Though it may seem strange, it’s actually not all that uncommon for siblings to become estranged. Reader’s Digest chronicled the story of Hope Rising, a woman who became estranged from her older sister because she grew tired of rude comments. The sisters didn’t speak for 14 years, and only got back in touch because of a serious cancer diagnosis.
Siblings stop communicating for many reasons. Some people eventually become aware that they dislike their sibling. Other times, family dynamics that began in childhood can turn into resentment later in life.
Dysfunction can worsen if there’s an inheritance on the line – or if an aging parent has needs, and siblings have differing opinions about the best ways to meet them.
Cornell University professor Karl Pillemer says that less than 5% of Americans are truly estranged from their siblings. That may seem like a low number, but that’s 1 in every 20 people.
Universities across the country have conducted research to attempt to understand the problem. Oakland University put out a survey that found that 16% of siblings reported having an antagonistic sibling relationship. 19% of those polled said their relationships with siblings were casual.
Remarkably, only 26% of people reported having a supportive relationship with their siblings.
When University of Pittsburgh psychologist Daniel Shaw, who conducts similar research on children’s sibling relationships, went on the radio to discuss his research, he ended up receiving many calls from people who wanted to talk about painful relationships with their siblings. He says,
“Something happened, and they never forgave each other, so now they were calling in … to talk about how they had decided to forgive or how they hadn’t spoken for 20 or 30 years.”
Sibling strife often occurs when people don’t learn how to resolve their conflicts. Or perhaps one sibling becomes obsessed with keeping tabs on the good deeds they do for their sibling, which can wear everyone down.
The key is to learn to manage conflicts and to be sincere about doing favors.
And, yes, if it’s obvious that a certain sibling was the parents’ favorite, there likely will be problems later. But estrangement is often a cause of regret later in life, so learning to deal with these relationships is usually worthwhile for both parties.
What did you think of these psychological insights? We’ll be glad to read your comments!