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Five Ways to Improve Your Sibling Relationships

By Jane Isay

Editor's Note: We choose our friends but we can't choose our siblings. Often our adult relationships with our brothers and sisters gets stuck on old scripts, and how we interacted as children and teens. Sometimes that works, for families that had close relationships among the children, but aloof relationships in youth can continue into adulthood. This is a nice article for adults who would like to improve their sibling relationships.

Many people wish they were closer with their brothers and sisters, especially as their own children grow up and leave home, or as they find themselves responsible for the care of their parents. The reasons for distance between siblings often go back to childhood, when a series of fights, or unresolved unfairness, came between kids. Those old stories do not have to be re-enacted for life. Here are five things you can do to make your sibling relationships easier. You may never be best friends, but very little in this life is perfect.

Tear up the old family script.

In most families, each of the brothers and sisters takes on a role, and that becomes habitual. Some of these roles depend on genetics (talent, looks), others on family dynamics (the good one, the rebel), and some depend on personality (the grind, Miss Popularity). As adults, these roles are irrelevant to our lives and we shed them-except with our siblings. So get out of the rut: if you were the bossy one, ask your sib for advice and listen to it. If the "angel" in the family gets into trouble, don't gloat--offer to help. Cutting the labels from your sibling suits is surprisingly effective in bringing you closer.

Make a deal with your brothers and sisters that what happened in the nursery stays in the nursery.

Many people focus on the things that occurred between them when they were all children. Hitting, biting, stealing from each other, tattling-these unfortunately are hallmarks of childish behavior. They happen in every family, but sometimes the hurt from these experiences lasts a lifetime. If you can retell yourself these stories from the point of view of the adult you are, two things may happen: you will forgive your older brother for pushing you around, and maybe you'll forgive yourself for being so mean to your sister. Anger and guilt are emotions that keep up apart. Reframe them, and you'll breathe more easily.

When your brother or sister really annoys you, put the shoe on the other foot.

How many times have you thought, "I can't believe we come from the same family"? There are good reasons why you're different, but that doesn't matter when you see things so differently and it bothers you. If you're a working mom with kids in day care, and you think your stay-at-home sister is wasting her talents and education, remember that she may be wondering how on earth you could turn your kids over to strangers. If you think your brother throws his money around, while you are conscientious about finances, imagine that he might find you cheap. Coming from the same family doesn't require sharing values or life styles as adults. So it helps to accept their quirks, and hope (without insisting) that they will accept yours.

No behind-the-back conversations.

You can duck a lot of misunderstandings and hurt feelings if you avoid talking about your brothers and sisters behind their backs. Don't let your parents vent to you about any of them and stay away from gossip about them. It might feel good in the short run to be the confidante but it will eventually complicate your relationships. If something happens to one sibling that another needs to know about, it's best to put them in touch with each other, instead of being the messenger and getting between them. It's just smart behavior to stop playing "telephone" with, and about, our siblings.

Remember sibling relationships come in every shape and size, from very close to occasional communications.

Every relationship takes work, we know, from friendship to marriage, to parenting. Just because you're born into the same family doesn't mean you have to be perfect brothers and sisters. Of course there are siblings who are one another's best friends, but most people go back and forth between loving their siblings and being hurt or annoyed by them. Just like the real world. Don't worry if your relationship doesn't appear to be as good as your friend's does. Sometimes we idealize or envy people because we don't know what is really going on behind closed doors. The funny thing about feeling better about a relationship is that, when you do, it becomes less tense and tends to improve.

As we get older, there are fewer people to talk to about the past, and fewer people to remember our childhood pets and the songs we sang on the endless car rides, so it's worth a little effort to improve our sibling relationships. Besides, we need others more than we did when we were younger, and we're wise enough to understand the value of relationships we once took so lightly. It's worth a try, and the results may be surprisingly good.

Jane Isay is the author of "Mom Still Likes You Best: The Unfinished Business Between Siblings" (Doubleday). Visit her online at

The How and Why of Twins By Kristine Bruner - Have you ever wondered why some twins look exactly alike and other don't? Ever wonder why twins run in some families and not in others? The twin phenomenon is not as rare or different as you might think. (Added: 8-Nov-2002 Hits: 491 )

The Sibling Connection - Bereaved Sibling By N/A - Rock 'n roll singer and actor, Elvis Presley, began his life as a bereaved sibling. (Added: 8-Nov-2002 Hits: 984 )

The Sibling Connection - Death of a Sibling By N/A - Adolescence has been described as the "farewell to childhood", as the teenager lets go of his or her childhood, grieves its loss, and begins to move into adulthood. Loss of a sibling during this period intensifies the issues related to the normal tasks of adolescence. (Added: 8-Nov-2002 Hits: 567 )

The Sibling Connection - Healing and Self-care By N/A - One of the most notable characteristics of bereaved siblings is their ability to help others who are grieving. In research studies, this particular characteristic is mentioned again and again. However, bereaved siblings are often unable to help themselves with their own grief. I wrote the poem on the right side of the page to highlight the importance of self-care in healing. (Added: 8-Nov-2002 Hits: 658 )

The Sibling Connection - Creativity and Sibling Loss By N/A - When adults are asked what helped them survive the loss of their brother or sister, they often credit creative pursuits such as writing, painting, or singing. (Added: 8-Nov-2002 Hits: 534 )

The Sibling Connection - Surviving Siblings By N/A - Whether your sibling died recently or long ago, you may find that you still have significant emotional energy around specific issues. This page describes the four basic emotions and what often triggers these emotions for bereaved siblings (Added: 8-Nov-2002 Hits: 443 )

The Sibling Connection--Anniversary Reactions By N/A - One of the most troublesome reactions to a major loss is called an "anniversary reaction," when grief returns in full force on or near the anniversary of the sibling's death (Added: 8-Nov-2002 Hits: 415 )

Siblings and Adoption By Mary Martin Mason - For several years my son's birth mother, my husband and I grappled with the best time to tell Josh that he has a half-brother. Josh's birth father has chosen not to participate in our arrangement of open adoption, and Josh's half brother is his son by a previous marriage. The chances of Josh and his brother accidentally meeting one another are remote. Still, we believe it is his right to know that he has a brother. (Added: 8-Nov-2002 Hits: 465 )

The Sibling Connection By N/A - When I was four and Richard two, a baby sister was born who I was allowed to name Katherine. She was a happy, responsive baby and we delighted in her peals of laughter when she pulled off her socks. (Added: 8-Nov-2002 Hits: 617 )

Planning for the future - sibling concerns By N/A - Even though nondisabled adult siblings have lives (and often families) of their own, they face unusual, additional responsibilities because of their unique relationship with their brother or sister with a disability. (Added: 7-Nov-2002 Hits: 289 )

I never figured you were disabled - a sister's story By N/A - I just don't have a picture of you being disabled," my younger brother muses as we discuss growing up. "There was never a suggestion in our parents' voices about 'your disabled older sister.'" (Added: 7-Nov-2002 Hits: 410 )

Children W/ Disabilities: Understanding Sibling.., 3 By N/A - The birth of a child with a disability, or the discovery that a child has a disability, can produce stress among family members. Stress can also be caused by a number of ongoing factors, or by special circumstances. Siblings need an explanation for the tensions within the family and the cause of the tensions. (Added: 7-Nov-2002 Hits: 378 )

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Birth Order (6)
There's tons of research and discussion on the effects of birth order on personality and siblings. Read about it here.

Pages Updated On: 21-Sep-2015 - 10:22:34

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