A relationship with a sibling is perhaps the longest relationship you will ever have, according to Hara Estroff Marano in the "Psychology Today" article "Oh, Brother!" Siblings are generally present before the formation of friendships and beyond the lives of parents. They compete for parental attention and affection, and, states Estroff Marano, "are attuned to the emotional exchanges going on around them." They are also likely to develop attachments to one another and seek each other out for information and support. Consequently, siblings help one another relate to the world and shape each other's personalities
According to the book "Sibling Identity and Relationships: Sisters and Brothers," siblings relationships -- even those that are strained or tumultuous -- are just as integral to identity formation as connections to parents. People develop concepts of themselves in relation to others. For instance, if your brother is excessively talkative and social, you may perceive yourself as quiet or introverted because, compared to him, you are not particularly outgoing. This perception then influences your personality -- you may develop into a quiet or pensive person far into the future.
Since they tend to consistently interact beginning at young age, siblings learn to socialize from one another. They learn which behaviors elicit attention, anger, concern and affection in others. They begin to understand the dynamics of manipulation and, ideally, manage to assert themselves to get their needs met. In an article for Psych Central about sibling influences on adult behavior, Dr. Rick Nauert states that, through one another, brothers and sisters come to understand how to behave at school and among friends. They can also begin to unravel the mysteries of opposite genders. Eventually, they may learn to resolve conflict through compromise and negotiation. These are skills that will assist them throughout life.
Brothers and sisters can assist each other with the development of healthy attachments. Everyone seeks human connection, which is often attained through relationships with parents. In situations where parents or caretakers are inadequate, neglectful or even abusive, siblings can turn to one another for affection. Even when parents and caretakers are nurturing and supportive, children might become overly attached. Siblings can interrupt this dynamic by providing companionship or distraction during times of separation from parents.
Adult Sibling Relationships
The developmental significance of siblings during childhood is undeniable. These relationships tend to be meaningful during adulthood as well. Although you may be separated by the demands of higher education, your careers, spouses and children, siblings' presence can still be a constant during times of success, celebration, crisis and grief. As losses increase with age, siblings rely on each other more and more for social support. Men and women both report that the support of sisters in particular greatly impacts their well-being, according to "Adult Sibling Relationships" through The Ohio State University Extension.
- The Ohio State University Extension: Adult Sibling Relationships: Joyce A. Shriner
- Psychology Today: Oh, Brother!: Hara Estroff Marano
- PsychCentral: Early Sibling Relationships Influence Adult Behavior: Rick Nauert, Ph.D.
- Sibling Identity and Relationships: Sisters and Brothers; Rosalind Edwards et al.
Jill Avery-Stoss is a graduate of Penn State University and a writer and editor based in northeast Pennsylvania. Having spent more than a decade working with victims of sexual and domestic violence, she specializes in writing about women's issues, with emphasis on families and relationships.