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Surviving adult sibling rivalry during the holidays

Posted Nov 19 2009 10:00pm

This is a repost from November 11, 2008.  Since this can be an issue that interferes with fun during the holidays, I thought I would share it again.  I hope it helps!

"Mom likes me best!" "I got better grades than you!" You probably recognize those statements as the battle cries of sibling rivalry. Unfortunately, if not dealt with, these competitive and sometimes hostile statements morph into the adult version of sibling rivalry with statements like, "I have a bigger house than you." "My kids are doing better in school than yours." Sibling rivalry can turn the relationship into a tumultuous and turbulent competition.

I have a brother and a sister - both older than I am - and we are very close and enjoy a strong bond. We are among the lucky ones to have this healthy relationship. My sibs and I have our mother to thank for this close bond. As children, when we were caught fighting, we had to sit face-to-face and say 10 nice things about each other. Imagine being angry with your brother or sister and needing to find 10 nice things to say! We were not allowed to get up until we both had come up with 10 things. Often in our frustration and struggles to complete the "10 nice things" exercise, we found ourselves working together. We thought we were cleverly pulling one over on our mother when she wasn’t watching. What we didn’t realize was that she was the clever one. The 10 nice things exercise had us focusing on the positives and had us bonding together in our goal to end the exercise. I believe this exercise played a big part in keeping the serious rivalry issues at bay.

If you and your sibs are still locked in the competitive battle, you are not alone. Unfortunately, many sibs are not able to enjoy a healthy bond and are stuck in a cycle of rivalry that creates hostility and stressful relations. The tone for the sibling relationships is set in early childhood. If children feel the need to compete for their parents’ attention and love - sibling rivalry can develop. This competitive attitude often builds and carries over into other areas of the sibling's lives (school, sports, etc). This rivalry can continue into adulthood as siblings compete over job status, salaries, children, etc.

If sibling rivalry is still a problem in your family, there is hope. You can reduce or eliminate sibling rivalry. You must decide if it is more important to be “first” or to be close. If you really want to change the situation, it is up to you to make the first move. Put down your anger and jealousy. Give up the competitive attitude. It takes two to tango - if you stop the rivalry dance, eventually your sibling will also. It may take some time and serious effort on your part, but you can do it.

Putting a stop to the rivalry will require that you start looking for the positives in your brother or sister (this is the adult version of the “10 nice things exercise”). Think back to childhood and list any positive memories and identify the positive qualities of your sib. Focusing on the positives will help dissolve some hostility and can strengthen the relationship. You might want to share this list with your sibling(s) in a letter. Let him or her know that you want to focus on creating a new healthy bond.

The next step is to be on the lookout for an opportunity to pay your sibling a compliment. Challenge yourself to catch your sibling doing something positive at the next get together and then praise him/her. You need to be sincere for this to work. You might be amazed at the positive response you get.

It is also important to remember that you will likely need to put some significant effort into changing this relationship. Your relationship did not deteriorate overnight and it’s not likely to resolve overnight. Even if you are tempted to fall back into the old habits of competition, stay with your efforts to build a stronger relationship – the rewards can be amazing! Strong and healthy sibling relationships can enrich your life tremendously.

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