Aside from ourselves, the people we will usually spend the most time with during our early stages of life are our siblings. From fighting over the TV remote to pretending to love each other for the annual family Christmas card, sibling relationships are a unique type of relationship that many can relate to. Over 90% of people in Western families will grow up with at least one sibling, including biological, half, or step-siblings (Goldfarb). Being that we will spend a majority, if not all, of our lives with our siblings, we rarely will take the time to realize how important these relationships are.
The question now is why are sibling relationships important? In an article on Psychology Today, Counselor Raychelle Cassada Lohmann talks about the three reasons why she believes that sibling relationships are important. First, sibling relationships are often the longest relationships in a person’s life. Friends may come and go, but there is a bond and tie with our siblings that even with time is never broken. Next, she discusses how these relationships will often be more authentic compared to our relationships with our friends in that with siblings, we are exposed to the same environment, parents, and common memories and experiences. Lastly, our siblings are a part of our family tree and shared history meaning that compared to our friendships or other relationships, when future generations look back, your relation to your sibling will often be the first one to come up (Lohmann).
Scientific studies and research have also shown the effects of having healthy relationships with your siblings can have not just effects on your relationship, but also your overall health. Having a strong and healthy relationship with your siblings is one of the most important predictors of mental health in old age and research has shown “that people more emotionally close to their siblings have higher life satisfaction and lower rates of depression later in life” (Goldfarb). Researchers at Brigham Young University found that “Sibling affection was positively associated with adolescents’ sympathy and prosocial behavior” while “Sibling Hostility was positively associated with adolescents’ depression and externalizing behavior” (Riley).
However, even though having a healthy relationship with your sibling or siblings is important and has its benefits, not having the strongest relationship with your siblings is nothing to feel guilty or ashamed for. Just because you are related or share the same life, home, and experiences with your siblings does not mean you automatically have to be best friends with them. While we choose our friends, we do not choose our siblings and “there is no reason we would be any more likely to be friends with our siblings” simply because we are related by blood “than other young adults with the same background” (Riley). Family Life and parents can also have a significant influence on the relationship you share with your sibling, so the burden of an unhealthy relationship is not for you to carry alone.
After looking up the different ways to repair a broken relationship or grow healthy relationships with siblings, there was a common thread in the essentials tools and practices to foster a growing relationship. Here are just a few things I found that have been helpful for me and reflecting on my relationships with my siblings so I hope that these will be able to help you in the same way they have helped me.
Heal the Past
As we grow older and no longer live with our siblings, many of us will naturally spend less and less time with our siblings. We must not neglect or ignore any conflict or hurt we feel in the past in that it will become baggage that not only affects the relationship with your sibling but can bleed into the other relationships in yours. For example, a common feeling that creates a divide within siblings is that the parents favor one sibling over the others. However, studies have shown that to address this issue simply saying “that’s not true” or “that’s not how it was” will immediately create a wall between siblings and cause the hurt sibling to stay in the fixed mindset of inferiority (Goldfarb).
Create Respect Based Relationships
While it is common for siblings to disagree and fights as kids, without caution it can easily become a habit that carries into adulthood. As we grow older and become exposed to more real and adult issues, these habits can grow to the point where they can seriously harm or even end a relationship. It is important to have a respect-based relationship where siblings are not seen as the baby younger child or bossy older child, but for who they are.
Avoid Comparison and Rivalry
Comparison and rivalry in sibling relationships can be extremely dangerous in that they rarely will have positive outcomes. It is important to realize that both you and your sibling have your own unique experiences that have shaped you to be the person you are now and how just because it may be different that does not mean it is wrong. Parents can also influence the rivalry between siblings without even knowing they are. To avoid a comparison between siblings, parents will often make sure that everything is fair and equal between the siblings. However, it is important to realize that fair is not equal and that it is important to realize and communicate that everyone is at different stages of life and will, therefore, have different needs. (Miller)
As we grow older, we will inevitably spend less time with our siblings and it is easy to lose communication. Aging changes people, including our siblings, so it is important to be able to deeply know each other. It also is important to meet them where they are and not where they have been or the choices they have made in life (Andersen). To have a healthy relationship in the present time, you have to acknowledge where they are presently and be willing to effectively communicate to maintain the relationship.
While we usually will share more than half of our life with our siblings, it is important to set boundaries. There is nothing wrong with needing to take time with yourself and away from your sibling when you need space, but vital that you communicate that. Mentioning certain issues or topics that have caused you hurt or you do not feel comfortable with is valid and it is healthy to communicate those boundaries with your siblings.
Avoid Childhood Roles
Whether we are the older, youngest, or middle child, there are often roles that will be placed onto us by our family, parents and the culture we live in. The conflict between these different roles can persist into adulthood if we are unwilling to let go of a role or refuse to view our siblings in a way that is not the role we expect them to play.
Time is Everything
Ultimately time is everything. Spending intentional time with your siblings is the best way to help the relationship grow and can communicate that you care about them and your relationship (Miller). As we grow older and create our own lives and families, spending time regularly with our siblings can be the very practice that keeps the relationship flourishing and healthy.
So those were just a few tools and helpful ways to build healthy relationships with your siblings but it also is important to be patient and be realistic. Even if you try all these healthy practices or habits there is no guarantee that it will immediately fix your relationship or if it will at all. Every family and sibling relationship is different so it is important to acknowledge what you can do better to help the relationship or when it is better for you to move on.
Thank you so much for reading and I hope that you were able to learn a few new things about and can use them in your relationships.
For more ideas on having a healthy relationship with your siblings make sure to check out a few of the articles that I was able to find below.
Andersen, Charlotte Hilton. “11 Ways to Become BFFs with Your Siblings As Grown Ups.” Reader’s Digest, Trusted Media Brands Inc., https://www.rd.com/advice/relationships/adult-siblings/.
Goldfarb, Anna. “How to Maintain Sibling Relationships.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 May 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/08/smarter-living/how-to-maintain-sibling-relationships.html.
Lohmann, Raychelle Cassada. “Healthy Sibling Relationships.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 26 Apr. 2014, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/teen-angst/201404/healthy-sibling-relationships.
Miller, Amy. “5 Expert-Backed Tips for Creating Emotionally Healthy Sibling Relationships.” Motherly, Motherly, 6 Feb. 2019, https://www.mother.ly/child/5-expert-tips-emotionally-healthy-sibling-relationships.
Riley, Naomi Schaefer. “How Our Siblings Shape Us.” Institute for Family Studies, 15 Dec. 2014, https://ifstudies.org/blog/how-our-siblings-shape-us/.
Photo Credits: Martin Knize on Unsplash (Background)