Adult sibling relationships

Enemies or BFFs?

Sibling relationships can be messy, complicated, intense and painful. They can also be one of the most positive and strongest lifetime connections we have. After all, we know our siblings for a lifetime. There isn’t anyone else we can say that about. Adult siblings can make our lives fuller, healthier and happier if we get along well. If you struggle with your siblings, and you’d like to consider mending fences, read on.

Childhood conflicts can be difficult to forgive or forget and alternatively, shared secrets and experiences can make for fierce attachment. Growing up, siblings are important for teaching each other about socialization, and the competition for parental attention can be a lifelong one. One study of 7,730 adults with siblings found that 30% would call a sibling first in an emergency, and two-thirds said that a brother or sister was one of their best friends.

Other studies have shown that a person’s relationship with their siblings, good or bad, is a predictor of mental health in old age, specifically major depression. Research shows that people who are emotionally close to their siblings are happier, have lower rates of depression, and rely on their siblings for help in difficult times.

Experts recommend several strategies to take if you’d like to improve your sibling relationships.

  • Let go of past resentments. Being with siblings brings up past hurts, especially if a parent favored one over the other. Experts suggest listening to each other’s perspective without getting defensive.
  • Don’t fall back into childhood roles when you get together. Birth order does play a large part in shaping children’s personalities and relationships but as adults you can shed those roles when it comes to your siblings. Oldest children tend to be bossy, middle children tend to seek more attention and older siblings always think the youngest is pampered and spoiled.  Try not to assign those roles to your adult siblings, and ask your siblings not to do that to you. Be as open as you can be about trying to change the way you relate to your siblings now that you all are grown up.
  • Share your goals for the relationship.  Ask how much communication they would like with you? Would they like the next generation to get to know each other? Would they like to travel together?
  • Avoid difficult topics.  Think about the triggers in your relationship with your siblings and be mindful about avoiding them.  Each of us perceives situations differently, which makes revisiting troubles from the past difficult.
  • Verbalize positive feelings. Express respect and acceptance for your siblings’ life choices. Unconditional love creates a safe environment and will heal past problems.
  • Treat siblings as you would a best friend. That should be the goal now that you are adults. Who is older or younger no longer matters, there’s no power hierarchy, you are peers.
  • Use technology to stay in touch. Create a group email newsletter to keep everyone up to date. Plan Skype or Facetime calls on a regular basis. Create a Facebook page.

If you are a parent hoping to raise children who will get along as adults, research shows that the one single thing that will sabotage children’s relationships to each other when they are young and when they are adults is to favor one child. A study by Purdue University showed that “The simple perception of parental favoritism was enough to undermine their (siblings) relationship.”