Dear Neil:  We are a retired couple who feel saddened and disappointed by our three grown-up children.  They barely communicate with each other, and rarely remember birthdays, Christmas or each other’s children.  On the rare occasion when we get together as a family, such as a wedding, the time is fraught with tension.  I would like them to be concerned more for each other, and they just seem not to care about family loyalty.

Hurt In Wellington, New Zealand

Dear Hurt:  Ask your grown-up children to address the following questions, taken from John Gottman’s book The Relationship Cure (Crown):

  • What does being a good sibling mean to you?  Do you feel that you’re a good sibling now?  Why?
  • Do you feel your brother/sister is a good sibling now?  Why?
  • What does family mean to you?
  • Think about the role of extended family in your home when you were growing up.  Do you want your current family to be the same or different?  How?
  • How important is it for brothers and sisters to provide emotional support for one another?  What does good emotional support between siblings consist of?
  • Do you feel you get what you need from your sibling (s)?  What else would you like?
  • How do you and your sibling(s) show that you care about one another’s current lives?
  • What do your siblings not understand about you that you wish they would understand?
  • As adults, how much time should siblings make for one another?  Are you happy with the amount of time you spend with your sibling(s)?
  • How important is it for siblings to share responsibility for their aging relatives?  How should these responsibilities be shared?
  • How important is it to be able to talk openly about the past with your sibling(s)?
  • What were your separate perceptions of your family growing up?
  • How do you each view your parents today?
  • Is it OK to talk now about memories concerning difficult times or about how family members were hurt?
  • What if you disagree about what happened during your childhood?
  • Are there remaining hurts and grievances that need to be discussed?
  • What values, philosophies or points of view have you adopted from your family of origin in building your own families?  Which have you rejected?
  • What if there’s a big difference in the amount of money or success you and your sibling(s) have had?  How does this disparity affect your relationship with each other?
  • How important is it for relatives to acknowledge such occasions as holidays and birthdays and to be together for weddings, graduations and funerals?
  • How important is it for siblings to have fun together?  Are you satisfied with this aspect of your relationship?  What changes would you like made?
  • Are there ways that you’d like to change your relationship with your siblings?  In what ways?  What would it take to make those changes?  What would your relationship look like once those changes took place?

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