Sibling relationships can look a lot of different ways. We all know someone who considers their brothers and sisters their best friends, and are in touch with them every day. But we also all probably know at least one person who has an adversarial relationship with a sibling, or may have cut them out of their life completely. (To be clear: Sometimes that’s absolutely necessary for your own mental wellbeing in situations where they’re causing you any type of harm.)
But many people fall somewhere in the middle: A decent relationship with their sibling(s) that could probably be better. If you fall into that category, here are a few strategies that might help.
What is a ‘normal’ sibling relationship?
Such a thing doesn’t really exist, but there is some limited research indicating that getting along with your brothers and sisters as an adult comes with some major benefits. Here’s what Dr. Laurie Kramer, a professor of applied psychology at Northeastern University in Boston, recently told CNN:
“People seem to be healthier, happier and better adjusted — all of those things are related to having positive relationships with siblings, you know, and a lot of that comes from this idea that you can get support and help and validation from having someone close to you who shares a history and understands the world in a similar way to you.
What we don’t really know is the root cause, whether it is that happier people are less depressed people and are better able to form positive relationships with siblings or having a great sibling relationship is helping people better cope with all the things that life throws at you.”
How do you strengthen a sibling relationship?
So how do you reap those benefits if your relationship isn’t quite there at the moment? Kramer provides some suggestions in the same article for CNN:
Make an effort to create new memories
For siblings who don’t have the strongest relationships, much (or most) of what they have in common is their childhood, making it easy to tell the same three stories over and over again. Instead of doing that, Kramer recommends making new memories with your sibling—on your own terms—and ideally, doing something together outside of larger family gatherings.
Sure, your brother might have the same mischievous side he did in elementary school, but he’s an adult now, and isn’t the same guy who dumped an entire container of Ghostbusters slime on your hair. But hopefully, he’s grown up a bit since the slime. Kramer stresses that we shouldn’t make assumptions of our adult siblings based on who we thought they were as a child.
Don’t compare yourself to your sibling
It’s so easy to compare ourselves to our siblings—looking at their life and seeing how we measure up, and then wallowing in the resulting feelings. But Kramer says this is a bad idea, and that we need to keep in mind that everyone makes different choices, and just because you shared a childhood bedroom doesn’t mean you have to share a similar path in life.