How to strengthen sibling bonds

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It is pretty universal that siblings are a curse and blessing. They are some of the first relationships formed in childhood and are some of the longest lasting.اضافة اعلان

Bickering and fighting among siblings is normal throughout childhood and adulthood, but healthy bonds can still be maintained despite this. However, it is also relatively common to see siblings become estranged.

A 2019 US national survey found sibling estrangement to be the most common form of familial estrangement at nearly 30 percent of respondents. Although we may take our siblings for granted, strengthening these bonds can affect our relational and overall wellbeing.

Types of siblings relationships

No two sibling relationships are the same, and sometimes different sibling relationships can exist within the same household. It is common and normal for these relationships to experience highs and lows.

In 1989 Deborah Gold, a professor at Duke University in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, developed five types of relationships that can describe siblings.

Intimate sibling relationships are described as having high devotion for one another and sharing psychological closeness. These relationships are founded and based on mutual love, concern, empathy, protection, understanding, and durability.

Congenial sibling relationships are described as strong friendships with mutual caring. These relationships have less depth and reliability than intimate sibling relationships, but they still maintain regular contact throughout adulthood.

Loyal sibling relationships are based more so on cultural norms than personal. They have regular but infrequent contact but still support each other in times of crisis.

Apathetic sibling relationships occur when neither sibling is interested in forming a bond. There is no emotional or instrumental support, and they have minimal contact with one another. It is important to note that there are no ill feelings involved, but instead is typically the result of lives going off in different directions.

Hostile sibling relationships are when two siblings have strong negative feelings towards one another, such as resentment or anger. This form of relationship is a common cause of sibling estrangement, and there is typically no contact involved.

Causes of tension between siblings
Siblings may argue over mundane issues all the time, but some problems may arise that can become irreconcilable. Even once strong relationships can result in estrangement depending on the cause, severity, and perpetrator.

Trauma and abuse within or outside of the family can place a strain on sibling relationships. Whether perpetrated by the siblings themselves, parents, or a third party, the result may be the same.

When perpetrated by the sibling, the reason for estrangement is obvious and done to prevent recurrences and an inability to resolve resentment towards them. When perpetrated by an individual outside of the sibling relationship, it can still result in estrangement but for a different reason. Many people cannot process negative experiences alone, resulting in poor emotional processing; this can put undue strain on close relationships, including siblings, as the person becomes more withdrawn.

Sibling relationships are also impacted by upbringing. A common example of this is sibling rivalry. It is normal for siblings to compete with one another. In fact, in many cases, it can be healthy as it pushes them to excel and develop themselves. However, when the competition becomes excessive, constant, and generally unnecessary, it can result in feelings of resentment towards one another.
A 2000 study focused on potential benefits that sibling conflicts can have on adult wellbeing and competence showed that one of the most common benefits they found in participants was that previous sibling conflict made them better parents.
Parental favoritism plays a significant role as what could have once been healthy competition can devolve into constant fights, hostility, and toxicity.

Importance and benefits of sibling relationships
Having a strong sibling relationship throughout childhood is important for learning social skills and developing, but there are also benefits that this relationship can have in adulthood.

A 2020 study on older adults (average 64 years old) found that those with quality and positive relationships with their siblings experienced higher levels of wellbeing and lower feelings of loneliness.

Meanwhile, those with poor sibling relationships stemming from sibling conflict and parental favoritism were associated with feelings of anxiety, depression, hostility, and loneliness.

Experiences between siblings also do not necessarily have to be good to be beneficial. Sibling conflict can have some benefits for adults. A 2000 study focused on potential benefits that sibling conflicts can have on adult wellbeing and competence showed that one of the most common benefits they found in participants was that previous sibling conflict made them better parents. Since the parent personally experienced it, they were able to better help their own children’s sibling conflicts in terms of support, prevention, and mediation.

Even on an individual level, participants reported that previous sibling conflict also helped them learn important social skills such as compassion and conflict management, as well as gain an improved sense of self by determining strengths, limitations, and the differences between themselves and those around them.

How to mend sibling relationships
It is never too late to build a healthy and strong sibling relationship. Despite poor childhood sibling relationships, research has found that with age, the tendency to hold onto past jealousies, anger, or resentment fades. This is often referred to as “mellowing out,” and siblings begin to make a conscious decision later in life to set aside differences and instead build and maintain a new relationship.

This is mostly because we age and develop emotionally, and time can give our lives perspective. In fact, a 2001 study found that individuals after the age of 45 are more likely to reach out and reestablish relationships with their siblings. The key cited reason for this newfound relationship is “critical incidents” in life such as deaths, accidents, illness, or the birth of grandchildren.

Furthermore, previous sibling conflict can actually be the foundation for a better adult sibling relationship. In the aforementioned 2000 study, it was noted that those who experienced sibling conflict previously developed more open and honest relationships later in life with their siblings. This is due to trust, accepting differences, open communication, and open expression of feelings being improved.

While time does help heal wounds, it is important to recognize that conscious efforts will still be needed. Conflict is bred between two individuals, and it is almost guaranteed that both were at fault in some capacity.

All too often, siblings are waiting on an apology from the other. Instead of waiting, be the first to recognize and accept your faults by initiating an apology for whatever wrongs you may have committed. This can be the catalyst to a healthy and productive discussion between adults and the foundation of a new relationship.

It is also important to make sure that the healing process remains internal. It should be a private exchange between two adults, and involving other family members can complicate resolution. Sometimes, starting or continuing this dialog can be difficult. In these cases, professional help by means of therapy can be an effective tool in mending relationships.

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