5 Ways to Deal With Adult Sibling Rivalry
The relationship you have with your siblings is one of the most important relationships in your life - but also one of the most complex. All siblings fight - but what happens when you find yourself in a full-on sibling rivalry?
No doubt, many painful sibling dynamics are rooted in childhood insecurities and experiences. Adult sibling rivalry can come from complex childhood environments. Sometimes envy or fear of not being safe or loved as a child can cause hostility between siblings. Comparisons made between siblings by parents, other family members, and friends are tough not to internalize. Resentment builds and builds until it creates overwhelming anger. In some cases, rivalry leads to bullying.
You have more power than you think when it comes to shifting the nature of your relationship with your siblings. You may never be best friends with your sibling, but you can heal the relationship enough to forgive them and move on for yourself.
Dealing with adult sibling rivalry in mature ways is one step towards a more peaceful life and relationship. Here are 5 ways to you can approach adult sibling that may be causing you and your sibling unnecessary emotional distress. Congratulations on taking the first step towards resolution.
1. Understand Where/When the Rivalry Began
Dive deep into your history. How deep do the roots of your sibling rivalry go? Where and when did the problems begin?
Competition for parental attention and affection is often the source of sibling rivalry that lasts into adulthood. If your parents treated you differently or praised one of you and ignored the other, it’s likely that a strong sibling rivalry can occur. There can be competition for attention in school, with friends, or in achievements outside of the immediate family unit as well. Those insecurities that develop during childhood can shape so much of your adult experience. They can become so deeply ingrained they can still play out when we are adults.
Having an honest understanding of the root causes of your sibling rivalry (including the causes you might have been responsible for) helps you take the first steps toward enjoying a relationship with a sibling.
2. Don’t Obsess
Taking control of your own thoughts in this sticky situation is a way to empower yourself.
Spend time in meditation focusing on how you can positively contribute to your relationship with your sibling. Use tools like affirmations when those negative thoughts come into your mind. Especially around holidays, having a positive affirmation handy that will redirect your thoughts so you don’t spoil your time thinking about something that was said or done years ago or dreading a gathering by painting a negative outcome in your mind. An affirmation such as, “I am loving kindness,” is simple and powerful.
3. Focus On What You Love About Your Sibling
When you want to overcome any rivalry, take some time to . Are the negative aspects of your sibling clouding your perspective to the point you’re unable to see the good things about them?
Make a list of the positive things your sibling does for others and their strengths so you have a new set of traits to focus on. You can even revisit that list before you get together with them or anytime you are starting to feel negative towards them. Even if you’re on opposite sides of the world and feelings from your relationship are festering, you can use this technique to free yourself from the negativity. It’s also important you not speak negatively about your sibling to others - including your parents.
4. Acknowledge Your Part
It takes at least two people to fight, and there’s always room to be a bit more humble. Perhaps the most difficult but most transformative part of healing your sibling rivalry as an adult is taking responsibility for how your own words and actions may be triggering or prolonging the rivalry.
Have you been kind about how your sibling feels when you communicate over the last few years? Have you thought only about your own happiness without making the effort to empathize with your sibling? These questions can help deconstruct a big chunk of the rivalry between you.
It doesn’t require fighting or trying to change someone. If you’re being bullied by your sibling, it doesn’t mean you need to continue to let that happen. That said, try to take a neutral look at how you communicate and where your intention is when you’re interacting with your sibling.
5. Shift Your Point of View
As we get older and create new social groups, world views, and belief systems, it can feel like there is a widening divide between you and your sibling. If you seem to bicker over politics, sex, religion, or even inconsequential topics, it would be valuable to try to understand their intentions and see what motivates them. Are the arguments you’re having even worth having at all? Ask yourself the tough questions, even if the answer to them means you’re the one who has to change, not them.
Embracing differences requires empathy and understanding that your way of seeing things is not the only way to see them. There are so many unique ways to live life - thinking someone needs to be more like you creates unwarranted tension. Stay as neutral as possible and focus on trying to put yourself in their shoes.
Changing the way you react to things when you’re triggered by something your sibling does or says can make a big difference. Setting an intention in the relationship can also help create a new positive dynamic. Inviting humor, finding the commonalities between you and your sibling, and focusing on their positive traits all build positive momentum in your relationship. Controlling your own thoughts can make a big difference in your experience of the relationship for sure.
Sibling rivalry in adulthood can be incredibly hard to deal with. It can feel like you’re stuck in a vicious cycle that can’t be broken.
But healing is always possible. Love is always possible.
If you’d like to dive deeper into this, check out a book called Why Can’t We Get Along? Healing Adult Sibling Relationships by Peter Goldenthal. Ultimately, ask yourself if the relationship you have with your sibling is more important to you than being right. If the answer is yes, head back up to step one. We know you can do it.
Related Article: Free Yourself: How To Let Go of Negative Self-Talk