Complicated Families

From birth order to rivalry, it's a family affair.

When Enough Is Enough

When it makes sense to give up on a sibling.

Richard Friedman, a psychiatrist who writes in the New York Times, has written a piece that faces a truth we would prefer to deny: Some kids are just difficult, and they grow up to be adults who aren't nice at allThis struck a chord with me, because in response to my articles about how to improve relationships with siblings, I have been getting mail from people who have endured years of mistreatment from brothers and sisters. They are fed up, and ready to give up.

I realized, reading these letters and thinking about the Friedman piece, that miserable people also come from families and probably have brothers and sisters whom they aren't so nice to. The people who are writing to me in desperation may be their relatives. So here are some tips about how to think about breaking off with terrible siblings.

1. Cruel behavior isn't acceptable, and nobody should suffer from verbal or emotional abuse.

2. Men and women who have made bad choices sometimes believe that they can come to their siblings to bail them out, all their lives. This is not necessarily the job of a brother or sister.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

3. If a sibling has rebuffed all of your genuine efforts to reconnect, it may be time to take the hint.

4. If your brother or sister is being awful to your parents or to another sibling, you are free to decide which side to take. And you don't have to put up with a hostile brother or sister-in-law.

5. After years of experiencing hurtful behavior, you have the right to let the offending party go his or her own way.

Accepting unpleasant facts frees us to make the right choices. That's what Dr. Friedman suggests. Deciding to let go and get on with our lives may be the only strategy that makes sense.

This decision may not mean the ultimate end of the relationship. As people get older, they begin to miss their siblings in ways they never thought possible. And sometimes they can build a new relationship. But that's not part of this decision, which is to say finally, "Enough is Enough."


Jane Isay is the author of many books, including Secrets and Lies (Doubleday).

Jane Isay is the author of Secrets and Lies, Mom Still Likes You Best, and Walking on Eggshells.


Subscribe to Complicated Families

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.