top of page

Adult Sibling Rivalry

The Stress of Adult Sibling Rivalry

It is quite frustrating to see children fighting –no matter their age. A recent view holds that conflict isn’t a natural sate of sibling relationships (or sibship). Notwithstanding, friction and strife which had early beginnings in childhood go on for a lifetime. For some, it only intensifies as they get older.

While several adult siblings have completely cut off their ties, about one-third describes their relationship as cold or rivalrous. In fact, one research reveals that more than a third of adults (between18-65) have hostile relationship with their siblings.* They have little in common, they spend limited time with each other, or they just don’t get along. They often use words like hurtful, humiliating, and competitive to describe their childhoods. How quickly old conflicts reduce these adults to children again is what prevents them from seeing each other in a different light. As before, they push each other’s buttons without fully understanding why or how, and lock into old roles and patterns that never worked, to begin with.

When they talk about their sisters/brothers, some would try to devalue their feelings and the relationship by focusing instead on the importance of spouses and friends. Some try to be analytical –piecing together all that went wrong, hence, emphasising how impossible it is to find a common ground. Others still speak resentfully of the horrors of growing up together or how the sibling treated them. For majority of conflicted sisters and brothers, there’s this latent acceptance that “it is what it is.”

So, if you have a strained relationship in your family because your parent/s favour another sibling (or favor her/his kids), you’d be surprised to find you’re not alone. While most parents make every effort to be neutral, it’s surprisingly typical that a parent is more supportive of, or closer to, a particular adult offspring over others, stirring sibling rivalry (or rekindling one that started way back in childhood).

Studies show* that parenting is a critical factor in adult sibling rivalry. While parents do their best to be fair with all their children, favouritism is actually common.

Research tells us that:

  • Parents usually feel closer to one offspring. A Cornell University research included interviewing 275 mothers (in their 60s & 70s) and their 671 children. 70% reported feeling closest to one child, while ONLY 15% of the children felt there was equal treatment by their mothers.

  • Favouritism impacts mental health. A number of studies* show that mental health of children are negatively affected when parents play favourites in the family. It creates: 1- resentment in the less-favoured ones, 2-strained sibling relationship, 3-stress from high expectations for the favoured one, and other negative consequences.

  • The impact of favouritism can be lasting & permanent. Another study shows that maternal favouritism has an especially long-term effect on sibling relationships. Memories of even perceived favouritism in childhood have greater impact than current (or adult) favouritism on sibling relationships.

Reasons for Sibling Rivalry in Adults

Sibling relationships are never simple and are influenced by varying factors, which include: gender, genetics, parental relationships, life events, and experiences/relationships outside the home.

Parental favoritism is the most commonly-cited source of this problem. It’s also not uncommon for many people to feel that a sibling has ‘always been the favorite’ –even if this may not be acknowledged by the rest of the family. As painful as it is to be the less favored one, it’s only human nature for some people to gravitate to one another for various reasons, including:

  • Shared interests and personality features. Probably your mum and sister share the same worldviews, thus, they understand each other easily.

  • Physical proximity. Your brother who lives in the same town as your dad may understandably spend more time together.

  • Other factors (within or beyond our control). It may be that your perspective doesn’t match your parent’s as it does your sibling’s –and you/your sibling probably resent it.

  • Studies* found that parents are more ambivalent or uncertain toward their children who are less educated, not married, and share fewer values with.

While this is human nature, it hurts more that it’s coming from a parent as we think of them as people who should love and support us unconditionally. Plus, we may still have leftover expectations from childhood that they’re “our hero.”

Whatever the cause of sibling rivalry with your adult sisters/brothers –whether you find your parent favours them over you by either bragging more about their accomplishments, having a closer relationship with their kids, always taking their side in a disagreement, or paying more attention to them, it makes a perfect recipe for a stressful family gathering with feelings that can easily be hurt.

If you struggle in dealing with sibling rivalry and would like to come to terms with it or find resolution, Jarvis Hypnotherapy can help. Drop us a message today.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Content credits


bottom of page