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Finding Your Way Back After a Family Rift

by FERN SCHUMER CHAPMAN

In Oprah’s interview with Harry and Meghan, the Prince used one revealing word to describe his relationship with his only brother, Prince William: “space.”

“I love him to bits,” he said, “we’ve been through hell together, we had a shared experience, but we’re on different paths.” Harry said he hopes that one day things will change. “You know, time heals all things.”

I had “space” from my only brother for decades. We reconciled seven years ago. In my experience, a lot more than time is needed to heal an estranged sibling relationship.

Harry and William, sadly, fit into at least four risk categories for estrangement:

Not surprisingly, the royal brothers have teetered on estrangement before. Many siblings cycle through estrangement and reconciliation in chronic chaos. They push limits, trying to find a mutually acceptable level of involvement, testing the possibility of a total break.

Sibling relationships are most vulnerable to estrangement during certain life stages that require families to redefine their members’ roles. At such moments, minor clashes can push siblings beyond their ability to cope, tripping a kind of emotional circuit breaker. Seeking immediate relief, they change or abandon their familial role.

These turning points include:

Can the royal brothers ever reconnect? What will it take to get there? Here are my suggestions:

The royal divide is more complex than two versions of “what happened?” The whole truth exists within a larger dysfunction that may not be fixable. But that doesn’t mean the brothers shouldn’t try.

Dr. Donna Hicks, of Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, has helped resolve some of the world’s most intractable conflicts as a third‐party facilitator. She has created the “Dignity Model” for communication that works for families as well as nations. The biggest lesson she has learned from these encounters is that “vulnerability is where the power lies. The magic happens when we expose the truth to ourselves and others and are ultimately set free by it… When we honor others’ dignity, we strengthen our own.”

In reuniting with my brother, I discovered that the process of reconciliation takes intent, commitment, good will, and mindfulness. One conversation can’t repair a deeply damaged relationship. Lasting reconciliation requires powerful listening, which is its own form of love and respect.

For William and Harry, space and time won’t suffice. Love, loyalty, and effort—three qualities that also describe the monarchy at its best—will pave the road to a royal reconciliation.

FERN SCHUMER CHAPMAN

Fern Schumer Chapman is author of Brothers, Sisters, Strangers: Sibling Estrangement and the Road to Reconciliation and co-host of the Brothers, Sisters Strangers podcast.

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