How To Deal With Sibling Rivalry in Adulthood
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Brothers & Sisters1 of 9
By Alison Singh Gee
We may have outgrown snickering at each other's report card or whining for Mom's attention, but what most of us never outgrow is the primal competition we feel with our brothers and sisters. To help keep the peace with your family, we asked experts for their advice on how to settle grown-up siblings' most common spats—all without running to Mom or Dad.
Who's the Boss?2 of 9
The Problem: Your sibling still bosses you around, like she did when she was 10 and you were 5.
The Fix: "We continue to see our siblings in static images, and to react to them that way, even if those roles no longer fit," says Dr. Karen Gail Lewis, author of Understanding Sibling Conflicts. "Step back and look at how you can break those reactions. If your sister says you should cut your hair, say something like, 'Actually, I like my hair this way.'" By not getting upset, you'll hopefully help your sibling break the pattern of them being the boss and you being the bossed around.
Past Problems3 of 9
The Problem: Your brother is still furious with you for something you did when you were teens, and it continues to come between you a decade later.
The Fix: If your sibling refuses to speak to you or yells and hangs up whenever you call, put down the phone and write out your feelings to him. "Let them know that you miss them and that you really hate that you can't get along," says Dr. Lewis. "Get into their shoes and be empathetic—if your sibling feels you're listening and concerned, that will go a long way to defusing the anger."
Three's a Crowd?4 of 9
The Problem: Your siblings gang up and leave you out.
The Fix: "Approach each of the cliquish siblings separately for a talk—never two to one. Choose a neutral place," says Dr. Lewis. "Avoid mentioning any other family members. Just keep it between the two of you and say something like, 'I feel you are angry with me. You probably like Sister Two better than me. Let's talk about what we can do to get along better."
Compare & Contrast5 of 9
The Problem: You can't help but be annoyed by how your parents and other relatives lavish praise on your sibling while ignoring you.
The Fix: "If you find yourself resenting a sibling for the attention he or she is getting, try to focus yourself on obtaining the life you want rather than wasting energy on resenting the life your sibling has," says child psychologist Dr. Lisa Shadburn.
Critical Care6 of 9
The Problem: You and your siblings disagree about how to take care of your parents as they age.
The Fix: "Have all the siblings sit down and talk with your parents' doctors," says Dr. Lewis. "Then have each sibling write out a list of the suggested solutions, and his or her take on the pros and cons of each. Put the anonymous lists on the table and look at them all together." It's easier to point out what works and what doesn't when the solutions are not tied to any one sibling.
Kid's Stuff7 of 9
The Problem: You think your sibling isn't raising her kids properly and you let her know about it.
The Fix: "If you feel your sibling's child is struggling with a serious issue and you want to help, talk to your sibling in an understanding way about some of your own parenting challenges and let them know you are there to help if they need it," says Dr. Shadburn. And if you are on the receiving end of criticism? "Do your best to take it with a grain of salt and let it go."
Memory Lane8 of 9
The Problem: Your sibling insists his version of an event is the gospel truth, and you know things went down a whole lot differently.
The Fix: People remember what is emotionally significant for them. "So two people can remember the same incident (such as who was to blame for starting an argument) very differently, with each truly believing he is right and the other is wrong," says Dr. Shadburn. "Think about whether it is worth making your relationship suffer in order to be right."
Fair Play9 of 9
The Problem: You're convinced your mother gives your sibling (and her children) better gifts than she gives you and your kids.
The Fix: When fairness comes into question with siblings, the issue is typically not just about the gifts at hand, but about past behavior that has led to built-up resentment. "If you feel like your parents have treated you unfairly in their gift giving, try to avoid blaming your siblings and do your best to let go of past resentments and be gracious about the gift," says Dr. Shadburn.