Dear Emuna,

I am the oldest of three siblings and have had an adversarial relationship with the middle sibling since the day he came home from the hospital. His style of communication makes me want to scream. It makes me very sad and I just want to move on. Therapy has not helped. However, reading your blogs always helps me look at things from a different perspective. Praying and reading the works of other contributors also helps. I just wonder what else I can do to resolve this life-long issue.

Someone with motivation

Dear Motivated,

I would love to be able to help you but there are two major reasons why I’m not sure I can. In the first place, while you blame your brother for his style of communication, you earlier state that the adversarial relationship began immediately after he was born. I have to assume that he didn’t have that difficult style of communication then (!) and that you, being the older sibling, bear some responsibility for the instant dislike you seem to have formed.

Secondly, you neglect to describe in any detail what it is about his way of communicating that you find so challenging.

Thirdly, I’m not clear about the therapy. Who went? You? Him? Both of you together? So many questions, so little information.

Let’s start with the first issue. Solely based on your letter, it would seem that you need to do some introspection. Why did you find him difficult from the moment he was born? Was there some jealousy at play? Were you displaced in your parents’ affections? If you really want to resolve this, you need to take responsibility for the role you have played. And you need to make a sincere commitment to change.

Next, you need to identify clearly what exactly it is that bothers you – and then let it go. He may never change (he may see no need to; it’s not clear whether it’s a generally unpleasant quality or just something you in particular find irritating) but if you want a relationship with him, as you claim, then you need to move on. Yes, you can decide to just let it go. Unless of course he is mean or bullying, nasty or abusive. But you don’t suggest any of that.

Again, you claim that therapy hasn’t helped. Perhaps that’s because your goal was unclear, or you were unwilling to own up to your role in this dynamic. Maybe with a more honest look at the situation, you can benefit from a new and different therapeutic intervention. Everyone has good in them; everyone has something to teach us and everyone is created in the image of God. There is a way to connect with all human beings but especially with our family. You just need to find the way in.

Instead of focusing on your discomfort in the relationship, try focusing on him, on getting to know him, on what he enjoys, on how to make him more at ease in your company. Think about how to create a healthy thriving relationship. Our sages teach that if you don’t like someone you should give to them. Giving, the Torah says, leads to caring. If you want to mend your relationship with your brother, give to him. Invite him over for dinner. Take him to lunch or a concert or other cultural event. Help him in an area where he needs assistance. Focus on his needs and desires.

I don’t know how many years this problem has festered. Entrenched behaviors are hard to change, and entrenched expectations are equally difficult to upend. But for the sake of your family and yourself, you need to try. Don’t worry about keeping score. Don’t worry whether he gives back. Just keep giving and giving and then give some more. The relationship will change because you will feel differently about it.

Ask the Almighty to help you, tell Him how much you want this change. Pour your heart and soul into your prayers and your actions and I believe strongly that your efforts will be rewarded. It’s sometimes frustrating that if we want a relationship to change, we must make all the effort. We’d rather sit back and let it come from the other side. But so frequently it isn’t. So, you can either accept the status quo (the path of least resistance and least pleasure) or you can put in the effort. I know what I would choose.