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6 Ways to Cope With Adult Sibling Rivalry

Punch to the face
Sibling rivalry

Sibling rivalry between children can last long into adulthood and after years of the same pattern going round and round it might feel like it’s impossible to change it. Often it is complicated by the fact that each family member might think that if the other person would simply change their attitude then the problem would be resolved. Unfortunately this is too simplistic and can leave everyone in a loggerhead situation for a long time, unwilling to let go of the past.

The good news is that change is possible but it requires some recognition that over many years family roles have become established and embedded and therefore it is only by addressing these role based behaviours that the patterns can dissolve. What this means is that if one person is willing to change their behaviour, a shift can occur in the entire family system and the cycle can be broken. Psychology Today suggests the following advice to help reset your family system:

1. Bear in mind that you and your siblings each had different relationships with your parents; not only that, but your parents were different people when each of you entered the family constellation.

2. Siblings who always want to “one up” you, even in adulthood, clearly have a limited repertoire of engagement strategies. Recognise that a little bit of modelling in your own interactions may be needed to move them out of the competitive rut they are stuck in.

3. Acknowledge that competition may be driven by childhood feelings of insecurity and a reaction to perceived scarcity. Some siblings will continue to fuel such a rivalry well into adulthood. If this happens in your family, keep the conversation moving forward and do not let yourself be antagonised into responding. As parents often tell their children, “It takes two to start a fight.” If you’ve already had all the sibling squabbling you can tolerate, don’t engage further.

4. If a sibling simply cannot move past the past, perhaps you should have a face-to-face, heart-to-heart discussion with him or her. Perhaps you might want to share your perspective on how you felt inferior to the sibling growing up.

5. If all else fails, limit time with a rivalrous sibling and simply let their comments float by if you must be in his or her company. The best way to end a fight is often to refuse to engage in the first place.

Remember, it only takes one person to change the functioning of an entire family system—and when you shift your behaviour, your siblings have no choice but to shift in response. It may take a while to reach the optimal level of interaction, but knowing that you are making optimal choices provides momentum to keep doing that new thing you’re doing.


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