The importance of adult sibling relationships

Sibling relationships are more important as we age.

One thing you can rely on is that people change as they age, and so do their relationships with siblings. Having a clear understanding of healthy adult sibling roles starts with re-evaluating what existing relationships are. Some siblings get stuck in childhood roles. For example “the youngest needs protection” or “the oldest has the most responsibility.” This can lead to resentment, tension and unfair sharing of family responsibilities, especially if you share the care of aging parents. It could help to take a fair and realistic look at your own siblings as they are now – as adults, with adult responsibilities and capabilities. Ask yourself if your expectations and perceptions are accurate or outdated.

Another thing to think about is what type of relationship you have with your adult siblings. Most research shows that there are at least five types of sibling relationships.

  1. Intimate – extremely devoted, placing sibling relationship above all others.
  2. Congenial – close and caring friends, but place a higher value on marriage and parent/child relationships.
  3. Loyal – based on common family history, maintain regular contact, participate in family gatherings and are there in times of crisis.
  4. Apathetic – don’t really feel connected and have infrequent to no contact.
  5. Hostile – based on resentment and anger.

Of those five types, the healthiest adult sibling relationships are either congenial or loyal. Viewing your siblings as close friends and having some family loyalty can come in handy as you get older and your social circle shrinks. Many older adults find sibling relationships more satisfying and reliable in their lives. Some look at sibling relationships as an hour glass effect. Very close in the early years, slim to none in the teen to young adult years, then growing closer as the years go by.

If you have a sister, consider yourself extremely lucky. Research shows that sister/sister relationships remain a constant strong bond throughout life. Even brother/sister relationships are reported as strong and supportive. Both of those out rank the brother/brother relationships. This has been somewhat attributed to a female’s emotional expressiveness and a traditional role as a nurturer.

As a parent, you can have a huge impact on your children’s older adult life by encouraging healthy, supportive sibling bonds. It may also affect your own health and wellbeing because siblings with already established healthy relationships are much more equipped to take care of you as you age. Michigan State University Extension has many articles and resources for establishing and maintaining healthy relationships. For more information visit

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