Whether it's the family you were raised with, or the family you chose, most of us have people in our lives who know us a little too well. In other words, they know exactly which of our buttons to push and how to get a reaction our of us. Shout out siblings!
Often, when I talk to people about their siblings, they say things like:
"That's just how they are."
"There's no changing them."
"They drive me crazy, but I couldn't live without them."
or "I accepted long ago that this is how our relationship works."
And I'm not sure who started the idea that our sibling relationships are "off limits" for improvement, but...
Just like all healthy relationships, sibling relationships work best with boundaries, open communication, and trust.
While it may sound daunting to make changes to a lifelong relationship, it probably also sounds daunting to keep facing the same frustrations for the rest of time with your siblings-am I right?
Bottom line: We have to know what we need and what to ask for
So, where to begin?
Step 1: Identify what isn't working for you
Is it the way your sibling brings up a past argument or relationship that bothers you?
Is it how they never answer your calls/ messages?
Is it that they show up uninvited?
Is it how they dismiss your opinions or make jokes out of everything you say?
Is it that they are rude and put you down like they have since you were little?
Take time to really think about what it is -specifically- that causes you the most frustration.
Another way to ask this is, what makes me most uncomfortable when I'm with them? or, what are we always arguing about?
Step 2: Choose a boundary and stick to it
Boundary setting is one of the hardest things to work on, because it's uncomfortable and we tend to avoid confrontation as humans. In fact, the number one reason that boundaries fail is because we struggle to uphold them long-term. So, in addition to deciding what you need- it's important to make a commitment to holding your boundary and consider how you'll respond if it is crossed.
If you decided you won't tolerate your sibling putting you down anymore, how will you respond when they inevitably do? Will you hang up? Will you walk away? Will you say out loud, "that makes me upset- I need you to stop"?
Remember that by making a plan and sticking to it, you're ultimately trying to improve this relationship.
Step 3: Communicate openly about the boundary + check in
Boundaries shouldn't be secrets that we try to see if other people can figure out. In fact, it's really important that you are clear about what you are needing to see change and what your response will be if they don't respect it. Change takes time and humans aren't perfect- it's understandable if they need to be reminded a few times. Yet, if it seems like they aren't trying to honor your needs- don't ignore that.
Also remember that humans appreciate when their positive changes are acknowledged. If your sibling is putting in effort to improve your relationship by listening to your boundaries- tell them how much it means and that you notice.
Step 4: Trust yourself and trust that they will figure it out
At the end of the day, I know you wouldn't put yourself through the boundary setting process just for fun. This means something to you and it's a big deal that you're acknowledging what you need and prioritizing it.
If you need to write down your "why" or find ways to refocus on this goal for when it feels more tough- do. You're worth it and being able to have healthy relationships with your siblings is also worth it!
I believe in you.
Meredith Waller MSW, LCSW
Based in Boulder, CO and offering online counseling throughout Colorado
-Certified Shame-Informed Treatment Specialist
-Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional