Our brothers and sisters are the ones who know us the best. “Siblings are often our first friends and they can be lifelong friends,” said Jennifer* in Tampa, Florida. “They know your history and have been there through shared experiences. They often have a better understanding of what you’ve been through in your life than someone outside your family. Thus, they are better equipped to support you through the good and the bad.”
But sometimes, those same brothers and sisters can be hard to get along with for various reasons—some of which are beyond our control. My article, “10 Ways to Get Along With Adult Siblings” delves how we can have a better relationship with our siblings. Here are some additional ideas for developing a good relationship with your adult siblings.
Figure out what kind of family you are. Some families get together all the time; some are content with once a year gatherings. Most fall somewhere in the middle. “There are engaged families and disengaged families—and everything in between,” said Dr. David Hawkins, director of The Marriage Recovery Center in Seattle. Knowing what kind of family you have will help you relate to your siblings better.
Teach your children kids how to treat siblings. We can’t expect our own children to know instinctively how to treat each other. And if we have rough relationships with our own siblings, helping our kids in this area is especially important. “I think it’s vital for parents to teach their children about their roles or callings as siblings,” said Tricia* in Fort Myers, Fla. “If parents don’t teach this when their kids are young, those children may not treat their siblings well in adulthood.”
Sarah Phillips in Richmond, Va., echoed that sentiment, adding praise for her mother’s role in valuing each child for his or her own natural temperaments and abilities. “How parents treat their children, how they frame the sibling relationship, and how each child interprets those cues play into the sibling relationship even as adults,” she said.
Consider family therapy. Sometimes, if all parties are willing, a good family therapist can help siblings overcome past hurts and move on to a better future. “I believe most adult families ought to be consciously thinking about how we relate to one another, and having an outsider come in can help clear the air,” said Hawkins.
“Many of us don’t even know how to process and work out the stuff from our childhood,” said Sarah in Denver. “But because it’s the foundational season of our life, we live out of those experiences and how we adapted to deal with them.”
Develop a desire to mend the relationship. If we don’t want to fix the rapport with a brother or sister, then the relationship will founder. “The most successful reconciliations in our family involved heart-to-heart conversations where we emphasized mutual love, concern, acceptance of our differences, and maintained that special sibling bond,” said Phillips.
Keep forgiveness at the ready. We should be quick to extend forgiveness and equally fast to jettison grudges. “Keep forgiving the sibling in your heart and pray for them,” said Lynellen Perry in Dumfries, Va.
Spend time together remembering. Time spent recalling your shared childhood can be a wonderful way to rekindle affection and bonding, even if the situations were less than fun the first time around. “Those memories run deep and are ingrained in the fabric of our histories,” said Elizabeth Spencer in Battle Creek, Mich. “Plus, it can be fun to reminisce and tease—as I do with my brother about when he tried to drown me in the pond!”
* Some of those interviewed for this story asked to be identified by only their first name.