Adult Sibling Rivalry

Marcelina Hardy, MSEd, BCC
Sisters at war

Do you have a love - hate relationship with your sibling, or is it just hate? You may not understand why you and your sister/brother can't get along, or you've had a major conflict and just want to resolve it. Whatever the case may be, you're worried about the relationship you have with your sibling and you may want to ease the discomfort you are feeling.

Tips for Overcoming Adult Sibling Rivalry

Issues don't resolve themselves, no matter what type of relationship you are in. Taking action to come to an understanding with your sibling will help you both start to accept your differences.

Resolving Conflict

  • Confront. Make the first move in resolution. Call your sibling to request a meeting face to face. While you may not want to see him, it's important that this step be made so you can move towards a place where you are comfortable in close proximity, despite differences. If you live too far away from your sibling to meet, you will have to have the conversation over the phone. Ask when is a good time to call back to have a lengthy talk.
  • Present the problem. Start by stating the obvious: what the cause of the turmoil is. While your issues with your sibling may be different from the problems he has with you, it's imperative to address your views and then give him the chance to present the problem as he sees it.
  • Use "I" statements. "I felt upset when things were said about my wife." Avoiding the use of "you" in your presentation of problems will help it not seem like you are attacking your sibling. You don't want to attack (even if he/she has attacked you) because people who feel attacked often shut down (either hang up or close themselves off emotionally and stop listening).
  • Remain calm. Your sibling may try to attack you if he is still upset. Listen to what he says, but try your best not to react to the anger, but only the content. Instead, remind yourself that he is just expressing emotions and needs to do this to process the situation and eventually move away from it.
  • Practice active listening. Listen to what your brother/sister says and then rephrase it back to him/her. "So what you are saying is that I offended you when I said that your career hasn't been doing well lately." This shows that you are earnestly attempting to understand and gives him/her a chance to explain again if it turns out you don't understand.
  • Offer possible solutions. As you're talking, suggest ways to rectify the issues within your relationship. Don't just provide one way to solve it because your sibling may feel as though you are making a demand. Provide solutions and then have him decide which one(s) will work best.

Avoiding Conflict

  • Prepare yourself. When you know you will be spending time with your brother/sister, remind yourself that you have different views on certain topics. This mental preparation will help you calm your anxiety before you even meet, which will help you have a positive, or at least neutral, encounter with him.
  • Avoid confrontational conversation. If you don't agree on politics, religion or other debatable topics, don't bring them up. If your brother or sister insists on discussing it, don't engage in the discussion. Allow your sibling to talk, but do not offer your opinion. This may be difficult if you have strong feelings on the topic, but biting your tongue will be the fastest way to end this uncomfortable conversation. As you don't respond to your brother/sister, he/she will get bored of the one-sided discussion and likely change topics to find out if you will be more engaging on a different topic.
  • End uncomfortable situations. If your sibling refuses to avoid certain topics, you may have to tell him/her that you are going to leave. Uncomfortable situations cause stress, increasing the probability you'll react, and many times, inappropriately. To avoid a fight, flee from it if you cannot change the topic to a neutral one.
  • Limit interactions. If you can't stand to be around your loved one for a long time before feeling like you are going to explode, limit the number of times you meet with him or her.

Your Sibling Is Family

While you may not like your sibling's personality, beliefs or actions, he or she is still a member of your family. Family members support one another when no one else will because at the foundation of the connection between loved ones is love, even though daily conversation and events can be full of conflict.

Adult Sibling Rivalry