Dear Doris,

A month ago, my younger brother (who always had a sarcastic streak), my sister and I had a conference call about our aging mom and during the call they kept addressing me by my old nickname, which I let go of a year ago. After the call, I texted them requesting to please call me by my full name. I was shocked by my brother’s reply, which felt like a punch in the gut. I called him in order to resolve it, but he was even ruder to me. I had to hang up because of the language he was using and was in tears, because it felt like I lost my brother. I tried to send him a thoughtful email letting him know that I love him but also about the difficulties I’m having with his language. I mentioned that unless he is able to speak to me with respect, all I can do is be a fellow sibling taking care of our mother. I apologized if I did or said anything to hurt him and to please not respond to my email unless he is able to own his own part in what is going on. Since then emails have gone back and forth about Mom but no acknowledgement of my email. I do not even know if he received it (emails do get lost sometimes) and am wondering if you have any advice as to how to move forward – or how to negotiate this relationship that sadly seems to be falling apart.


Dear S.

I can feel how much your brother’s words hurt you and how much you would love to have a good relationship with him.

Be aware that issues among siblings most often stem from old, unresolved childhood dynamics and are very common. There are families in which those kind of dynamics have gone unresolved for generations. You might be dealing with an issue that has been passed down to you from a parent or grandparent because they were not able to resolve it with their siblings or other family members in their lives.

Who knows how your brother experienced you as his older sister in his childhood? Who knows what myths he made up about you back then? As his older sister, try to remember any negative or burdening messages coming from your parents about him that may have taken root.

Back to now. You are wondering why your brother has not acknowledged your email. Perhaps your email got lost as you said, or maybe he took you at your word and does not feel ready to fulfill your conditions for a response, nor does he know how to respond without getting deeper into trouble, or…?

I recommend you learn to accept how things are between you at the moment and look for emotional support and understanding among your friends and partner, if you are married or in a committed partnership. Try to collaborate as best you can with your siblings while keeping your mom’s best interests in mind as a team. This way, you may be able to experience each other in new ways. It is important to avoid any form of self-righteousness, which always promotes disconnection in relationships.

Acknowledge the feelings that get triggered in you by your brother, and find the emotional support you need elsewhere. This may be enough to start your own healing, which can help you experience your siblings, especially your brother, in a more mature manner. Envision how you would like things to be between you and him. Keep yourself open to this vision but do not insist on when and how this needs to manifest. Keep it as a wish that may be fulfilled someday or not. You only have control over your own feelings, actions and inner attitudes.

It might also be helpful, to not take things your brother says too personally. Usually, when people are nasty to others, they aren’t feeling very secure about themselves. Focusing on being a good team player, trying to understand your siblings’ perspectives, and appreciating what everyone is doing to help, including yourself, will make the task of caring for your mother much easier for you all. Also notice and praise what is going particularly well among you three. If things become more difficult and communication becomes harder between you and your brother, the two of you may want/need to seek help from a relationship coach.

Wishing you all the best!


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