siblings grow into mature adults, they hope and expect rivalries will recede
into the past. For most siblings this is the case, but for some rivalry
continues to burn deep. In some cases new rivalries pop up. When sibling
rivalry persists into adulthood, the conflict and self-doubts can be
devastating. For those suffering these negative consequences, it's important to
learn about sibling rivalry and how to minimize it.
of Adult Sibling Rivalry
parents place expectations on their children to compensate for their own
inadequacies. As children try to fulfill these expectations|whether spoken or
unspoken|they often fear they will fail. These expectations and fears often
have a negative effect on sibling relationships.
expectations tend to include comparisons between siblings, and they often
result in labels that can stick for a lifetime. Common labels include wiz kid,
wonder child, klutz, lazy, do-gooder, rebel, delinquent, crazy one, clown,
happy go lucky one, and bully. These labels often mold us -- we become our
labels. As adults, labels can contribute to continuing rivalries with
of the most precious resources that siblings fight about is their parents' love
and approval. If parents show favoritism toward a child, they can harm and even
destroy sibling relationships.
example, in one family of sons the youngest child was spoiled and pampered by
his parents, and one of the older sons always felt left out of the picture. As
the two boys became adults and started having children of their own, the
pampering of the youngest child continued with the spoiling of that son's
grandchildren. One Christmas the older son received a package of gifts from his
parents and realized the gifts were not age-appropriate for his children. So he
called his mother and asked her if she had mixed up the packages. She had, she
realized. She apologized to both brothers and had each forward the package to the
correct person. When the older son received the package meant for him and his
children, it was smaller and the items were fewer and less expensive. He became
jealous and called his mother to express his disapproval. She responded, "You
should be lucky you received anything." This situation, caused by the parents,
has perpetuated bitter sibling rivalry between these two brothers.
Phases of Sibling Relationships
time, families experiences many changes, such as marriage, siblings having
children, the illness and death of elderly parents, the parents' or a sibling's
divorce, geographical moves, and career successes or failures. Each of these
situations can cause new sibling rivalries.
a sibling gets married, the other siblings often feel like the sibling bond has
been dissolved. They may feel they have lost something that will never be
regained. An 18-year-old young man, for example, had a brother who got married
while they were both at college. The younger brother felt sad and rejected, as
if he had lost his older brother forever. His brother was now a married man
preoccupied with responsibilities. As the older brother bought a house and
started having children, the younger brother felt even more unimportant and
like they were now worlds apart.
siblings marry, keep in mind the following:
wedding can be very stressful and can cause many hurt feelings between
siblings. Some siblings may feel like they are being left behind. If you're the
sibling getting married, be sensitive to what your brothers and sisters are
experiencing. Your relationship with them is going to be different, and this
can be a difficult change to deal with.
can be difficult for an older, unmarried sibling who would like to be married.
He or she might feel resentful and emotional. The sibling getting married
should be sensitive to this situation and tolerant of volatile emotions.
siblings get older and more established in their own lives, it's easy to drift
apart. Even if you do everything you can to stay close, a certain amount of
distancing is inevitable. The demands of a spouse, children, education, career,
a home, money problems, troubled teenagers and many other realities of life can
put sibling relationships on the backburner. All these factors also can
increase competition between siblings as they compare how their adult lives are
going. Below are suggestions to keep the competition in check.
compare the looks and qualities of your spouse to the looks and qualities of
your sibling's spouse.
comparing yours or your spouse's occupation to that of your siblings or your
respond to siblings' attempts to hook you into competing.
your own standard of success, then focus on that instead of your sibling's
standard. When you stop comparing yourself to your siblings' measuring stick,
you will eventually feel proud of your own accomplishments.
compete over the number of children each of you has|whether who has more or who
your parents age, you may find new conflict arising between you and your
brothers and sisters - or old conflict in new forms, especially if you're
sharing caregiving responsibilities. Stacey Matzkevich, a licensed clinical
social worker, suggests the following preventive measures to keep sibling
rivalries from flaring up under the stress of this situation.
a deliberate effort to break free of old roles.
shared caregiving to bring you closer instead of creating more stress.
Give yourself and each other a break.
ready to say "I'm sorry" or "I forgive you" when
emotions become heated, take a break and cool down. Think before you act
rivalry or other issues interfere with your work as caregivers, seek
with Your Siblings
any relationship a lack of communication skills causes problems. General
communication principles that can improve siblings relationships include:
sarcasm. It makes it hard for your siblings to understand what you mean, and it
often causes injury.
interpreting behavior. You can never be sure why a sibling has done what she
has done, so don't try to tell her what her behavior means.
ask questions if you're not willing to hear the answer.
wait too long to voice complaints. The longer you wait the more your resentment
you don't know what to say, be honest. If you feel awkward talking about
something, let your sibling know.
a good listener. Pay attention to verbal and nonverbal behavior.
questions that will help you gain understanding.
Friends with Siblings
matter how old you are, it's never too late to improve a relationship with a
sibling you've felt a rivalry with. Drs. William and Nada Hapworth and Joan
Heilman (1993) offer the following suggestions to help you improve your sibling
responsibility for your part of the sibling rivalry. Do your part in
trying to understand your siblings and their feelings toward you.
waste your time envying other people's sibling relationships. Even
relationships that appear good on the outside most likely have conflict
siblings are not children anymore. See them as adults and treat them
the first step. Don't let pride or stubbornness stop you from improving
your relationship. If you wait around for the other sibling to approach
you, it may never happen.
your siblings have experienced different things in life that make them
different from you. Don't expect them to be like you or who you want them
up misunderstandings as quickly as possible. Holding on to resentment and
misunderstandings only makes things worse.
boundaries for your relationship and respect those boundaries.
you have a misunderstanding, don't assume your brother or sister is wrong.
Placing blame is always destructive to relationships.
up at family functions. If you don't show up, siblings might think you're
trying to avoid them or that you feel hostile toward them. Even if you
don't feel like going, make the effort to go.
wait for your siblings to make all of the contacts. Do your part to keep
there for your siblings during hard times. These times can help you draw
time to be with your siblings. A good relationship requires spending time
Close as the Years Go By
the years, you can do many things to stay close to your siblings. Here are some
a family website. Designate one sibling to maintain the site. Invite family
members to send attachments by e-mail or to mail photos and letters that can be
scanned. Designate a space on the website where each family can post pictures
and the latest news. While it's important to find joy in each other's
accomplishments, avoid sharing things that could be seen as bragging.
a family newsletter. This is a good option for families less technologically
gossip about siblings.
a common interest that you have with each sibling and participate in that
you work to overcome rivalries and become friends with your siblings, it's
important to stay close, be patient, and learn to communicate more effectively.
If you can do these things and make needed changes in your own life, you will
have taken valuable steps in overcoming your sibling rivalries.
by Jeremy Boyle, Research Associate, edited by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
V. G. (1995). Sibling relationships across the life span. New York: Plenum Press.
P. (2002). Why can't we get along?: Healing adult sibling relationships.
New York: John Wiley & Sons.
J. & Myers, E. (1992). Adult sibling rivalry: Understanding the legacy
of childhood. New York: Crown.
W., Hapworth, N. & Heilman, J. R. (1993). "Mom loved you best:" Sibling
rivalry lasts a lifetime. New York: Penguin.
S. (2002). Flashback
to childhood: Family stress can rekindle good old sibling rivalry. Retrieved July 22, 2004.
P. (1992). Sisters and brothers: Resolving your adult sibling relationships.
Los Angeles: Lowell House.
M. (1994). Original kin: The search for connection among adult sisters and
brothers. New York: Penguin Books.
G. L. (1999). Siblings revisited: Old conflicts and new opportunities in later
life. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 25(4), 517-524.