Many women I see in my counseling practice come in wanting to talk about troubled relationships with their brothers and sisters. Relationships with our siblings are seldom straightforward or consistently loving throughout our lives. We may be best friends with one or more of our siblings in childhood and then grow apart as we reach adolescence or adulthood. Siblings can be friends, enemies, or frenemies. “Frenemies” is a recently coined term to describe relationships between two people that are conflictual or have several layers. One definition of frenemy is “a person with whom one is friendly despite fundamental dislike or rivalry.” This type of conflicted relationship often develops between siblings.
Often siblings take different directions over time with regard to religious beliefs, political beliefs, personal and family lifestyles and perceptions of parents and other siblings. While not all of these differences necessarily lead to conflict or poor relations, some differences become intractable barriers between siblings. The dynamics of the sibling relationship are also influenced by how parents treated and regarded each of the children. One may have been seen as the smart one, another as the pretty one, one as the “good girl” and another as trouble-maker. While children do have varied individual attributes, what is most important is whether the parents were able to see both the strengths and limitations in each of their children and do their best to honor these differences without putting down the less able or more difficult children.
In adulthood, parents are less influential and relationships between brothers and sisters develop according to the dynamics of those individuals. Some of the most difficult problems between siblings arise when problems of alcoholism, drug addiction or serious mental illness afflict one sibling creating discomfort or disruption in family relationships. However, the biggest issues that I have seen generate conflict between siblings revolve around the responsibilities of caring for aging parents and issues of inheritance: the estate parents’ have left (or not left) to their children and grandchildren. Let’s talk about our relationships with our siblings and how these relationships have developed and affected us over time.
- Briefly share something about the relationships you had with your sisters and brothers as you were growing up. Were there any sisters or brothers you felt especially close to?
- How have your relationships with one or more of your siblings changed over time?
- Do you have brothers or sisters that you currently see as friends? Are there any you experience as frenemies or enemies? Any that you are completely disengaged from?
- Which sibling do you have the most positive relationship with? The most negative relationship with? How have these relationships affected you?
- Can you share anything from your experience that has helped heal breaches in these relationships or improved your relationships with your brothers or sisters over time?