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The Benefits of Building Healthy Adult Sibling Relationships

Many of us struggle with adult sibling relationships, but should we try harder? Check out these benefits of befriending your siblings!

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Healthy adult sibling relationships are among the most rewarding connections on Earth. If you had the pleasure of growing up in the same home as your siblings, you shared almost every moment of your young life. Your sibling is the only one who understands your mom’s particular brand of crazy like you do. They’re the only ones who get your inside jokes, and if you nourish your relationship, they’re a built-in best friend who spreads across your entire life span. Friends come and go, but you can’t un-sibling your brother or sister. So when at all possible, it pays dividends to build a good relationship with your siblings.

Making Friends With Your Siblings

At Adventures From Scratch, we specialize in helping families, couples, and friends build stronger relationships while having a blast! Adventures From Scratch: Friends Edition is the perfect option to help you and your siblings nurture an adult friendship. It contains over 50 scratch-off adventures that are expertly crafted to deepen the conversation and make you laugh until you cry. There’s even space to document your new memories together. Start fostering your adult sibling relationship today!

Not Friends Yet?

Are you reading this intro and thinking, “Nope… you don’t know my crazy family”? We get it. Not all family relationships are stable and loving, for sure! There are millions of reasons that adult siblings may not be friends. Perhaps there was parental favoritism in your home that caused sibling rivalry. Maybe you had an abusive upbringing, and seeing your siblings just brings back bad memories. Perhaps you just moved away, and your estrangement is just due to your siblings being out of sight and out of mind.

There’s certainly nothing easy about fixing broken relationships with family members, and sometimes, it’s not wise to try. In many cases, keeping your distance is the healthiest decision for your family. If you’ve experienced any of these major issues in the past, you may need family therapy or some help from a mental health professional to overcome those barriers. However, if you don’t see your siblings or you aren’t close just because life is busy or whatever, take a look at this list of benefits. It might just make you pick up the phone… or at least send a text.

Benefits of Positive Sibling Relationships

1. Sibling bonds are good for your mental well-being.

Unfortunately, the research on sibling relationships pales in comparison to other family relationships. Most research we do have is on children. However, in 2020, a research study for the Journal of Family Psychology showed a strong correlation between “sibling warmth” in adulthood and depression. They found that older adults who had healthy relationships with their siblings experienced less depression, hostility, and loneliness overall.

The relationship between siblings seemed to have more influence on these factors than the parent-child relationship. Further research is needed to confirm the root cause of this correlation, but it appears, as we would expect, that a strong relationship with your siblings is good for your overall well-being.

2. Siblings cheer you on.

Having and being a supportive sibling can do wonders for your self-esteem. In a study published in Family Relations, scientists found that when pursuing a goal, support for a sibling had as much effect as support from a parent. While young adults turned to siblings less often, those who did left feeling encouraged and capable. It’s important to note that results were best when siblings offered empathic support and not directives.

3. Siblings are great teachers.

Older siblings are certainly teachers for younger siblings, sometimes to their detriment. For instance, my 13-year-old nephew decided it was a good idea to teach his two-year-old brother the words “butt crack” and “ding dong” this week. However, siblings also follow in each other’s footsteps in more powerful and positive ways. Research from Harvard suggests that younger siblings are more likely to enroll in highly competitive colleges and four-year degrees if an older sibling does it first.

As we age, that relationship changes some. Younger siblings come into their own and don’t need directives from their older siblings, but they still look up to them in many ways. Meanwhile, older siblings eventually begin to see their siblings as adults and recognize their achievements and individual giftings. At this point, much like a marriage, you begin to learn from one another.

4. Siblings understand your background.

If your childhood was bliss, filled with excellent memories, or if it was utter hell, your sibling was there. They get it. The relationship with them ends up being the longest relationship for most people. You will lose friends. Your parents will likely pass before you, but your siblings (assuming you’re close to the same age) are there for the long haul. Siblings can help you remember things you’ve forgotten. They can fill in the gaps. They can also lend a different perspective on a bad memory. You may remember something hurtful in a very specific way, but an older sibling can often shine a light on background information that you didn’t know. Sometimes, that can change the whole thing.

Your past is an important part of who you are now, and nobody understands it like your siblings. Call them up. Discuss the parts you loved about your childhood. Talk about the parts you hated. Talk about what you wish your parents would have done differently. Then, don’t do those things in your own household.

5. Strong sibling bonds mean better care for aging parents.

Whether you like each other or not, you still share caregiving responsibilities for your parents. Adult children who have avoided each other for years often have elevated sibling conflict when a parent becomes ill. They’re forced to make decisions together. One sibling feels left out. The other feels like they’re taking all the responsibility. Adult sibling rivalry exposes its ugly head, and the parents suffer for it.

Maintaining a strong family system throughout your grown-up years prevents added strife in one of the hardest periods of your life. When your parents are approaching old age, it’s a difficult process to endure. You need your siblings by your side so you can help and support one another. Nobody wants to make those difficult decisions alone.

6. They know how to make you laugh!

Siblings know all the inside jokes, and they can make you laugh like nobody else. We’ll go to a personal story here. Nobody in this world makes me laugh like my sister. Every time I’m around her, I end up in tears. I’m very close to my sister. My mom and her brother are fairly estranged (Every family has one. My uncle is our “one.”). However, when my mom and her sister do see their little brother, they always end up with the giggles. He brings them joy like nobody else can. If you haven’t spent time with your adult siblings in a while, invite them over. Share old stories. Talk about the hard life events, sure, but also talk about the funny stuff!

7. Healthy adult sibling relationships set a good example.

If you’re not close to your adult siblings, it’s likely that you’re even more keen on your own children having a different relationship with each other. Making amends with your siblings and forming strong relationships is a good example for your children. The bond of family is strong and important, and as long as it doesn’t bring strife, danger, or abuse into your life, then your children will benefit from having their aunts and uncles in their lives as extra mentors and examples of loving bonds.

8. Siblings are a good testing ground.

Some evidence suggests that because of the “permanence” and involuntary nature of sibling relationships, we often test and trial parts of our personality on our siblings. It’s one way that we learn to function in society. It’s usually a subconscious thing. Nobody goes into an interaction thinking, “I really want to lash out today. I’m going to see how my older brother reacts.” But we do all push boundaries of social protocol with family, especially siblings, and it’s a valuable learning experience.

9. Siblings keep you grounded.

If your adult life looks vastly different than your childhood, you may have the tendency to forget where you came from. Many of you have tried very hard to do just that and separate every part of yourselves from who you once were. It’s important to remember that the person you are today was shaped by those people and those circumstances in your maturing years. Your siblings are a good reminder of where you came from and can help you come to terms with it.

10. Siblings throw down differently than other friends.

Because of that involuntary relationship and the long-term essence of your relationship, siblings don’t hold punches where other friends do. They’re often the first to tell you when you’re behavior is out of line. They also give advice differently. Some friends (not good ones) just tell you what you want to hear because they don’t want you to be upset with them or they don’t want to hurt your feelings. Your sister could care less if your feelings get hurt today. If you’re being stupid, she’s likely going to tell you that your decision is not working out for you. They generally want the best for you and don’t hold back in letting you know when you’re off track, which is often the metaphorical smack in the face you need to snap out of it.

11. Siblings make you an aunt or uncle.

Being an aunt or uncle is a wonderful experience that is only surpassed by having grandchildren. You get to enter the life of a child as a mentor, but you get to skip out on the potty training (for the most part). If you don’t have your own children, then your sibling’s kids are the best surrogates. If you do have your own children, having nieces and nephews allows you to enjoy an incredible bond with a kiddo without the weight of responsibility that comes with having your own kids. When you’re close to your adult siblings, you can have automatic babysitters, mentors, tutors, and extra disciplinarians to help out. It just makes raising kids so much easier.

Nurturing Relationships With Siblings

1. Make sibling relationships a priority.

Your relationship with your sibling will not improve without work. If you’re estranged or just haven’t spent time together since you were young, make time with your sibling a priority. This might mean you have to schedule it in the calendar. It might mean missing some other event or missing out on your favorite Netflix series, but it’s worth it. Your sibling will notice that you’re prioritizing their importance in your life, and they’re likely to reciprocate the effort.

2. Have a heart-to-heart.

While many adult siblings are just busy, others have a beef with each other that needs to be settled. Call your sibling, and schedule an in-person meeting. Talk about your feelings in a controlled and respectful manner. You may find that your sibling is shocked and awed at how you feel. Having an honest, direct conversation might just end in apologies and a total 360 in your relationship. Just remember not to lose your temper. Don’t resort to emotional manipulation, and tell the truth.

3. Create new memories!

The tragedy of your upbringing, sibling rivalries, and resentment don’t have to carry on into your adult relationship. After your heart-to-heart, one of the easiest ways to move past the pain is to create new memories with your siblings. You can’t change your past, but you can direct your future. When you’re 80, you’ll look back and see mostly the positive aspects that have replaced the ugly memories of your childhood.

4. Let it go!

It sounds simple, but it’s a massive undertaking. The best way to move forward with your siblings is to let the past go. You may need to talk about it, argue over it, and reach a middle ground first, but then… let it go! Just because it ruled your past doesn’t mean it needs to have any authority in your present or future. Don’t be trapped by mistakes of the past.

5. Apologize!

Believe it or not, your sibling may see the problems of your past differently than you do. The unfortunate truth about conflict is that we each usually play a part in it. You probably aren’t totally innocent in this situation, and it’s likely that your sibling is feeling hurt and deserves an apology for a few things. Your willingness to apologize for your part in the situation is a sign of strength and maturity, and it will usually lead to reciprocation and the formation of a stronger relationship.

6. Drop all comparisons.

You’re not your sibling, and they’re not you! You were created for different reasons, have different talents, and are equally valuable to this world. No matter what your parents instilled in you, you must get to a healthy place of self-evaluation and evaluation of your siblings. Don’t fall back on old comparisons, but stand tall in your accomplishments while celebrating the success of your sibling simultaneously. Their success is not a detriment or threat to your own. It’s separate and different. Be proud of your sibling and proud of yourself!

7. Spend one-on-one time together.

You can be in the same room often, but if the whole interaction revolves around your parents or the kids, you’re not getting quality time with your sibling. Plan activities that you both love. Clear the calendar, and spend at least a couple of hours with your siblings on a regular basis.

8. Show appreciation.

Thankfulness goes a long way, both for your own mental health and for your sibling. Swallow your pride, and take a chance to tell your sibling how much you appreciate them. Brag on them on social media. Tell them that you admire their parenting, appreciate their wisdom, or value their creativity. Never lie to your sibling or embellish your feelings, but when you do see something in them that adds value to your life or the world, tell them!

9. Don’t be afraid to explore new roles.

You’ve undoubtedly grown and changed since childhood. Your younger brother or sister probably has, too. Don’t be afraid to explore new roles. Your kid-sister might be an expert accountant now. Let her teach you about budget management. Your older sibling may have fallen on hard times while you’ve excelled in the finance department. Become a role model for a period. This might take some humbling on behalf of both parties, but remember, your siblings likely have your best interest at heart. Be willing to be frank and real with them. You can learn from each other.

10. Be a faithful friend.

Your longest relationship in life deserves your best. Show up for your siblings as you would for your best friend. Will they always be thankful? Probably not. Will you always feel valued? Probably not. But when you need them, they’ll likely come through for you when you’ve proven to them that you’re devoted to the relationship. Be willing to put in the effort. Make the first step. Take the leap. If they don’t respond in kind, then at least you’ve tried your best.

11. Get help.

If your soul longs to have a close relationship with your siblings but the problems are just too numerous and too difficult, get help. Start with yourself and some personal therapy. Then, once you reach a good spot, invite your siblings to a session. A professional mediator is sometimes all you need to get to an unbiased truth of the situation and find a solution. Don’t count out the wisdom of a third party that can see the situation without emotion, bias, or judgment.

Closing Thoughts

Family relationships can be the hardest of all. However, no relationship is one-sided. While you may feel totally innocent in the chaos of your family, the likelihood is that your siblings see things very differently. The real truth is probably somewhere in between your view and theirs. You can’t change the past, and you can’t heal all hurt by yourself, but you can make the first move. Make a valiant effort to rejuvenate and maintain adult sibling relationships. You can show appreciation and loyalty, and you can devote time and effort. Give it a shot. You might be surprised and find out that your siblings have been craving more intimacy, too. We all too often fail to repair relationships because we assume that the other person has no will to fix it. That’s likely not true. If it’s on your mind, it’s probably on theirs, too. Take a chance!

For more tips on family relationships, take a look at “Effective Ways to Resolve Family Conflict.”

Are you a parent in a new blended family? Training biological siblings to get along is hard enough. It’s even more difficult getting two separate families to bond and come together as a unit. Take some tips from “Dealing With Issues in a Blended Family.”

Frequently Asked Questions

Should adult siblings be friends?

In the absence of abusive relationships, there are many benefits to being friends with your adult siblings. They offer long-term friendships and shared memories and understand your background like no one else.

How can I improve my relationship with my siblings?

If you want a stronger relationship with your siblings, set aside one-on-one time together. Be a faithful friend who always shows up, and apologize for any old conflicts!

Is it beneficial to keep in contact with adult siblings?

Keeping in contact with adult siblings has many benefits, including setting a strong example of the importance of family to your kids and allowing you to stay connected to your history.

Why are siblings so important?

Some research shows that healthy sibling relationships can help prevent depression and loneliness in later life. Siblings bring laughter, stability, and life-long friendship!

Does sibling rivalry have long-term effects?

Some research suggests that people with unhealthy sibling relationships in childhood have more trouble with loneliness as adults. Try spending some one-on-one time with your sibling to make amends.

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