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Adult Sibling Rivalry
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, September 2011

Are you and your sibling still in competition for who has more? What do you do when your big brother still calls you "squirt" (and you're over forty and not a petite)? Have you never forgiven Sis for going out with the guy you had a crush on? Do you treat the baby in the family as if he is still in a highchair?

Sibling rivalry in childhood is about competition and as people grow up into adulthood, what served as healthy competition can become destructive envy. It is rooted in your past. Coming to terms with your own and your brothers' and sisters' rivalries to release yourself from long-held feelings of competition and favoritism is not easy but it can allow you and your relationships to mature and grow in ways that can surprise you. After all, despite your history, you are adults now and you can choose the type of attitude you bring to the situation and the response you offer. Parents, whether they are alive or dead, can perpetuate familial perceptions of roles and of what our relationships can or should be, if we allow them. So take control and re-examine your sibling relationship as a way to significantly improve your life.

I suggest you get out of 1975, 1955, or whatever year you conjure up when rivalry strikes. Begin to see your siblings as adults and attempt to know them as they would like to be known. Think about how you would like them to know you and consider what it would take to have a different relationship. Establish a new order or respect for one another even if you have to take the high road and make the first (and second or third) move.

You and your sibling likely want to be appreciated as you are and not just as the "role" you were assigned or which you assumed when you were growing up. If you can, show respect and avoid going into autopilot when the familiar teasing or manner of interacting begins. Jokes and humor about "when we were kids" can be fun, but not at the expense of someone's feelings - playing right into your sibling's insecurity. Change your tone and manner and avoid minefields. Show a sincere interest in what your sibling does with his or her life and who they have become or are becoming. If you set the example, hopefully your siblings will follow. If they don't and you're the recipient of unwelcome comments, don't bite the bait. Change your attitude and remind yourself of who you are and that it is unfortunate that the same old pattern takes time and energy away from establishing a healthy and productive and supportive way to connect with each other and each other's families.

When your brother or sister excels in something, allow yourself to acknowledge it with sincerity. Celebrate with them when something good happens in their life, whether it is running in a marathon, or buying their dream house. There are many facets of the sibling relationship and none is easy to deal with but when you can do that successfully, you will have a chance to connect and cooperate, which is a lot more comfortable than having an envious relationship.

As you rethink your sibling relationship, consider trading in competition for cooperation.

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