DNA tests show my brother and I may not be related

Tell me about it: We did it for fun and now it could blow our family apart

PROBLEM: Six months ago, I did a DNA test with my brother for fun – it was a sort of joint birthday present as we were born in the same month and we’ve always been very close as there is only a little over a year between us.

We bought the kits online and sent them off to see which one of us had more Irish DNA after we saw people doing it on TV – it seemed like such a lark at the time. It was fun getting the results and seeing the pie chart and comparing the breakdown.

I had a small percentage of Iberian Peninsula DNA which I was delighted about as I love the sun and I like the idea that there is a romantic streak in my past. Last week, I was contacted by a lady on the site who said our DNA matched. I checked my account and it says she’s a first cousin, but I’ve never heard of her name on either side of my family. I told my brother and he checked his account, but she’s not related to him at all.

What does this mean?

If she’s related to me and not my brother, could this mean that my brother and I aren’t actually related? This lady is coming to Ireland on holidays next summer and wants to meet me. I’m now very confused and a bit freaked as to what this might do to my whole family.

ADVICE: As the popularity of DNA testing kits continues to increase, more and more people are finding there are secrets and stories in their family’s past that are being exposed without any preparation or forewarning. You are now confused, and are already beginning to put some pieces together which may threaten your family cohesion but now there is no option but to deal with what has been revealed.

Your brother is already involved in this story so he could be a source of support for you, though it may be that you both have to face the possibility that you are not full blood relatives. Then there are your parents to think of and any other siblings you may have. Not all parents have full disclosure with each other regarding their past lives so you will need to tread very carefully here. Some things to consider are your family’s capacity to deal with crises and challenges, how strong and loyal are the bonds between its members and how secure do you feel in terms of unconditional love received.

As you are likely to be in shock for a while, it is worth taking someone into your confidence who is reliable and able to act as a sounding board while not gossiping or spreading rumours. Any further disclosures must be done at your choosing and when you are feeling grounded and supported. As there are already two other people who know of this revelation, there is a limited time within which to reveal and manage this story.

Starting with your parents is honouring them as head of the family but also they are the people who can shed most light and truth on what has happened. Usually, we try to protect those we love from hurt and pain but you have little choice but to put the facts to them and then allow them time to absorb the effects. It may be that they also need to be supported and we all have different ways of managing stress: some retreat into themselves while others get angry, so be prepared for all eventualities. A family therapist might be able to conduct a session where everyone gets to partake in a discussion about this intrusion into family cohesion but it is likely that this will take some time to be absorbed and understood.

Your own identity and sense of belonging may be seriously challenged and so all efforts to surround yourself with love and support needs to be prioritised now. The rock of kinship and attachment that you have built your life on will now be questioned and the ground that you stand on might feel very shaky for a while. Take your time while coming to terms with this new information and ask for and use all supports that are offered. Sometimes, people feel that they have to keep the peace and make sure everyone else is happy before they prioritise themselves and now is not the time for this. You need to foreground your own needs, ask and expect your family to partake in the difficult conversations, assume the bonds of family will hold and lean on your community of people.

When you are ready, there will be the need to assimilate the new relations into your life and this can be both anxiety-inducing and exciting. Blended families are now a norm in our society and we have grown our concept of family way beyond the nuclear one of the 20th century.

Be open to new connections but do this slowly as your own family might find this difficult.

Finally, hold to the notion that our capacity for love and inclusion is never depleted by increasing numbers in our circle of connection.