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How siblings can improve their bond, amid Prince William and Harry rift

Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex (L) and Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge attend the unveiling of a statue of their mother, Princess Diana at The Sunken Garden in Kensington Palace, London on July 1, 2021, which would have been her 60th birthday. - Princes William and Harry set aside their differences on Thursday to unveil a new statue of their mother, Princess Diana, on what would have been her 60th birthday. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski / POOL / AFP) (Photo by DOMINIC LIPINSKI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Prince Harry and Prince William reportedly have not spoken in years. (Getty Images)

Sibling relationships can be tricky. You’re either best friends or sworn enemies, but no matter what, you’re family, right?

But sometimes, the bond between siblings can become so broken that it might seem reconciliation is impossible. The Prince of Wales and the Duke of Sussex’s own relationship has been fraught over the last seven years, which shows that not even being a royal can shield you from difficult family moments.

Prince Harry recently paid the UK a visit to see his father, King Charles III, following the monarch’s cancer diagnosis. Buckingham Palace announced on Monday 5 February that the King’s doctors identified a “form of cancer” while he was undergoing a separate hospital procedure for benign prostate enlargement.

But Harry’s swift trip to see the King did not include a family reunion of any kind. After flying to the UK without his wife, Meghan Markle, Harry returned to Los Angeles after just 26 hours on his home soil and did not see William.

While Harry and William appeared close when they were younger - particularly after the death of their mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997 - Harry wrote in his explosive memoir Spare that his older brother was both his “beloved brother” and his “archnemesis”.

Watch: Princes William and Harry Through the Years

Asked to elaborate on his choice of words in an interview with Good Morning America, the Duke said there had “always been this competition between” him and William, who is next in line to the throne.

Spare also detailed a number of alleged incidents between William and Harry, including arguments where insults were exchanged and even an alleged physical altercation.

While there is no way to know whether Harry and William will ever be able to repair their relationship, understanding our own bonds with our siblings is important.

Why is it so hard when sibling relationships are damaged?

Fiona Yassin, family psychotherapist, founder and clinical director of The Wave Clinic, explains to Yahoo UK that all sibling relationships are unique, and tend to be quite intimate.

“Siblings tend to have a very intimate relationship, which is one that is both verbal and non-verbal and has been created over many years. They share many life experiences and perspectives - for example, witnessing parents argue - and they often communicate with an unspoken language,” she says,

This closeness is why it can be so hard to cope with when the relationship is damaged in some way. It can make “arguments or conflict as adults so painful”.

Sibling relationships can sometimes turn ugly - but they are important and should be worked on. (Getty Images)
Sibling relationships can sometimes turn ugly - but they are important and should be worked on. (Getty Images)

“Suddenly, the unspoken union and deep bond between two people that we perhaps thought could never be broken, has been taken away,” Yasisn says.

“As adults, sibling arguments tend to become much more pronounced because the parties have much more, often private or sensitive, information available to use as a weapon. This is when arguments can become toxic, damaging and ultimately more painful. Siblings may feel that many layers of trust, shared experiences and unison have been shattered. “

Parents also play a role in sibling arguments, causing further pain if one sibling feels their parent is taking the side of the other sibling.

“If that parent chooses a position and takes a side - for example, if two brothers argue and the dad backs up one in particular - it can feel very hurtful.”

How can sibling relationships be improved?

Yassin emphasises the importance of our bonds with our siblings. If you feel there is a rift between you and you want to fix it, you must “invest what you can into settling arguments and rebuilding healthy bonds”.

Some steps you can take to start improving your relationship with a sibling include:

Avoid repetitive arguments

“It can be tempting to name-call and accused and point the finger of blame by using statements such as ‘You are…’, ‘You’ve made me feel…’, or ‘You’ve caused…’

“Instead, use ‘I’ statements such as ‘I’m feeling…’, ‘I’m worried because…’ You are not inferring there is blame from the other and it’s a helpful way to diffuse a conflict.”

Don’t bring other family members into it

It may be tempting, but Yassin recommends that you avoid pulling other family members into your conflict with your sibling.

“Stay in the present and avoid weaponising information from the past. You may feel that you know your sibling inside out, but the reality is that you will never really know what the other person is thinking or experiencing and guessing someone else’s position can be dangerous.”

Forgiveness - supporting mother and hugging daughter.
Reconciling with your sibling can help strengthen your bond. (Getty Images)

Be curious about what your sibling is thinking and feeling

“If it feels like the argument is running away with you, slow it down. If the situation is heated, take the initiative to calmly step away. Say that you are upset and activated in that moment and what you would like to do is take yourself away.

“Ensure your sibling knows that you do still want to resolve this but that you need some space. Fix a date and time you can come back together to revisit what’s going on.”

Know when to give things a break

“If you’ve had an argument with a sibling and it has not been resolved, do not bombard that person with messages or voice notes and do not ask a parent to speak to them on your behalf.

“Put it on ice, step back and ensure your sibling knows you are not avoiding the situation, but rather you don’t want to speak to them when you are angry and highly activated.”

Keep details off social media

We live in a world where every part of our lives is shared on social media. But airing the details of your arguments, or even leaving ambiguous comments online can lead to more hostility.

“Keep the conflict as contained as possible, between you and your sibling, and try to ensure it doesn’t ripple through the family,” Yassin says.

Consult a family therapist

“It’s really common for siblings to argue when one feels the other has been favoured throughout life and that can set up a sibling rivalry. It can be an underlying cause of arguments in teen, adolescent and adult life.

“If you feel there are unresolved problems from the past that relate to family dynamics, seek professional support.”

Read more about relationships:

1 in 4 parents unaware if children are accessing anonymous chat rooms (Yahoo Life UK, 5-min read)

Poll reveals the biggest Valentine’s Day dinner mistakes (Yahoo Life UK, 4-min read)

The psychological reason we're so obsessed with celebrity relationships (Yahoo Life UK,