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Dilemma: my brothers fell out and I want them to reconcile

Dawn French / 22 October 2019

A reader writes to agony aunt Dawn French because her brothers aren't friendly with one another and make family situations awkward.

An illustration of two men having a discussion

Dilemma: my brothers are arguing

My two brothers, aged 58 and 70, have not spoken to one another for 20 years. They fell out when my younger brother left his wife, though the marriage had been unhappy for years. 

I tried to reconcile them at the time without success and as the years have gone by the gulf has only got wider. On the couple of occasions they have both attended family functions they have been coldly polite to one another.

It seems ridiculous that we can’t all enjoy a get-together. Any suggestions for how I can bang their heads together?

Dawn French's advice

How utterly exhausting for you. Family rifts are so very toxic for everyone involved, and horribly painful.

Why don’t you resolve to give it one last go at reconciliation, with you as the mediator?  When I suggest ‘last go’, you should really mean that, so that you understand if it doesn’t work, you will step back and let yourself off the hook of fixing it forever, OK? You are not responsible.  

So, write to them both individually, fairly formally inviting them to come to neutral territory (your house?) to try to mend their brotherhood. Before the meeting, see if you can sit down with each of them independently with a view to telling them how you feel about their conflict. Don’t tell them how you think, don’t be judgemental at all, just tell them how you feel, as a sibling caught between two warring brothers, what that strife feels like for you. Feelings are Exocet missiles, they usually hit the spot!

Hopefully this will arm them with a purpose when it comes to being in a room together. At that encounter, encourage them to listen in turn to each other, keep it short (they will find it awkward) and explain that the only way forward is forgiveness. Remind them that they were not brought up to hate each other, and that you want to set a good example of how to resolve tricky stuff for all the younger folk in the family, that it’s all about respecting choice, however difficult. Family matters. A lot.

Of course, if that doesn’t work, handcuff the buggers to each other, and put them in a small room watching Homes Under The Hammer on a loop, until they beg for mercy and promise to buck up.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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