Restoring Relationships with Adult Siblings

My brother, my two sisters and I enjoyed growing up together, watching TV together, playing many board games together, and going to church together.  We looked forward to family vacations together, often visiting relatives in other states.  Now, I still love all my siblings very much, and my younger sister is one of my closest friends as well as my business partner in running the Meier Clinics nationally.  It feels great to have the love and support of my siblings.

I have lots of psychiatric patients who wish they had this kind of relationship with THEIR brothers and sisters.  In spite of their heroic efforts to build healthy relationships with their siblings and lots of prayer, it often simply DOES NOT HAPPEN!  What can they do next?

The Bible tells us quite clearly in many places that it is not always possible to be at peace with everyone.  It tells us that we should make an effort to do our part, but that it still may not work.  Christians often have a hard time accepting the fact that God does not make robots out  of us.  He gives all humans the right to choose whether or not to seek God’s will for our lives.  God would love for your siblings to not hold grudges and to build healthy friendships with you, but God will never force anyone to obey Him.

In fact, if your siblings are emotionally, physically or sexually abusive, I would urge you to keep your distance and have no more than a superficial relationship with them or maybe even no relationship at all in some cases.  God NEVER wants you to put up with abuse, unless you are a Christian and someone is “slapping you in the face” for being a believer, in which case you should turn the cheek.  If anyone else physically abuses you, you should use self-defense, boundaries, and even call the police if necessary.  God says in Psalm 68 that when someone abuses one of God’s children, God will take that abuser and smash his head against the rocks.   He also promises in Romans 12 to get vengeance on our foes, warning us not to take vengeance into our own hands.

My advice as a Christian psychiatrist is to seek the council of your close friends and the siblings you ARE close to, in order to evaluate whether there is any merit at all in trying to make peace with the siblings with whom you are distanced.  If they hurt you or take advantage of you every time you try to get close to them, then give up and stay away from them and turn them over to God.  If your siblings are relatively decent people, but there are some hard feelings because of disagreements from the past, then making peace is a valuable effort.

When doing so, NEVER tell your siblings what they should or should not do.  Do NOT preach to them or at them.  Instead, tell them simply that you miss having a closer relationship with them, and ask if there is anything you can do to help the relationship.  King Solomon told us in the Book of Proverbs that a brother offended is harder to win over in friendship than defeating a strong city.  So even if your sibling is at fault and caused the breakdown in the relationship, still ask (without implying guilt if there is none) if there is anything YOU can do to restore the relationship.

If several siblings are on the same page with you emotionally, then asking for a family meeting is often helpful to persuade the errant sibling to come back to the family fold.  If part of the problem WAS your fault, be sure to apologize for your part in the alienation, but don’t apologize if you are innocent.  God wants us to speak the truth in love, which means we not only need to speak to our siblings in loving ways, but we are also supposed to be honest with them, even if the truth hurts and may result in a permanent alienation.  An “adult to adult” message to your alienated peer would be, “I feel (whatever emotion) about what happened to alienate us from each other (Sad? Angry? Whatever the truth is!). 

If your sibling refuses to reconcile, then leave the door open for the future by saying that you will always love him or her, no matter what, and that you hope some day he will change his mind and become your friend again.

Paul Meier, M.D., is the founder of the nation-wide Meier Clinics (www.meierclinics.org) established in 1976.  He is widely acknowledged as a pioneer in the integration of the physical aspects of man with the psychological and spiritual dimensions. 


Dr. Meier received his Masters of Science degree in Cardiovascular Physiology from Michigan State University, his Medical Degree (M.D.) from the University of Arkansas College of Medicine, and completed his psychiatric residency at Duke University.  Dr. Meier attended graduate courses at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, in 1975-76 while as a full-time faculty member. He also holds a Master of Arts degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, where he served as a full-time faculty member in pastoral counseling for 12 years. 

In 1999, Dr. Meier was honored by the American Association of Christian Counselors with a Lifetime Achievement Award at their Worldwide Conference.  In 2006, Dr. Meier was named as a Physician of the Year by The National Republican Congressional Committee and honored at a reception by the President of the United States and Congress in Washington, D.C. 

Dr. Meier has been a guest on numerous radio and television programs throughout his professional career, including Oprah Winfrey, The Tom Snyder Show, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Joyce Meyer, Paula White, and Radio Free Europe.  He has been honored to teach and speak at many universities and seminaries throughout the world, often lecturing on insight-oriented therapy and other related topics.  Dr. Meier has authored or co-authored over 80 books and written numerous articles for magazines and other publications.