How to Maintain Healthy Adult Sibling Relationships

I consider my sister to be my best friend, closest confidante and greatest source of strength in tough times, but it hasn’t always been that way. The soundtrack to our teenage years was slamming doors, yelling matches and CDs smashing against walls when she refused to leave my room.

The turning point was when I left for college. No longer forced to spend time together, we actually enjoyed each other’s company. We talked on the phone, visited frequently and forged a new relationship. Rather than “mean big sister” and “annoying little sister,” we became friends.

The Sibling Connection

For many people, sibling relationships are the longest lasting. We usually have them in our lives longer than our parents, and we know them before we meet our spouses. Our friends don’t remember when we came home crying because kids at school teased us or how we felt when we were faced with hardships in life. But our siblings do.

Siblings can also help us navigate the challenges of adulthood, such as losing family members or caring for sick parents. My husband supported me during the four-year period when I lost two grandparents, my 20-year-old cousin and the aunt who was like a second mother to me. But my sister felt it with me. When our father had a stroke, cancer and open-heart surgery, we went through it together.

While most scientific research on siblings focuses on childhood, several significant studies show that adult sibling relationships can affect your mood, health, stress levels and overall satisfaction with life.

5 Ways to Get Closer

Ready to call a ceasefire on your sibling rivalry, or to strengthen the good relationships you already have? Try these tips:

  • Let bygones be bygones. I no longer throw things at my sister, and she isn’t a whiny kid anymore. The same is probably true of your siblings. Let go of preconceived notions about who they used to be and get to know them as adults.
  • Vacation Together. Traveling with siblings — alone or with spouses and children — is much more fun when you’re no longer kids fighting in the backseat. As you relax and share new experiences, you’re making memories and forging new bonds.
  • Be a Fantastic Aunt/Uncle. My sister and I really bonded when she had children, and my sister-in-law says she feels closer to my husband since our son was born. The fastest way to most parents’ hearts is through their children, so taking an active role in your nieces’ and nephews’ lives can bring you closer to your siblings.
  • Stay in touch. If you can’t get together in person, talk on the phone. Follow each other on social media. My cousins — a group of six brothers and sisters — keep a group text conversation going so they know what’s happening in one another’s lives. How do you keep your sibling relationships going strong? Let us know in the comments.
  • Celebrate together. Don’t limit your relationship to digital communication. Whenever possible, show up to celebrate special occasions together, and not just the big ones like holidays and weddings. Acknowledging job promotions, anniversaries and other accomplishments shows you care.


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