11 Ways to Become BFFs with Your Siblings As Grown Ups
No matter how old you are, your relationship with your siblings is incredibly important. But, like any relationship, it takes work. Try these expert tips for strengthening your brotherly or sisterly bonds.
Focus on the positive
It’s all too easy to focus on our family members’ negative traits, especially as your sibling’s quirks that drove you up the wall when you were a kid likely still push your buttons now. But while it might have felt impossible to ignore their loud chewing or penchant for creating drama when you shared a bedroom now, as an adult, it’s much easier to choose to forget the negative and focus on the positive. (After all, do you really care if they chew loudly if you only have to eat with them once a month?) “You can always find positive attributes in someone. Think of something you’ve always admired or enjoyed about them,” says Wendy Patrick, JD, PhD, attorney, Psychology Today online columnist, and author of Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers, and Other Toxic People in Every Area of Your Life. “Find these positive attributes and incorporate them into your invitation to reconnect.” (Hint: Looking for the positive improves more than just your relationships!)
Don’t fall back into childhood roles
Birth order can play a huge part in shaping your personality, life, and relationships, according to a large body of research. But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck being the bossy first child, the attention-seeking middle child, or coddled youngest child forever. In fact, you should actively try to break out of those roles, says Joseph R. Sanok, MA, a professional family counselor and author of five books. “We often fall back into these roles subconsciously, but they can cause a lot of friction,” he says. “You may have to actually verbalize it, and say something like, ‘I know I’ve been bossy in the past but I want you to know I’m trying to get past that and let you do your own thing.’”
Meet them where they are
“Some people have siblings who became famous while others became homeless and everything in between. So it’s important to consider their stage in life and meet them where they are now—whether or not you agree with their choices,” Dr. Patrick explains. No matter what the circumstances, do your best to refrain from judging them or trying to “fix” them, she adds. Estranged siblings are more likely to feel comfortable reconnecting when you respect them for who they are, rather than what they have done with their lives. Unconditional love heals many old wounds. Not sure what to say? Follow these 12 golden rules of conversation.
Get in on a group text
Technology is often blamed for separating families (Hello, texting your spouse who is sitting in the next room!), but you can use it to bring you closer together as well. Dr. Sanok recommends a simple group chat that includes all your siblings. “It allows you to communicate in an on-going way and keep each other updated on the little daily things,” he says. The only trick is to make sure you set good ground rules—say, politics are off the table. (And make sure you’ve brushed up on these rules of good group texting etiquette!) If you’re more tech savvy, you could set up group chats online, a private family website, or Facebook page, or schedule weekly group Skype sessions.
Take a reverse selfie
It’s easy to get caught up in our own busy lives but when you’re with a sibling make it about them. “As you spend time getting reacquainted, ask your sibling about his or her job, kids, dreams, favorite sports. Work on building rapport as if you were meeting a stranger—because in a sense, you are, as your both very different now as adults than when you were children,” Dr. Patrick says. The whole point is to establish common ground, affirm, and validate them, and show them you’re truly invested in building a better relationship with them. For more help, here’s how one person learned how to stop talking and start listening.
Good fences make good neighbors… and siblings
“The key to establishing good relationships as adults—especially with siblings you may have had a rocky relationship with in the past—is to make good, clear boundaries,” Dr. Sanok says. To do this, know what you need and want from the relationship. Identify your own personal triggers and come up with a list of non-negotiable rules. For instance, you could tell a sibling you’re competitive with that you won’t discuss money matters. Or you could make a rule that you’ll limit visits to a certain number of hours. Once you’ve established what will make you feel safe and happy, and what makes them feel the same, you’re off to a great start. (Hint: If you’re a people pleaser, setting boundaries can feel really hard. Here are eight tips for setting healthy boundaries while still showing people you love them.)
Time is the best gift
In our busy world, time truly is our most valuable resource and giving your sibling your undivided time and attention is a clear signal that you care about them. While giving tangible gifts is a thoughtful icebreaker, your siblings will remember how they felt with you much more than anything you gave them, Dr. Patrick says. Start by scheduling a time where you can meet or talk on the phone and then stick to it. Make sure you’re not distracted by anything else that might make them feel less important. If you prefer to let your actions speak louder than your words, try one of these 24 little ways to show your love.
Get to know your nieces and nephews
Family is so important and it’s likely that if your sibling has children they are his or her whole world (just like yours are to you). Taking an interest in their kids shows that you care about what is important to them. “Attending a school play featuring your sister´s adorable four-year-old daughter is a bonding experience for you and your sibling—even if your niece has no speaking lines and is playing a tree in the background,” Dr. Patrick says. “Demonstrate that you love your relatives as yourself.” (Bonus: Being good with children is one of the secrets of naturally charming people.)
Skip the big holiday dinners
If your family loves doing a traditional Thanksgiving feast together, great, but for many families the holidays add a lot of pressure to an already tense situation. So if you find yourself dreading the “big day” (whichever one that is), try suggesting a more low-key family get together that doesn’t come with all the baggage of “the perfect Christmas” or “Grandma’s last Arbor Day,” Dr. Sanok says. “Do something physical and fun together, like going bowling, checking out a museum, or even taking a simple walk,” he explains. “This allows for more quick, positive interactions that emphasize having fun together and decrease the opportunity for drama.” Need more ideas? Try one of these 18 fun and frugal family activities.
Got an old grudge? Let. It. Go.
No one can find your sore spot like a sibling, and when you were younger chances are you hurt each other, perhaps even badly. Forgiveness and moving on from childish mistakes is the key to establishing healthy adult relationships with your siblings, Dr. Patrick says. “Do not let the past dictate the future. Forget about past grievances and look forward rather than in the rear view mirror. You cannot change the past, but you can change the future,” she says. And if you just can’t get over it? Remember that it is easier emotionally and psychologically to forgive. Enlist the help of a therapist to help you overcome and deal with deep past hurts. No one ever said forgiveness is easy but it’s so worth it—start with these 12 science-backed ways to let go.
Limit the booze
“Alcohol can go both ways depending on your family culture. For some siblings a wine tasting is a great way to relax together, but for others it can lead to explosive fights,” Dr. Sanok says. “What people need to understand is that alcohol will always magnify existing issues and make it harder to bounce back from a fight.” So if you know that alcohol sparks problems with your siblings, just play it safe and skip the adult beverages.