Plenty of adults have trouble dealing with adult siblings. The abrasive conversations left over from childhood are still in play. The jealousy, arguments, and harsh feelings are just as fresh now as when these grown-ups were kids, although the remarks may be subtlety cloaked in humor.
By looking at the situation from objective eyes, you can cool the tension and start to form new bonds. The old ways of interacting can change enough to ensure a new family dynamic takes hold.
In my professional writings and educational seminars taught across the country, I address adult sibling rivalry as normal. It’s universal, starting with Cane killing Abel. This kind of clashing isn’t new.
Recognize What Causes Rivalry
It’s perfectly normal for kids to feel competitive. Sibling rivalry is competition for attention, acceptance, and power.
Psychologists I’ve interviewed for the past 25 years say this: Grown siblings can still believe this about a sibling: Mom loved you best.
“Wait a minute,” you might say, “That’s crazy. I’m not thinking that at all. I just don’t like my brother. I don’t think Mom liked him that much!”
Truth is, the imagined love and admiration of parents is something people do strive for. If you didn’t receive a lot of validation from your parents, you may be subconsciously still trying to be the favored child. You want to tear down a sibling, so he or she can’t rise to that status.
Find Neutral Ground
If your brother is a lawyer and you’re working two part-time jobs in retail, you may feel intimidated by your brother’s success. To spend time with him in harmony, find neutral ground. That’s where you both feel comfortable and equal in every sense of the word.
Ask your brother and his family to meet you at a mid-priced restaurant on Sunday afternoons — where your kids feel comfortable — instead of a French restaurant where he usually dines after church. Ask him to go camping or meet you at a reasonably priced resort area for a family vacation.
Find out more about your brother and what he enjoys, for example. Maybe he does like bowling or miniature golf. Look hard to find something you can do together.
Praise What You Admire
Go ahead and tell your sister, who married the governor, “I’m so proud of your family.” Don’t hold back compliments, especially if she’s out raising money for school districts all over the state. Brag on her to her face. After all, you’re a part of her.
Keep in mind that neutralizing all past irritations call for new behaviors. Take the lead in building a brand new relationship. By letting your sister know you’ve cooled hurt feelings of the past, she can let down her guard and really confide in you.
Bragging on someone is a wonderful equalizer that heals past hurts, so go ahead an do it with enthusiasm. Tell your sister you want to support her goals and dreams.
Name Your Vulnerabilities
Always appear as upbeat as possible, but let your siblings know you’re not professing to have all of the answers. You might say, “I’ve got to stick with my exercise program and get a whole lot healthier,” or “I’m working to change careeer fields.”
People who keep their guards up continually will never bond. Both have to let down that guard slowly to feel closer.
When your sister shares some of her own challenges, you can open up a little more. You might say, “I’m working on how to deal with my mother-in-law. She’s in attack mode all of the time.”
Don’t reveal too many financial challenges, intense problems with your spouse, or the fact your child’s friend is suspected of using drugs. Keep the big problems off the front burner. Don’t turn your sibling into your therapist.
You want your time with your siblings to be harmonious and reasonably open and warm. Don’t use the time to dump all of your personal problems on anyone. This can cause siblings to back away from you.