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Difficult siblings: Why I would rather have been an only child

Alienation between siblings is surprisingly common.

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  • After trying to maintain a good relationship with my brother for almost four decades, I have come to terms with our estrangement – and many people feel the same way.
  • Several people I spoke to see resentment or lack of common ground as the reason for the difficult relationship with their siblings.
  • Certainly it is possible to put things right again. However, sometimes the best way to protect yourself is to break the relationship completely.

Editor’s note: The author of this personal essay wanted to remain anonymous for security reasons. Insiders have confirmed their identity.
* The names have been changed.

People often feel sorry for only children. However, I can’t help thinking that my life would probably have been better if I hadn’t had a sibling.

I have not spoken to my brother Jake * since Mother’s Day 2019. The dispute escalated before our mother’s eyes, and has gone back a lifetime in a series of arguments. Now none of us seem ready to break the radio silence.

I accepted the estrangement – it brought me relief in many ways – but it also hurts. Especially in this time of isolation, when the absence of relatives is most noticeable.

The alienation between siblings may sound strange, but it goes back to the time of Cain and Abel. It is also surprisingly common.

Actresses Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine have had a famous feud for 40 years. The latter said: “You can divorce both your sister and your husbands. I don’t see her at all and I don’t intend to. “

Madonna too has long turned away from her brother, Christopher Ciccone. He had published a bestseller in which he portrayed his sister as bossy, mean and moody.

When singer Olly Murs missed his twin’s wedding because of his commitments to The X Factor, his brother broke off contact with him. In an episode of “The Voice” earlier this year, he opened up to Sir Tom Jones: “We had a big argument. I fear that I will only see him again when we lose someone who is close to our family. I don’t know where he lives. “

There are even rumors of a clash between once close princes William and Harry. The Duke of Sussex informed documentary filmmaker Tom Bradby in October 2019 that they are “currently on different paths”.

The rivalry often begins in childhood

I am exactly 12 months older than my brother and as children we were very close. But when we became teenagers, rivalries arose between us every day. Jake became a notorious teenager – moody, rebellious, ruthless, angry, and aggressive.

Once he ran after me on the street with my mother’s golf club. He swung it wildly and scared the horror of me and my school friend. When I told my father, he relentlessly insisted that nothing happened and I exaggerated.

Unfortunately, “Jake, the teenager” didn’t grow up. Once at Christmas he threw the lunch out of the window that our mother had prepared in the kitchen for hours. At 16, he had his girlfriend live in his room for 10 months. Long after adolescence and into our adult life, he refused to do any family activity.

I have always partly blamed my brother’s narcissistic teenage behavior for my parents’ marriage failure – they always argued about how to deal with him.

I thought our relationship would change with age and ideally become a friendship. But that never happened.

On the contrary, it got worse when we took completely different paths in life. I went to university. I then lived and worked abroad for eight years, while he stayed at my father’s home until he was 37 years old.

Jake now lives with his girlfriend in a large three-bedroom house and works as a sports teacher at a private school. On the other hand, I live in a tiny apartment that I love and am pursuing a portfolio career. We have no contact.

According to the psychologist Illan Ben-Zion, alienation between siblings is more common than you might think. “When siblings grow up, their priorities change and they start to discover new priorities,” he told Insider.

“The new priorities may have priority. Then the likelihood of alienation increases, especially if there is no common foundation on which the relationship can be maintained. ”

Resentment can be at the root of a bad sibling relationship

Resentment and envy can begin in childhood.

Resentment and envy can begin in childhood.

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Howard * is 50 and knows how difficult it can be when the sibling is an eyesore. His brother, Darren *, is seven years older.

He told insiders that he never felt comfortable with his brother. As a child, he always thought it was because Darren saw him as “an annoying little brother who spoiled his fun.”

Darren’s basic attitude towards Howard, then as now, is deeply displeased.

“It was a big shock to me when I found out that he didn’t like going to university and that my parents supported me. Darren had never shown any interest in higher education and our parents had helped him in other ways: they bought him a car so that he could cart around as a musician. When he started a second career, they supported him financially. ”

Howard never spoke of Darren’s bitterness.

London-based coach and psychotherapist Ulrike Adeneuer-Chima said: “Siblings who always saw themselves as the disadvantaged child do not necessarily shake off this attitude in adulthood, as one might expect.”

The situation between the brothers came to a head when their father Ted was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer five years ago.

“Despite the fact that Darren had always been father’s favorite – I was mom’s special son – my brother never visited him in the hospital. Our father was dying and Darren never went. It was incredibly painful to watch. “

Her father died in 2018. Howard hasn’t seen his brother since the funeral, at which Darren didn’t want to know about the bureaucracy involved.

Her mother is now in a nursing home for people with dementia. Again, Howard and his wife Kathy * took care of the matter.

“It never occurred to Darren or his wife to send mom a birthday, Christmas or Easter card. So we send a card on his behalf every year so as not to break her heart, ”said Howard. “I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw my brother next and last time at my mother’s funeral.”

Sometimes there is simply nothing in common

A bad relationship between siblings is not always associated with drama. Sometimes there is only a growing awareness that you are just very different and have little in common. So there is little reason for a bond – so it is with Hope *, 44, and her brother Curtis *, 49.

“We were never close as children, especially because of the age difference,” Hope told Insider. “When I was 10, Curtis was 15 and with his friends. When I was 15, he was 20 and had already moved out and started working. ”

The contacts had always been rare and therefore not difficult to cut, even if they both lived and worked in London. “I always thought if we met in a bar we wouldn’t be friends,” she said.

Three years ago, she moved to Barbados, where her two parents were born. Curtis stayed in the UK and “the distance between them was growing, both literally and figuratively,” she said.

Although the siblings do not speak to each other and this will probably not change in the near future, there are no bad feelings between them. “If Curtis called me to ask for a kidney, I would say 100 percent yes and I think he would do the same,” she said.

Psychotherapist Siobhan Murray told insiders: “We assume that siblings have a strong connection. In most cases, however, we would not choose a brother or sister as a friend. And that’s fine. “

“We grow up with all these films in which siblings are best friends, but that’s a myth. There is no guarantee that siblings have common interests or even like each other. ”

Every family member perceives things differently

Every family member remembers certain things differently.

Every family member remembers certain things differently.


I often felt envy about my friends’ relationships with their siblings – they see each other, call each other, or text each other all the time. My friend Mary * and her brother Lionel * have decided that they want to live together until they are 30. They have a lot of mutual friends and even go on vacation together.

After watching the relationship between the two, I contacted my brother hoping for reconciliation. I know that it would please my father, who would prefer nothing more than to remain friends for the rest of our lives.

Through my work as a lifestyle journalist, I have been able to take Jake from time to time to shows and restaurants that I have reviewed. I hoped we could build a relationship like this, but it never ended well because of difficult issues.

After trying almost everything to re-establish the relationship, I lost hope that it could work – not to mention the will to reach out again.

“It is a romantic idea that all families are united and overcome their differences. In reality, it is terribly difficult to achieve, ”said Murray. “Each family member is an individual and therefore perceives the world differently depending on their own experiences.”

Emma *, a 45-year-old freelance photographer, can understand that. She grew up as the second youngest of six children and has a good relationship with all of her siblings, with the exception of Summer, the third youngest sister.

Emma can remember many childhood moments when Summer was angry with her. For example, if she received an excellent school certificate or the leading role in a school performance. Later, when she received many birthday wishes from friends on her Facebook wall, Summer was angry.

She suspects that Summer resented taking the family as a baby. Especially since Summer is at least in written contact with her other siblings.

Laura Jean Collins, a supervisor at Beaconhills College in Australia, said: “Contradicting reports of childhood experiences are quite common. Every sibling has a different perspective and the truth is often somewhere in the middle. ”

Although she spent much of her youth being careful not to provoke her sister, Emma longed for reconciliation. A few years ago, she flew to Western Australia, where Summer lives, to visit her.

Unfortunately it was not a successful stay. When Emma entered Summers house after a 24-hour flight, her sister’s first words were: “It’s my house, my rules.”

“In the end she shouted at me wholeheartedly for something irrelevant in the garden. After suffering her tantrums for two days, I checked out and checked into a hostel, ”she told Insider.

Emma has good relationships with her brother and three other sisters. She hasn’t spoken to Summer since that trip.

Ending relationships isn’t ideal, but it’s about protecting yourself

According to Collins, when there is conflict between siblings, it is best to “have this tough conversation early if there is still a chance that the relationship can be saved.”

“It is quite possible to strengthen relationships without having a perfect relationship if both siblings are ready for it,” she added.

Murray added that if you can “set limits and discuss what your relationship should look like instead of not having any contact at all, you don’t have to cut the relationship.”

However, sometimes it’s too late to try – or it’s just not an option for you. For some, it makes sense to break off contact with a brother or sister to protect themselves from further pain and agony. So it was with Jake and me.

Don’t get it wrong: ending a relationship with a brother or sister is not what you want or hope for. Still, the people I spoke to agree that sometimes it’s a wise and necessary decision. It is not healthy to hold on to someone who permanently hurts you.

“Sometimes sibling relationships just don’t work,” Collins said. “Cutting the tape is extreme and should always be the last resort. Because even if it brings relief, it’s always sad. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to end a relationship for self-preservation. ”

Adeneuer-Chima added: “There is always something to change about rivalry. But you can change something that you are confronting yourself with. “

After drawing the line, both Howard and Emma felt relieved. Sometimes it’s just not possible to maintain a relationship. Once you have accepted that, healing can begin and you can advance in your life.

Psychotherapist Amy Launder told Insider: “There are times when alienation shouldn’t be fixed or you are not ready to fix it. It is important to take care of your own emotional and physical security and that of your siblings. ”

I wish my brother and I had a better relationship. But after struggling with his hostility for decades, I know that breaking contact is the best thing I could have done for myself.

I haven’t given it up completely

Disconnection should be the last resort.

Disconnection should be the last resort.

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Despite everything, I haven’t completely given up on the fact that the relationship between Jake and me is getting even better. The next attempt must come from him.

If an estranged sibling knocks on your door again, Collins recommends “open and honest communication. Acknowledge each other’s feelings and take responsibility on your part. “

“Talking about ‘I’ instead of blaming is an important way to do that. Because when we point a finger, the other one just closes and becomes defensive. He is building a wall that is difficult to penetrate, ”she said.

Until then I keep in mind: I enjoy a fantastic relationship with both my mother and my father. I am also surrounded by a wonderful circle of friends.

As the late Maya Angelou once said: “Family is not always blood. It is the people in your life who want you in their life. Those who accept you the way you are. Those who would do anything to see you smile and love you no matter what. “

This article has been translated and edited by Ilona Tomić from English. You can find the original here.


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