A problem you kin fix

Updated: Oct 28, 2019, 07:39 IST | Anindita Paul | Mumbai

After Prince Harry admitted in an interview that he has differences with brother William, we thought sibling rivalry deserves a discussion. The experts weigh in on conflict in blood ties

(From left) Kate Middleton, Prince William, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
(From left) Kate Middleton, Prince William, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

Demonstrating uncharacteristic candour (for a royal, that is), Prince Harry finally addressed long-standing rumours about a reported rift between him and his older and only sibling, William, earlier this month. In the interview, the Duke of Sussex admitted that while most of the rumours had been blown out of proportion by the over-zealous media, the two brothers do have their differences and are on different paths.

This famous sibling duo certainly isn't the first or the only pair to have their differences: in what can only be described as the country's biggest sibling rivalry of all time, the Ambani brothers — Mukesh and Anil — reportedly went very close to suing each other for defamation. But, in the end, the brothers seem to have finally buried the hatchet with Mukesh paying off the younger Ambani's debts to keep the latter out of jail. Not all sibling rifts have bittersweet ends though — take, for instance, twin sisters and advice columnists Abigail Van Buren and Ann Landers, who fought so bitterly over starting their own advice columns that even their children carried the feud into the next generation.

Anil Ambani and Mukesh have resolved their differences
Anil Ambani and Mukesh have resolved their differences

Why siblings fight

Most siblings fight quite often and bitterly during their formative years; however, these fights are often offset by positive interactions. This means that being able to fight and then reconcile with your siblings is an important developmental achievement. The trouble begins when either or both siblings decide that their relationship is no longer worth investing time and emotions on. "Whether caused by childhood dynamics that have developed into toxic resentment or a growing realisation of latent but fundamental differences that exist between them, the reasons why siblings decide to call off their relationship can vary widely," says Dr Nahid Dave, psychiatrist at Insight Clinic.

American sociologist Dale Conley also points to the impact of societal changes, including the predominance of nuclear versus extended family units, which have caused sibling relationships to become overshadowed by bonds between parents and children, or between spouses. In the absence of a cultural mandate to stick together or a therapeutic road map that facilitates reconciliation, many siblings who are already in strained relationships may see no reason to continue, says Dr Dave. Regardless of what prompted you to end a contentious relationship with your sibling, the very act of letting go does have serious emotional ramifications, says Dr Payal Sharma Kamath, psychiatrist at Rekindle Mind Clinic. "The sibling who has initiated the estrangement may feel deep regret in his/her later years. Further, a sibling is also likely to be the last member of your family to be alive in your later years — long after your parents have already passed. This adds to the list of reasons why these relationships may have significant emotional meaning," she says.

Payal Sharma Kamath and Nahid Dave
Payal Sharma Kamath and Nahid Dave

Rebuilding the bond

Repairing a fractured relationship is never easy. However, with time and mutual effort, it is possible to rekindle your bond. £Look inwards: A particular pattern of behaviour is often the reason for frequent conflicts between siblings. While we cannot change others, we can certainly modulate our own behaviour.

. Empathise: Acknowledge your sibling's feelings and opinions. Their past behaviour can be a projection of their anger and frustration with their lives. Your goal should be to initiate an open, honest conversation.

. Accept what you cannot change: Despite what your parents may have told you, all human beings are guilty of favouring one child over another. Constant comparisons between siblings by family members can cause rivalry between them. As an adult, you should be mature enough to understand and accept human nature for what it is.

. Create healthy boundaries: Consult with your sibling about how you want to communicate. Don't try to guess how the other feels or what they expect from you. Spell out your boundaries and decide in advance what will happen if these boundaries are not respected — perhaps you could take a temporary break from each other when the rules are broken.

. Establish new patterns: If you haven't communicated as often with your sibling as you should have, establishing a communication schedule might help — decide how often you will speak and how. Try to reach consensus about whether you and your siblings would prefer calls to emails. And if someone has to do the calling, how do you intend to share the responsibility?

. Share space together: Healthy relationships are built on quality time spent together. Take your sibling out on vacation or on dinner dates to enjoy each other's presence.

. Get support: Other family members or friends who are neutral can mediate, particularly if your sibling and you parted ways bitterly. It's important for this external member to listen to both of you, without taking sides. This person may be able to spot the root of the problem in case you two cannot. Be careful about the mediator putting his/her own spin on the situation. Your sibling could resent this interference and get defensive.

Savneet Kaur Bhasin

Time plays healer

As children, my relationship with my brother was marked by rivalry", says Savneet Kaur Bhasin, 40. "He was our grandparents' favourite and many family members demonstrated a bias towards him. This made me bitter as a child. He would also pay scant heed to any advice I offered and our bond was very superficial," she says. That changed when Bhasin got married and moved away from the family home. Gurpreet Parischa, her 35-year-old sibling, recalls, "Suddenly, I was at a complete loss as I began to realise a gnawing absence where a meaningful relationship with my only sister should have been. I decided that I had to do something about this. I began to ask her for advice more often and actually pay heed to what she said. I also took the first step to open conversations and drop by more frequently [we still live in the same building, which makes this much easier]. Today, I can confidently say that rekindling the bond with my sister makes me feel more secure, loved and more appreciated.

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