The Sibling Issues People Complain About Most In Therapy

Therapists reveal the sibling problems their adult clients frequently bring up.

No matter how old you are, your siblings can get under your skin like nobody else.

Some siblings may outgrow the constant bickering or disdain they felt toward each other in the childhood days and develop a close, loving relationship as adults. For others, though, the bond remains — or becomes — distant or fraught.

Having a less-than-peachy relationship with an adult brother or sister isn’t uncommon. We asked therapists to reveal the sibling issues that their clients bring up the most in therapy. Here’s what they said:

1. “I don’t like my sibling’s partner.”

While you don’t necessarily have to love the person your sibling is dating, at minimum, you’d hope to find them at least tolerable. And if you really dislike their partner or worry that the relationship is toxic, it can bring up a lot of concerns and negative feelings. The tension may affect not only your bond with your sibling, but overall family dynamics as well, therapist Anna Poss said.

“Clients who bring this issue to counseling have a grab bag of emotions: fear that this will ruin their relationship with their sibling, resentment of being expected to be around the new partner and anger if other family members do not feel the same way they do,” Poss told HuffPost.

2. “We don’t talk anymore.”

Sibling rivalries or other unresolved issues from childhood can seep into your relationship as adults, causing a divide.

“Baggage from the past seems to hamper sibling relationships more than most others,” said therapist Kurt Smith, who specializes in counseling men. “While friends you can purge from your life, it’s much harder to do the same with siblings.”

The rift may be ignored until family gatherings, holidays or aging parent issues bring them to the surface, Smith added.

3. “We’re stuck in our childhood roles.”

“Even as adults, siblings often continue to consciously or unconsciously enforce the ‘roles’ that were assigned to each family member growing up — for example: ‘the baby,’ ‘the boss’ or ‘the black sheep,’” psychotherapist Kathleen Dahlen deVos said.

Continuing to be pigeonholed this way well into adulthood can be hurtful and get in the way of further personal growth.

“In session, we might discuss the ways that these roles have shaped the client’s personality, self and worldviews in ways that may or may not work for them,” Dahlen deVos told HuffPost. “Then, we’ll tease out how they would like to identify as adults today from the outgrown aspects of the role they were assigned.”

These issues can create major rifts between siblings.
Lucy Lambriex via Getty Images
These issues can create major rifts between siblings.

4. “We disagree about how to deal with our aging parents.”

As adults, siblings are often forced to make challenging and weighty decisions on behalf of their parents in regards to medical care, living arrangements and finances.

“These situations are inherently fraught and stressful, as people have to cope with the shifting parent-child dynamics while managing sibling dynamics that were established in childhood,” Poss said.

Money matters are particularly contentious, Smith added. Fights could be about inheritance money and other assets after the parents have died. But finances can also breed animosity while the parents are still living.

“Some children manipulate and take financial advantage of their parents’ love while they’re still alive,” Smith said.“For their siblings, this can be a major source of resentment, anger and even legal problems. I know a woman who has had to sue her sister to try to get her mother’s money back that’s needed for her nursing care that was swindled from her by her sister.”

5. “We still fight like we did when we were kids.”

The hope is that as you get older, you and your siblings will resolve conflict more maturely than you did in, say, middle school. But if healthy resolution skills weren’t modeled for you in childhood, you may have a tough time doing it as adults. When discord bubbles up, you may find yourselves reverting back to your old patterns.

“Often, my clients will discuss not knowing how to fight healthfully and respectfully with their siblings because they came from conflict-avoidant homes where healthy rupture and repair were not modeled,” Dahlen deVos said. “Conversely, other clients need support in setting boundaries with their siblings because they come from high-conflict homes in which fights were volatile or otherwise painful and problematic.”

6. “My adult brother or sister is still mooching off our parents.”

Certainly, situations may arise in which an adult child still needs generous emotional or financial support from their parents: significant mental or physical health issues, certain disabilities, job loss or other extenuating circumstances. These more serious scenarios notwithstanding, an adult sibling who places a great burden on older parents can be frustrating, to say the least.

“A man I’m counseling has a 43-year-old brother who moved in with their parents after his divorce and hasn’t worked for several years now,” Smith said. “Their parents are in their ’80s and are developing significant health issues that they’re putting off dealing with because they’re engulfed in getting their live-in adult son to take better care of himself, get a job and move out.”

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