Doctor Neha: Hi, welcome everybody. Today I have a special guest, Jeremiah. He is a brave soul willing to ask his questions so that all of you can learn. So Jeremiah, what are you thinking about? What question has been on your mind lately?
Jeremiah: I’ve been thinking about my sister a lot because I haven’t seen her enough this summer, and I’d really love to see her a little more.
Doctor Neha: So what’s your relationship with your sister? I ask because the way you said it was in a tone that sounded like you miss her and almost like you want a deeper connection with her. So it’s not just about seeing her this summer, but it seems like there’s something else.
Jeremiah: Right now my relationship with my sister is a little strange because she’s going through changes in her life. She’s at that stage in her life, and you’re right about me wanting a deeper connection with her. I guess that’s what I was trying to get at. I don’t necessarily want to see her more.
Doctor Neha: Right because a lot of people see each other every day, but it doesn’t mean that they have a deep connection. So a little bit of what you’re talking about figuring out on what level do you want to connect with your sister right now. Let’s define it. Let’s get clear about what you want.
Jeremiah: Right now, [our relationship] is probably like passing a friend in the hallway.
Doctor Neha: Like you pretty much only say, “Hey, how’s it going?”
Doctor Neha: Do you ever Snapchat each other? Do you guys ever text?
Jeremiah: I’ve tried a couple of times and she doesn’t respond. She just opens it and that’s it.
Doctor Neha: Okay. That’s not very satisfying, one-way communication. So your sister is going through some changes, and you’ve been having a busy summer. On what level would you like to connect to her?
Jeremiah: I’d probably like to be her best friend, so on that kind of level. Obviously she’s going to have her school friends and everything, but I’d like to be someone that she can say anything to.
Doctor Neha: Okay, well, that’s quite a leap. First of all, it’s ambitious and how loving of you as a brother to want to be not just her brother but also her best friend. So I want to commend you for that. Now think about when were you guys close?
Jeremiah: Oh, we were close when I was younger, when we didn’t really have much to worry about.
Doctor Neha: When it was about playtime.
Doctor Neha: So give me a good memory of you and your sister.
Jeremiah: She used to have this high chair when she was like four or five. She would sit in it for dinner and it would kind of constrict her so she couldn’t turn back to see behind her. So I’d jump around each side, poking my head out enough where she could see me, and it would crack her up so much.
Doctor Neha: That’s so special. Have you talked to her about that memory?
Jeremiah: No, I don’t think she honestly remembers it.
Doctor Neha: Well, you get to tell her because you do [remember it] and get to describe to her how fun that was. Now, fast forward to today. Do you still try to play games with her and tickle her? What do you do now in the more grown-up version of hide-and-seek around a chair?
Jeremiah: Trying to make her laugh by maybe hugging her or wrestling a little bit with her. Sometimes she is into it, and sometimes she just punches me.
Doctor Neha: So you don’t know what kind of response you’re going to get. When she punches you or she doesn’t really respond, how do you feel?
Jeremiah: It’s kind of frustrating because it’s hard to get one response one time and then I try again and [her response] is completely different.
Doctor Neha: What’s interesting about the way you’re connecting to her is around touch—you know, wrestling with her, hugging her—it’s actually touching someone. And it sounds like you said she’s going through a tough time right now because she’s changing a lot. She might need more personal space. That’s the idea that’s coming to me. So the way to approach this would be to start with a conversation. I would begin by saying something like this:
“I’ve been away from you a lot this summer, and I’ve been thinking about you. I miss you, and I wanted to share with you one of the memories I had from when we were little. I’m not sure if you even remember this, but I used to make you laugh all the time when you were in your high chair and you had to sit there until you finished your food. It was like prime time for me to make your time in the highchair more fun. I realized that I really enjoy when I see you laugh. When I see you happy and joyful, it makes me happy. And now I know I wrestle with you and poke around and have fun, but I think sometimes it doesn’t work for you. So I want to know how would you like to connect and what would work for you because it seems like things are changing. We’re growing up. Can you tell me what would be a good way for us to connect?”
Because sometimes you don’t have to work this hard when [a relationship] seems confusing, when you’re trying something and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t make sense. You have to ask the other person if they’re interested in what you’re interested in. Is your sister interested right now in building a strong connection with you? Sometimes it’s painful to hear that people are going through changes, and it’s not the time. One thing I can tell you from my own personal experience is that my older sister and I used to fight like cats and dogs when we were younger. Then when we both got into high school, it was like “You and me against our parents”—we came together because we had a common goal, which was to socialize and have fun and figure out how to do things together in high school. So that was the time, in high school and college, when my sister and I became close. Before that, we weren’t close and I’m not sure that that could have happened until we were in the same space. Your sister is how much younger than you?
Jeremiah: Two years younger.
Doctor Neha: When you’re younger, age is a big difference. But as you get older, that difference gets smaller and smaller in what you like to do and how you like to be. So one factor would be asking her about how she wants to connect. The second factor is to trust that you can be the brother that you want to be to her and give her what she needs. So if she needs space now or she says, “I don’t really want to connect to you right now” or ”I’m not really interested in that,” you just get to say, “Thanks for your honesty, and if you ever change your mind, know that I’m here.” Then it’s time for you to trust that it might just require life experiences and timing to change it all.
Jeremiah: That sounds good.
Doctor Neha: So what are your takeaways?
Jeremiah: That a conversation is necessary in this situation, and that I need to give her more space. I think I may have been trying a little bit too hard, and that may not happen right now.
Doctor Neha: Next, you want to notice any parallels in your life when you try a little bit too hard with friends who aren’t reciprocating or with another relationship—you might see this pattern in other areas. An important thing to notice is that often the patterns we have with our siblings are the patterns we can also have with peers.
Doctor Neha: Thank you, Jeremiah. It’s a great question for anyone out there with siblings and wondering how to connect to them differently. Sometimes you just gotta ask. Thanks, Jeremiah, for being with us.
Awareness Prescription to Reconnect With Someone
Express your appreciation for the relationship.
Describe what has changed (location, frequency of seeing each other, etc.).
Ask these questions to find out what they need:
“Have you noticed this?”
“Are you interested in us being close again?
“What would be the best way to connect now?”
If the other person isn’t interested at this time, believe them. Allow them the space they need, and trust it’s not the right time.
Make sure to thank them for being open by saying some version of this: “Thanks for your honesty, and if you change your mind, I’m here.”