Everyone expects children to squabble. Remember the DEFCON 1–level tantrum you threw when your younger sister gave Barbie a Grace Jones flattop? But as we grow up, most of us hope to achieve détente or, better yet, a meaningful connection with our sisters and brothers. Unfortunately, that’s not always easy. In researching my second book on family dynamics, I interviewed nearly 100 men and women about how they got along with their siblings and found that most people wanted those relationships to improve—whether they were already pretty close or barely spoke. The trouble was, they didn’t know how to make it happen. Here are ten suggestions on how to forge a more perfect union.
1. Childhood is like Vegas: Let what happened there stay there. Don’t guilt yourself over the mind games you played on your brother, and stop accusing your sister of stealing the sweater you bought in Florence, circa 1992. Make a conscious effort to forgive these childhood misdeeds and they’ll soon be water under the Ponte Vecchio.
2. Make a cameo apperance. Sure you’re going to show up at the obligatory, with a capital O, events: weddings, graduations, and Thanksgiving dinner. That’s part of being a family. But showing up unexpectedly at your brother’s 5K run? Or at the family taco night held by your sister’s Spanish club? Now, that means something.
3. Stop being the family mole. Ever-shifting alliances, surreptitious confabs, stealth reconnaissance—you’d think we were talking about The Bourne Identity and not those other people born to your mother. Sibling relationships are often defined by behind-the-back gossiping, whether that means secretly slamming one sib to the other or listening greedily as your parents decry your brother’s latest over-the-top electronics purchase. As expected, all this duplicitous chatter erodes honesty and makes it nearly impossible for you to be as close-knit with your clan as you would like. So cut it out. And if you’re finding it difficult to tear yourself away from, say, Mom’s gripe-fest, remember that she most likely lets loose about you, too.