Solv­ing adult sib­ling ri­valry.

Good - - CONTENTS - with Dr Alice Boyes Psy­chol­ogy ex­pert Dr Alice Boyes is the au­thor of the book, The Anx­i­ety Tool­kit. al­ice­boyes.com

Ex­pert ad­vice for solv­ing sib­ling ri­valry

Sib­ling re­la­tion­ships are spe­cial be­cause, in most cases, your sib­lings will be part of your life for longer than any­one else. Longer even than your par­ents or chil­dren.

But we don’t al­ways get on with our sib­lings. Sib­ling ri­valry typ­i­cally has child­hood ori­gins. What trig­gers it is fre­quently no par­tic­u­lar per­son’s fault. Con­tribut­ing fac­tors can be as in­nocu­ous as an older child babysit­ting for their younger sib­ling, set­ting up a dy­namic where the younger per­son re­sents their brother or sis­ter be­ing in charge and hav­ing some power over them. An­other sce­nario is where a sick child re­quires their par­ents’ en­ergy, and other chil­dren in the fam­ily end up feel­ing ig­nored.

Younger sib­lings, in par­tic­u­lar, of­ten have a sense that their ac­com­plish­ments and mile­stones are be­ing com­pared to their older brethren. And older chil­dren can envy the grow­ing up ex­pe­ri­ences their younger broth­ers or sis­ters have, for ex­am­ple, if par­ents have more money or time avail­able for younger chil­dren.

Here are some prac­ti­cal tips for im­prov­ing sib­ling re­la­tion­ships.

Don’t blame your sib­ling for a par­ent’s be­hav­iour.

It’s not your sib­ling’s fault if your par­ent favours your sib­ling or com­pares the two of you. It’s mostly a par­ent’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to man­age the par­ent-child re­la­tion­ship. Some­times par­ents feel nat­u­rally closer to a child they have more in com­mon with, and don’t do a very good job of han­dling this. There are rare cases where it’s rea­son­able for a sib­ling to try to cor­rect a par­ent’s behavior when it’s clearly in­equitable e.g., if a par­ent leaves all their as­sets to the male child in a fam­ily and noth­ing to their daugh­ters. These sit­u­a­tions are very com­plex. For the most part though, it’s not your sib­ling’s fault if your par­ent be­haves more warmly to­wards them.

Your sib­ling’s life choices aren’t a judg­ment on your own.

Al­though sib­lings share par­ents and some life ex­pe­ri­ences, they may not have iden­ti­cal val­ues and pri­or­i­ties. One sib­ling might choose to live near their par­ents and start ‘adult­ing’ early (e.g., buy a big house and have a tribe of kids), while an­other might choose travel and ca­reer, with less sta­bil­ity. When your sib­ling makes di er­ent life choices to you, their ac­tions aren’t a judg­ment on your choices. If they de­cide to be­come a stay-home par­ent rather than re­turn­ing to paid work af­ter hav­ing chil­dren, it doesn’t mean they think you should fol­low suit. It’s fine for di er­ent peo­ple to want di er­ent things, or the same things but at di er­ent times.

Reach out when things go right.

There’s re­search that shows the im­por­tance of reach­ing out to peo­ple when they’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing suc­cesses and achieve­ments. This type of sup­port is at least as crit­i­cal for re­la­tion­ship health as sup­port­ing peo­ple dur­ing tough times. Make a point to do sim­ple stu like tex­ting your sib­ling ‘good luck’ on their first day of a new job, or to con­grat­u­late them on a ca­reer achieve­ment.

Shared ex­pe­ri­ences don’t a ect every­one the same way.

The same child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences can have a di er­ent im­pact on di er­ent peo­ple. Your sib­ling may feel trau­ma­tised by some­thing that hap­pened as a child that you can’t even re­mem­ber. Maybe your par­ents missed their recital be­cause they were tak­ing you to the doc­tor. Chil­dren’s brains don’t in­ter­pret events in the same way an adult or older child might. You can ac­cept that your sib­ling feels hurt, re­sent­ful or an­gry, with­out ei­ther judg­ing the va­lid­ity of, or tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for, their feel­ings. This can help you to un­der­stand when your sib­ling’s hurt emo­tions rear up in your adult in­ter­ac­tions and, in turn, stop those in­ter­fer­ing with you hav­ing a ful­fill­ing, har­mo­nious adult re­la­tion­ship.

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