Sibling rivalry is normal in childhood. Siblings often compete for their parents’ attention, parental approval, access to toys, and other things that they deem valuable and limited in supply. When one sibling frequently “bests” the other, the other sibling typically feels threatened because s/he is, in theory, being “edged out” of things that are important to him/her. This makes him/her feel less valuable or less lovable as a person. Certainly, parents can take steps to minimize childhood sibling rivalry by loving each child equally, not comparing one child to another, etc. However, what happens when childhood sibling rivalry persists into adulthood?
Sibling rivalries that endure into adulthood usually endure because the emotions underlying the rivalries have never been effectively addressed. The longer it takes to address these rivalries, the more “baggage” there is to address because as “baggage” accumulates over time. Therefore, it is best to address sibling rivalries as early as possible.
Here are some tips to help adult siblings resolve their rivalries
- Siblings should speak candidly, without accusation, focusing on what they experienced and how they experienced it. For example, “When Dad always pointed out that you got A’s while I got B’s, that made me feel ‘less than’.” Care should be taken to avoid statements that could be construed as accusations toward the other sibling.
- Siblings should recognize that they each have likely felt “less than” in various contexts, so expressing praise for one another becomes important at this juncture. For example, “You are very smart. I validate that. I just wanted Dad to recognize that B’s are good grades too. I certainly valued then and value now my relationship with you, it just hurt my feelings to fail by comparison. “
- Siblings should accept responsibility for their part in their rivalries. For example, “I know that Grandpa always told everyone that I was better in sports than you were. I knew that had to hurt your feelings, just like Dad’s comments about our relative grades hurt mine. However, I was so hurt by Dad’s comments that I felt relief in Grandpa’s. I was hurt enough that I turned a blind eye to how my relief came at your expense. That was wrong of me, and I apologize.”
- Siblings should make a conciliatory gesture. Such gestures may be an invitation to dinner, just the two siblings; an offer of assistance on some task that is important to the receiver sibling; etc.
- Siblings should be prepared to come to terms with how their own behaviors have been hurtful. Often, siblings are so consumed by their own feelings of being injured that they overlook (or justify) that they have been a source of injury themselves. It is important for siblings to avoid defensive responses and to apologize for the harms they have caused.
By following these tips, adult siblings can seek to resolve their sibling rivalries and actually enjoy their sibling relationships.