Siblings in adulthood

There are moments when you can’t stand them, but you also can’t live without them! Just like any other familial relationship, sibling relations can vary from culture to culture and family to family. And having adult siblings can be both, a source of support and a source of stress.

The relationship with siblings is one of the most long-lasting relationships that a person can be a part of. These relationships can be classified based on how close they are, how much support is given and received, how much contact there is, and even how much envy or resentment there might be.


Which of these do you relate to?

  1. Intimate: High devotion and psychological closeness; the relationship is based on mutual love, concern, empathy, protection, understanding, and durability.
  2. Congenial: Strong friendship and caring; less depth and reliability than intimate siblings; regular contact (weekly, monthly). 
  3. Loyal: Based more on cultural norms than personal involvement; support each other during crises; regular contact but not frequent. 
  4. Apathetic: Mutual lack of interest in sibling relationship (no emotional or instrumental support); lives have gone in different directions and do not care much; minimal contact. 
  5. Hostile: Strong negative feelings (resentment, anger) toward siblings; considerable negative psychological preoccupation with the relationship; no contact. 


Close connections

Siblings share a common cultural background and family history which leads to common values and beliefs. Common childhood stories tend to lead to a sense of strong connection, which in turn can lead to a sense of security in later life even when siblings haven’t been close in young adulthood. Those who are close in age often share a close bond over childhood and this bond often establishes the foundation of their relationship.


Siblings as children and as adults

Relationships between siblings tend to vary over the lifespan and the nature of the childhood relationship often predicts the nature of the relationship in adulthood.  The childhood relationship is often fraught with conflict, especially sibling rivalry when there is a perceived or real favouritism by the parents. For example, if, in childhood, siblings have considerable conflict with little emotional closeness, it is likely that their adult relationship will be a continuation of this relationship. However, research has shown that as individuals age, their tendency to hold onto past jealousies, anger and resentment decreases. Often, siblings report making a conscious decision in later life to put old hurts behind them and instead, focus on building and maintaining a new relationship with their siblings. 

As young adults, siblings tend to distance themselves as they become more involved in creating their individual identities, investing in other relationships such as a marriage, raising children, and pursuing employment. It is during middle-age and old age that siblings reach out to each other and re-establish close ties. In fact, research shows that after age 45, people rate their sibling ties as being more positive and more important than previous adult years. It is significant life events such as the death of a parent, divorce, or illness that initiate renewed contact between siblings in middle-age. For those older adults, (above 60 years) who are fortunate to have one or more living siblings, regular contact between siblings is often seen.

Research has shown that the gender of siblings significantly impacts the emotional closeness of sibling pairs and the extent of contact between siblings. Sister- to-sister relationships and sister-to- brother relationships show greater emotional closeness and more frequency of contact than brother-to-brother relationships. At the same time, however, more conflict is reported between sister-to-sister relationships than other sibling combinations.

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