How to be friends with your siblings
Sisters Audrey Findlay, 75, and Barbara Rowe, 63, Start each weekday with an 8am call. About an hour later, they head to work together at Findlay Rowe, the gift shop they opened 12 years ago. (They previously worked for the same healthcare company for 13 years, where Ms. Findlay was the general manager and Ms. Rowe was the payroll manager.)
At 5 or 6 p.m., the sisters leave work and make their way to their homes—four houses apart. And after dinner, they meet up again for an hour-long walk, easily falling into what their grown children (they have nine together) affectionately call their “twin talk.”
“One of us will start a sentence, not finish it, and the other will already answer,” Ms Findlay said.
The sisters do have their differences, as you would expect from two people who often spend most of their days together. But they are eager to stay close and be there for each other.
“Our father was an orphan and he cared deeply about family,” Ms. Rowe said. “We can put up a crushing, drawn-out fight and the next day it’s like, ‘Well, where are we going for dinner?'”
More than 80 percent of Americans grow up with at least one sibling, and research suggests such relationships can be beneficial well into adulthood. For example, a 2019 study that focused on people in their mid-60s found that warmth between adult siblings can provide a buffer against loneliness and increase well-being.
While there isn’t much research on how well most adults get along with their siblings, data from the 2015 book, Adult Sibling Relationships, by Geoffrey Greif, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, co-written offers some clues. In qualitative interviews with 262 adults, 64 percent said they considered themselves a “good friend” to at least one of their siblings, and 45 percent said they considered at least one of their siblings one of their best friends.
But 70 percent said they’ve had ups and downs with their siblings over the course of their lives, said Dr. Greif in an interview, and 8 percent said they were never close.
“Like all family relationships, sibling relationships exhibit a degree of ambivalence and ambiguity,” said Dr. Griffin — Maybe an obvious statement, but he thinks it’s important for siblings to keep in mind lest they set themselves to an “impossible standard” for what makes a solid relationship entails.
And he and other therapists who focus on family relationships believe it’s possible to strengthen the bond between adult siblings even if one doesn’t have (or even aspire to) the kind of intense bonding that Ms. Findlay and Ms Share Rowe. Here are three strategies that can help.
Give each other permission to change.
Nicholas Gant, 40, and his sister Gaybrielle LeAnn, 37, were very close as young children – Mr Gant taught his little sister to walk and talk, as the family says. However, during puberty, there was a separation between them. Ms. LeAnn described her brother as a talented singer who was kind and charismatic; She said this created a “natural magnetic field” around him that made it difficult for her to find her own voice at times.
Both historically attended black colleges and universities (HBCUs), an experience that she says taught them the importance of building community — and helped them “see our need for one another,” Mr. Gant said. He and Ms. LeAnn spent their 20s and 30s not only learning about themselves, but emphasizing being there for the other sibling and understanding: When Mr. Gant, who is a singer, put on a show there, his sister is watching the spectators. When Ms. LeAnn recently threw a celebration to mark eight years since surviving a life-threatening blood clot, her brother was there.
“I feel like we really found each other again,” said Mr. Gant. “We kind of fell in love again as siblings.”
Ms. LeAnn credits their “ability to grow and love one another as individuals and not just as blood relatives” for helping them become “great friends.”
That willingness to see and embrace a sibling’s growth is important, said Nedra Glover Tawwab, a therapist in Charlotte, North Carolina, and author of Drama Free: A Guide to Managing Unhealthy Family Relationships.
“Sometimes there’s a version of you that they remember,” Ms. Tawwab said. For example, an older sibling might still consider a younger sibling to be a “baby”—even if that baby is 60 years old. “You have to allow people to move on and not treat them the way you’ve always treated them,” she said.
To get a better sense of who your sibling is, Whitney Goodman, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Miami, suggested asking regular questions like, “What are you doing now?” and “What’s going on in your life that I know nothing about?”
“I like it when people come back to themselves and think about it: How much have I changed, how much have I grown? And how do I want my siblings to see me?” said Ms. Goodman. Then consider, “How can I show them the same grace?”
Think about how your parents affect your dynamic.
All of the therapists interviewed for this story found that no matter how loving parents may be, they can make bonding between siblings more difficult. dr Greif said it can be helpful to ask yourself, “Am I ‘triangulated’ with my siblings and my mother or father?” By this he means: Have you fallen into a communication pattern with your parents that affects your feelings toward your siblings shapes, even if that is not the intention of anyone?
To avoid this kind of interference, the experts can offer a simple cardinal rule: When you talk to or spend time with your parents, don’t talk about your siblings — especially if the conversation takes the form of gossip.
You may also want to explore whether perceived parental favoritism affects your relationship with a sibling. Polling data suggests that 40 percent of Americans feel their parents have a favorite child, and studies have shown that this can be a barrier to closeness between siblings.
“According to research, parental preference is one of the biggest influencers on how the sibling relationship will work, especially in childhood,” Ms. Goodman said. “It’s the most finite resource, isn’t it? A parent’s attention. And siblings can certainly carry that into adulthood.”
Families shouldn’t shy away from discussing parental favoritism, Ms Goodman said, although she conceded such conversations are easier said than done. Adult siblings may benefit from attending therapy together (with or without their parents), even if it’s addressing things that happened years ago, she said.
Laurie Kramer, an applied psychology professor at Northeastern University who directs a program that teaches young siblings strategies for interacting, agreed that such direct conversations can help erase “years-old resentments” between siblings, “when people willing to talk.” about such things and be honest with their perceptions—and be gentle with one another.”
Take time to enjoy each other’s company.
As adults, Ken LoCicero, 54, and Ricky LoCicero, 58, were best friends and roommates. As adults, they found an exhausting way to spend time together: They ran 50 marathons in 50 states together, a quest that lasted more than 20 years.
This could be an extreme example of making time for each other. But, Ms. Goodman says, siblings sometimes lose sight of the fact that their relationship, like any other, requires attention and nurturing. “We often expect family relationships to thrive just because someone is related to us, but that’s not how it works,” she said.
Siblings should find ways to have fun together, said Dr. Chandler. “It’s really difficult when all of your interactions are about issues that either of you have,” or when you’re arguing about who should take care of a parent’s needs, she said. “Find moments when you can really enjoy each other.”
Sometimes all it takes is pulling out old photos and reminiscing for a few minutes, added Dr. added Kramer.
The LoCicero brothers enjoyed the days of racing and the fact that they could often bring their wives and children and make it a weekend. But they enjoyed the hours they trained and planned together just as much. Sometimes they ran in silence. Another time they talked about work, marriage and children. (The LoCiceros also have a sister who they are good friends with and a brother who died 15 years ago of pancreatic cancer, a grievous loss that brought them even closer.)
Even after their 50-marathon distance is completed, the brothers still talk on the phone or see each other every few days and live just seven miles apart. “I know Kenny will always be available, approachable, and willing to listen,” Ricky said. And he believes there’s nothing that could change that bond.
“There’s nothing about Ricky I wouldn’t say out loud,” Ken repeated. Knowing how committed his brother is to their relationship and feeling like they can be honest and vulnerable with each other is “a gift,” he said.