Conflict is a natural part of life, but it can be more complex when there is a family rift, especially between siblings.

A sibling bond can be layered with positive and negative experiences. Sometimes, those negative experiences outweigh those shared joyful memories. Jealousy, competition, parental favoritism, rivalry and other similar situations lead to sibling conflict. If left unhandled, that resentment grows and develops animosity on both ends.

There always comes a time to resolve those lingering issues. Trying to mend a fractured sibling relationship is challenging, but not impossible. Marriage and family therapist Davin Cobb specializes in helping people solve family conflict and relationship issues. Throughout her career, she has worked directly with siblings trying to repair their relationship. Here’s some of the practices that she found most effective when navigating delicate circumstances. 

Use “I” Statements

Accountability is an essential skill that helps push the conversation forward when trying to repair a relationship. Although accountability is an important step in the healing process, it is not always the easiest thing to do. Cobbs suggests communicating with “I” statements because it helps reduce the defensiveness that comes with conflict, with the hope of reaching the root of the issue.

“The ‘I’ statements take responsibility for my emotions, while also reminding and holding them accountable for how they impact my emotional state,” Cobb told 21Ninety.  

Cobb gave an example of replacing statements, like “you hurt my feelings” or “you always do this,” with “I feel this way when you do this.” Using “I” statements act as a better way to address hurtful situations.

Seek Professional Guidance

Cobb advocates for siblings to seek professional help instead of attempting to reconcile their issues themselves.

“We often try to do things on our own that we don’t actually have the tools or skill set to do,” she said. “Especially in the Black community, no one has taught us the things that are necessary to have healthy relationships.”

Using a family therapist or counselor as a resource helps to cultivate a space where each person can be heard. They also are equipped with proper training to help resolve resentments, sibling dynamics and other grievances. 

“While therapy helps to mediate the conversation, it also helps you learn the skills necessary to do outside of the session,” she said. “I think a lot of us try to hash through issues. But, if we’re using the same skill set that brought us to the disconnect to try to repair it, we’re probably not going to make the progress that we’re actually looking for.”

Leave Room For Hope

Many times, irrational thinking can prevent a person from taking the first step toward mending a broken relationship. Irrational thoughts are ideas that are not based on reason, logic or understanding. When those irrational feelings arrive, Cobb urged for people to counter them with the hopefulness that resolution is achievable.

“Understand that there is always room for people to grow,” she said. “Even when you both have not been communicating, the other person may have learned something about themselves.”

She also added that it is equally important to know the type of person you are dealing with and to not internalize the ways they choose to cope. Those coping mechanisms may include silent treatment, isolation, avoidance and more.

“Send that text message or email saying you’re willing and open whenever they’re ready,” Cobb suggested. “But, you also have to accept things out of our control. If someone is unwilling to dialogue with you, [then] you’ve reached your max. You cannot force them to do so, and that’s a really hard lesson to learn because it halts the progression.”