We’re siblings, but do we have to be friends for life? | The Salvation Army

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We’re siblings, but do we have to be friends for life?

two elderley siblings
Posted September 1, 2019

Siblings are the peers we don’t choose but must live with anyway. A sibling may be a beloved friend, while for others a better description would be arch-nemesis.

Either way, constant and daily proximity to one another has the potential to be explosive at times. The phrase ‘sibling rivalry’ aptly describes the unique but complex nature of these relationships, or ‘sibships’, as Doctor Suzanne Degges-White calls them.

‘While we often joke that “you can’t choose your family”, it remains true that we can choose how we handle our inherited relationships,’ she says. In fact, she continues, ‘the energy and intensity of some children’s sibling interactions are surprising in their ferocity. But a great deal of learning about power, compassion, tolerance and loyalty in relationships can occur
as children grow into adults.’

Studies show that having strong sibling relationships in older adulthood can provide protection and support, in terms of emotional and physical well being. Degges-White suggests that if our adult sibships are less satisfying than we might like, developing a friendship with a sibling may prove to be mutually beneficial. ‘We cut our friends a lot of slack in life, and perhaps taking an attitude of also accepting our siblings, “faults and all”, might be an excellent long-term investment.’

As we mature into adulthood, sibships have real potential to improve with a bit of grace and intentionality. Doctor Degges-White explains that adulthood brings equality to sibships, so consideration for the following tips is well worth a try.

  • As an adult, the childhood pecking order needn’t control your entry into (or exit) from sibling discussions or bickering. You can choose not to be drawn into the same old games or predictable arguments.
  • When we were children, rivalry may have been fuelled by the reactions irritating your sibling could provoke. As adults, we can anticipate this tendency and choose to disengage from attempts by a sibling to get us riled up over nothing.
  • Many parents need to be gently reminded that childhood comparisons are no longer appropriate or appreciated. If you know your parents love you as a unique individual, then you can choose to not bring up your dissatisfaction or resentments about such labels. Choose your battles, because parents generally mean well, but sometimes keep returning to the old playbook out of lifelong habit.
  • You may not be able to choose your family, but you can decide how much time you spend with them as an adult. Don’t let guilt be a factor if being together for special events feels more like a cage fight than quality time. Take a walk, put on a favourite movie or focus on children who are present. Or you can leave. You’re an adult now, and you can make decisions accordingly.
  • Apply grace lavishly. No family is perfect, and all are works in progress. Acceptance is a particularly precious gift adults can choose to give one another, and goes a long way towards preserving and enriching relationships.

Source: Suzanne Degges-White, PhD—Psychology Today