Dear Vicki: I’m having trouble with my brother, Sam. We’re both adults – he’s a successful attorney and I’m a nurse – but he’s acting like a spoiled child. Last month was our parents’ 40th wedding anniversary and at my suggestion, their children (me, Sam, and our two brothers) all chipped in to send them on a cruise. The night before they left, we had dinner together and I brought a small “bon voyage” gift for Mom and Dad. Well, Sam didn’t like that. He accused me of trying to make him look bad, currying favor with our parents, and several other less choice motives, which really hurt my feelings. Of course, I was just trying to honor our parents, but Sam refuses to believe me. I’ve reached out to him, but this time he won’t return my calls. He’s divorced, so I can’t ask his wife for help now, either. It breaks my heart to have this rift with him. Why is he like this, and what can I do? Signed: Sad Sister
Dear Sad Sister: It was very thoughtful of you and your siblings to send your parents on a cruise for their anniversary. I hope they had a fantastic time.
I’m sorry about the problems with Sam, but your comment that “this time” he won’t return your calls suggests it isn’t the first time you two have had an issue like this. Unfortunately, it’s not surprising. While you don’t mention what elements you are, it’s likely that you’re an Earth. The fact that the cruise was your idea, your thoughtfulness in bringing a bon voyage gift, and your heartbreak at a “rift” with a sibling all suggest you live life through a filter where personal connections are very important. Helping people also matters a lot to Earths, and few of us on the planet help people more than nurses do.
Sam, on the other hand, is clearly not an Earth. Lawyers usually have a great deal of Wood or Metal, depending on whether they’re corporate or trial attorneys. Success matters to both, but Woods will usually personalize the success more than Metals. The anger that Sam is expressing also suggests that he’s more Wood than Metal. Metals like to be honored, of course, but Woods want to look good in front of people. As a Wood, if stressed or out of balance, Sam could easily have construed your sweet departure gift as an attempt to make him look bad, something Woods can’t stand. The idea that you would “curry favor” at his expense carries a sense of competition, which is also much more of a button-pusher for Woods than Metals. A Metal usually knows his own worth and can detach from the challenge. But out of balance Woods will often rise to anything they perceive as bait in order to prove themselves.
Your Earth and Sam’s Wood relate to each other on the Controlling Cycle. When balanced, the Control relationship between Earth and Wood is usually more gentle and supportive than other Controlling Cycle relationships because Earth is all about balance. In nature, trees don’t diminish the earth; they help anchor and stabilize it. However, in people, out of balance Woods can and do feel hurtful to Earths, so it’s not surprising your feelings were hurt. And while this is a brief description of why he might be acting the way he is, the question remains how can you heal things between the two of you?
When Woods engage in angry or frustrating behavior, they usually realize they were wrong, but can have a hard time apologizing. Often, the best way to get past a situation like this with a Wood is to give it time to blow over and then act like nothing happened. If your parents are back from their cruise, how about asking Sam to help you put together a family dinner to hear all about their adventures, see photos, etc.? This will make Sam feel important, remind him of the value of his contribution to their trip, and probably give him the excuse he needs to reconnect in a way that will save face for him. You don’t mention how recently Sam divorced, but he could be coming down hard on himself for his failure in marriage, failure to be a good enough son to bring a gift the night of the bon voyage party, and any other issues of which we are unaware, including possible failed court cases. Because success and personal accomplishment are so important to Woods, failure can really throw them off balance. This means helping him feel good about himself could be the perfect answer.
Sam is lucky to have you as a sister because your Earth caring will help heal this breach. But be mindful not to overdo the nurturing. Too much fussing will just remind Sam of where he failed. Reach out with the opportunity to move forward – which Woods thrive on – and I suspect he will happily leave the issues behind and come out of hiding. Good luck!