Top 5 Causes Of Adult Sibling Rivalry And How To Make Peace

What Causes Adult Sibling Rivalry?

The media buzz surrounding Prince Harry’s eagerly awaited memoir, Spare, is forging a connection between average Americans and royalty.

Many individuals with sibling rivalries now feel a kinship with the Duke of Sussex.

In his book, he recounts his occasionally turbulent relationship with his older brother, Prince William, including his claim of a physical assault during a 2019 confrontation regarding Harry’s wife, Meghan Markle.

Adult Sibling Rivalry
Adult Sibling Rivalry

Although sibling relationships endure over time, they often involve both intense loyalty and conflict, with the resulting pain running deep.

A 2020 study in the Journal of Family Psychology showed that adult sibling rivalry contributes to depression, anxiety, hostility, and loneliness.

An Infographic On Top 5 Causes Of Adult Sibling Rivalry

Top 5 Causes of Adult Sibling Rivalry

1.Birth order

Firstborns often assume the responsible role, adhering to rules and acting as role models.

Younger siblings may feel overshadowed and adopt more rebellious traits, as suggested by a 2020 study on second-born children by MIT economist Joseph Doyle.

These roles persist into adulthood, shaping individuals’ identities and behaviors, explains certified life coach Krystal Conner.

2.Aging parents

As parents require more assistance, birth order dynamics resurface.

Older siblings may feel pressured to become caretakers, leading to resentment.

Younger siblings may struggle with their role in providing support, notes licensed mental health counselor Jody Mykins.

Gender also plays a role, with women comprising the majority of caregivers, as indicated by the Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 report.


Siblings may compete for limited resources such as love, support, and affection.

This competition intensifies if parents were not generous with emotional support during childhood, according to Conner.

Economic factors, such as recessions, may exacerbate feelings of competition for tangible resources.

A study from Cornell University found that 70 percent of mothers in their 60s and 70s felt closer to one child than another.

4.Personality differences

While biological siblings share genes, their personalities often diverge, leading to conflicts.

Extroverts may appear domineering due to their strong opinions and social nature, while introverts may seem disinterested or emotionally distant.

Ambiverts exhibit characteristics of both extroversion and introversion.

Mykins compares it to scenarios where one sibling is outgoing and the other is studious, emphasizing that these differences persist over time.

5.Estates and wills

Emotions from grief and loss can resurface during estate proceedings, sparking power struggles among siblings.

When one sibling acts as the executor of a parent’s will, others may feel unloved or deprived of control.

    • Disagreements often arise regarding the distribution of inheritance and other resources left by the parent.
    • According to Ameriprise Financial research, financial disputes among siblings typically revolve around parental decisions, with inheritance division being a key issue.
    • In such cases, involving a neutral third party can help ensure the will’s intentions are honored. If siblings cannot reach an agreement, liquidating assets and dividing the proceeds may be a solution.

Also Read: Bradley Cooper Siblings- Holly Cooper’s Sisterly Love and Support

Strategies for Dealing with Adult Sibling Rivalry

Be proactive

  • Mykins, 56, advises initiating open discussions with siblings regarding unhealthy relationship dynamics before crises occur.
  • Waiting until emergencies arise only escalates stress and tensions.
  • Despite the difficulty, honesty, openness, active listening, and a willingness to consider change can mitigate damage.

Look inward

  • Conner emphasizes that siblings often engage in the blame game without questioning their beliefs about themselves.
  • Challenging long-held beliefs and evaluating whether they align with personal values is crucial.
  • Taking control of one’s actions regardless of external circumstances is essential for managing reactions effectively.

Set boundaries

  • Setting healthy boundaries with siblings is an expression of care for the relationship.
  • Fear of conflict should not deter boundary-setting, as clear boundaries foster healthier relationships.
  • Following through on established boundaries is vital for maintaining their integrity and effectiveness.

Be open

  • Conner suggests viewing sibling rivalry as optional and empowering individuals to decide the nature of their relationships.
  • Seeking therapy can facilitate constructive conversations and potentially heal old wounds within the family dynamic.

Final Thoughts

Adult sibling rivalry is a complex and often challenging aspect of familial relationships.

However, by implementing proactive strategies, engaging in introspection, setting healthy boundaries, and maintaining open communication, individuals can navigate conflicts and foster healthier dynamics with their siblings.

By taking control of their responses and seeking support when needed, adults can work towards resolving tensions and building stronger bonds with their siblings, ultimately leading to more fulfilling and harmonious relationships.

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