her to apologise to me (it'd be nice, I suppose, if I apologised to her). I just need my apology - should I offer it - to actually have a positive outcome in terms of us having an easier relationship.

I know this sounds ridiculous. It's not as straightforward as simply saying sorry (maybe it is. I just don't feel that it is.) It seems a high-risk strategy.

Could someone write out - literally word for word - what I should actually say? Or is the fact that I am asking for this proof that I am nowhere near ready to be attempting reconciliation?

CatAndFiddle Sun 08-Dec-13 18:39:16

I have recently begun speaking to a sibling again after a 6 year period of virtually no contact. I approached it as if I was making an acquaintance of someone I had not met before. I did not apologise for anything and neither did he. I just made it clear that I wanted to be civil. The history is still there, but is never mentioned. I initiated things by acknowledging his presence at a family event, and he reciprocated. We have now built up to small talk

I found that there was too much water under the bridge for apologies. Just start talking to her again and hopefully she will meet you half way.

meiisme Sun 08-Dec-13 18:39:39

It might sound cliche, but you can only control your own actions, not hers. If I were you, I would write down what I really believe and what I want her to know. Then read it back and decide if you are ready to open up communications WITHOUT expecting a specific outcome. Without gameplaying (like "I only want to say the minimum necessary to feel I've done my bit and cannot live with it if she takes that as me admitting defeat, so I can't say sorry, etc, etc"), figure out what you would be happy to have said even if it means she runs away with it.

FunkyBoldRibena Sun 08-Dec-13 18:41:12

I am sorry it has got to this - is there any way we can end this cold war?

cozietoesie Sun 08-Dec-13 18:48:00

Do you actually want to mend things or would this be to ease things for your mother/nieces and nephews etc ?

neunundneunzigluftballons Sun 08-Dec-13 18:51:50

Funky is right, you are where you are, ask if things can change going forward, I had a similar situation with a friend she asked if things could move on from where they were and if we could make an effort going forward. We have now moved on and have put the past behind us.

ShotgunNotDoingThePans Sun 08-Dec-13 18:56:58

I have a similar situation op, only my estrangement is now in its 13th year.
I think you must be a far better person than me as now, when I deign to give the situation headspace, I'm more angry than anything else - angry that she has cut off my dcs as well as me, since the split took place when my youngest was barely a month old.

Like you, we meet at the occasional family event and are civil - but she ignores me if we're in a room alone together.

Will watch this with interest and I hope you find some sort of resolution.

Ladycurd Sun 08-Dec-13 19:09:50

How will you feel when your parents are gone and she is your remaining family but there is no contact? My situation is different in that my brother is mentally ill and delusional about me so has no contact and it breaks my heart.
I'd do anything for a reconciliation with him so I know this is projection and prob not what you want/need to hear but I'm just going to say it anyway- pull yourself together, be civil. Put it behind you and try to move on. You might need each other one day (maybe for a kidney!? Hehe!) and when your parents are gone you will only have each other (of course with your own families too but I mean the family you grew up in.you may need to support each other through loss and grief.
I'm hoping my brother might agree to family therapy in the new year. Unlikely. But could this be an option? It may help break down some of the patterns?

Avienus Sun 08-Dec-13 19:11:08

Thank you all for your thoughts.

Cozietosie- If it were only about me and her, then no, I wouldn't want to mend things. I'd be happy to never set eyes on her again.But itisn't just about her and me. My mother is obviously deeply affected by this and all the children (hers and mine) are under seven and would probably like to see their cousins more, and for their mother and aunt to not hate each other.

Sometimes I when see my friends having close relationships with their siblings I feel very sad and jealous. I would - in abstract - like to have that with my sister. In reality, I think that we are too different and neither of us would ever get anything positive from attempting to have close contact.

Shotgun - I am not a better person that you! I am very, very, angry with her if I think about some of her behaviour over the years. I just want to free myself from the sick, tense feeling I get before and during every occasion in which I might encounter her, which mars so many family events for me.

Avienus Sun 08-Dec-13 19:17:23

My father died a couple of years ago. There was a temporary cease-fire for a while, and I thought/hoped that it might be permanent.

Actually things became much worse quite quickly.

This is in part because we had a very drunken conversation at Christmas in which we were frank with each other about the problems in our relationship. I actually thought it marked a turning point, but for her it clearly marked a point of no return. I'm afraid I am quite fuzzy about what I said to offend her so badly, though I am quite prepared to accept that I did.

Geographically family therapy would be difficult as we live a long way from each other. I also really don't want her privy to any of my inner thoughts and feelings - I don't know if family therapy could compartmentalise and look only at her and my relationship? I doubt she'd agree to this anyway.

CatAndFiddle Sun 08-Dec-13 19:27:27

If she lives such a distance away, would your kids see each other enough to have much of a relationship anyway? Even if you were talking to each other?

What does your mother think about the situation? Does she ever attempt to discus it or act as peacemaker?

Idespair Sun 08-Dec-13 19:30:36

You say you dislike her and that's the bottom line. How can you mend the relationship if these are your feelings?

Avienus Sun 08-Dec-13 19:39:23

We see each other about every six weeks or so, when I go to visit my mother. Plus any weddings and funerals etc. The children are all quite keen on seeing more of their cousins (though hers more than mine, as mine have paternal cousins too, while hers don't).

I do feel bad that the children can't have a more uncomplicated relationship, due to their mothers.

Avienus Sun 08-Dec-13 19:41:10

Idespair - yes, I know. Ummm.....I suppose I'm thinking that lots of people are very different to their siblings but manage to rub along together. I was hoping that I could aim for this with her.

Avienus Sun 08-Dec-13 19:43:45

Catandfiddle - My mother avoids the subject as she is frightened one or other of us cutting her out for interfering (long backstory to this). The whole situation makes her miserable.

I am aware of how horribly I am coming across here, by the way. Sorry.

Idespair Sun 08-Dec-13 19:50:24

Maybe you could just be civil and smile a bit the next few times you see her. I think you have to start small, rather than having a big reconciliation - along the lines of actions speak louder than words? Maybe you could invite her kids to your kids parties?

Queenofknickers Sun 08-Dec-13 19:53:52

We had similar with my ILs. After 8 years of no contact the only way we could move forward was by agreeing to disagree about the past and only focus on the future and treating each other respectfully. That, along with a big dose of intentionally refusing to be offended/think the worse/over think anything they do has brought about a relationship for us with them, but more importantly for our DSs with their GPs.

CatAndFiddle Sun 08-Dec-13 20:02:38

I don't think you are coming across horribly. You have obviously been hurt in the past and I know just how difficult it is to forget ,let alone forgive, when you feel like this. Why not be frank with her? Say 'Things are as they are between us, but shall we try to let the kids see more of each other'...or something. It will be possible to let your kids build a relationship without you and your sister having to as well. You don't actually seem that keen on repairing it anyway tbh.

Though I must say that I found the effort of not speaking to someone, avoiding their gaze etc absolutely draining. It is liberating to leave it all behind.

wordyBird Sun 08-Dec-13 20:15:46

Perhaps you could start by writing down what outcome you want. I think you've written it here, partly - for there to be civility; to reduce the pain to your mother; for you to feel more self respect (as you say you feel like a spoiled child, in not talking).

Then consider what is most likely to bring you that outcome.

I don't know what ideas you will come up with, but it does seem to me that an apology may not help at the moment. But I think it's possible to speak to someone you don't like. So maybe this is all you should aim for at present? Just to be able to speak, if necessary.

This isn't going to resolve the pain and tension before family events, though. To be fair, if you both apologised, or had it out some other way, there is no guarantee this would resolve anything either. It might, and it might not. It depends on the circumstances and your personalities.

So it might be worth talking it out with a third party, or having some therapy yourself, to help yourself heal regardless of what else happens.

This is a hard position to be in OP. Believe me, you are not coming across as horrible at all, just very hurt. flowers

Kitttty Sun 08-Dec-13 20:17:07

I do feel sorry for your Mum - she does sound like a star - but it must be incredibly stressful for her - she wont be around for ever and I am sure that it would bring her much emotional peace, relief, joy and pride to to see a you both constructively move forward.

Losing your Dad is tough and I would have expected things to have worsened as grief leaves your raw, angry etc.

As others have said - take baby steps. Do not attempt to analyse and go over it all again with her. And in you own head stop ruminating.

Clean slate, water under the bridge - let it all go. Build a simple relationship with little expectations. Dont deny you children or hers the friends for life that cousins can become.

Can you do some actively positive things with the children over xmas - which are not to intense from a communications point of view - ie take them out to the cinema etc?

Be the better, bigger person -- be a good role model to your children and make your Mum proud.

Loopytiles Sun 08-Dec-13 20:18:17

If both serious about trying to improve things you could try theraphy by skype or conference telephone call. BACP registered therapists use it, and you and your sister wouldn't need to be in the same place.

You wouldn't need to say / reveal anything more than you wanted to. But you might, for example, get into bith your upbringing, relationships with your parents and things, as well as each other.

You don't say what your respective complaints about each other are, in the past and now.

due to distance it's not realistic for the DC to spend lots of time with their cousins if you don't get on.

Avienus Sun 08-Dec-13 20:27:58

Thank you all. Much to consider here.

I think that those who are suggesting a 'draw a line under it' approach might have identified the least fraught course of action. I will try to make small talk this Christmas.

It's actually a bit of a minefield as this is rife for miscommunication because we are very different politically, with different approaches to child-rearing and so forth. What can seem innocuous to me can be received as insulting or offensive by her (and, I'm sure, vice versa)

Might be best to stick to asking about how the children are doing at school. How her job is etc?

Avienus Sun 08-Dec-13 20:30:31

If she blanks me, what should the approach be?

I mean, if I say "So, do you get much time over the holidays" and she just says "No." really pointedly and sullenly?

Do I pretend that I haven't noticed the passive-aggressive 'fuck off' and just continue with asking about the kids or the weather or whatever?

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