We talk often about navigating different forms of relationships as we get older, like marriages, friendships or the bond we share with our parents. But we rarely hear about navigating our adult sibling relationships—you know, those people who you grew up with? The ones who have most likely seen the absolute worst and even the best of you?
Maintaining those relationships as you all grow older and start lives of your own can be challenging, but let me tell you this: Adult sibling relationships are just as important as any other type of relationship. And while there is no one-and-done guide on how to improve sibling relationships as adults, there is a lot of great advice out there that can help you all build stronger connections.
I can speak from experience. I have eight siblings (whew, I know!!). Of course, we haven’t always gotten along. Over the years, we have all grown close together, drifted apart, and grown close together again.
It’s a constant cycle as each of us journey through different seasons of life and experience major changes like getting married (or having marriage troubles), having kids, finding a job, moving or going through depression.
Of course, since there are nine of us in total, some of us are closer than others, but I like to believe that each of us makes a consistent effort to maintain our relationships across the grid.
Though we have been through many ups and downs over the years and struggled through some childhood traumas and unforgiven conflicts, our love for each other is deeper now than it has ever been. Our parents often speak about how proud they are that we have grown up and still managed to stay close. It gives them solace to know that when they are no longer here, we will still have each other.
My father once described our family as resilient, and as I reflect over the years and all that we have experienced (together or individually), I can truly attest that our family bond is stronger than ever.
I think that it makes it easier for us since we all live in the same state and are in close proximity to each other, though it had not always been that way. But even if you are far apart, your sibling relationships are still important and still need tending to. And it takes work—lots of work.
Here are some things that I’ve learned (and am still learning) over the years that have helped me improve my sibling relationships as an adult—and hopefully they can help you, too.
1. Make time for each other
Just as you make time for your partner in a marriage or for your friends, the same should go for your siblings. As you all grow older and go through different walks of life, you may not be as available as you once were when you used to bathe together or play hide-and-seek outside until the streetlights came on, but you should still make an attempt to catch up every now and then.
Sometimes that may look like a simple text or a group FaceTime call. And when the time permits, it can look like a night out on the town or a family movie night. Whatever it is, do what works for all of you and enjoy the time that you get to catch each other up to speed on what is going on in your lives. Quality time can help build a stronger connection and a deeper emotional bond.
2. Accept them for who they currently are and who they may become at any given moment
People go through different seasons and phases in life—and those will look different for everyone. None of my brothers and sisters are the same as they were when we were growing up, and they are constantly changing. They have found their voices and their passions. Sometimes, they are still searching. But learning to accept them and love them for who they are in each stage of their life has allowed me to be there for them no matter what—without any obligation.
Sure, we may not always agree with each other on certain things or ways of living our lives, as in any relationship. But one thing that remains true is that we are always there to support one another and catch each other when one may fall. And as we all continue to grow and evolve, we remain flexible in welcoming every version of each other with open—and loving—arms.
3. Keep an open line of honest communication
Being able to work through differences and hurtful situations can play a big role in maintaining healthy relationships with your adult siblings. I cannot even begin to count how many times something one of my brothers or sisters said or did when we were kids hurt me—yet I never said anything. As I have grown older, I have been able to voice my feelings and express my emotions honestly. And I’ve even let down my defensive barrier and become more open to receiving honest feedback from my siblings as well. This creates room for trust as we learn to be vulnerable with each other and respect one another at all times.
4. Let go of past resentments so that you can move forward
The first step in letting go of the past is talking through it. Have some dialogue around any resentments or bitterness that you have carried, and then forgive and let them go. My family has had our share of hard conversations over the past few years. Conversations where we have cried and yelled. Conversations that made us stop talking to each other for a couple of days or weeks until we laid down our egos and learned to understand everyone’s experience as their own.
Those nitty-gritty talks around my parent’s dining room table have opened us all up—and we have been able to move past some of the most hurtful childhood traumas that we’ve carried with us for years. Having those conversations have helped us become more gentle in our approach of working through any conflict that comes our way, and I believe that we are all stronger because of it.
5. Start a sibling group chat
The. Best. Commentary. Ever. We share videos of our kids or dogs, joke with each other, pick on our parents—and we hold each other up when we’re going through. If you don’t have a group chat with just you and all your siblings, I advise you to start one now.
Understanding that all adult sibling relationships are not the same, I encourage you to choose your own pace. Maybe the chat is just a means of checking in every now and then. Maybe it’s constantly being blown up with goofy text messages. Maybe it’s sharing photos of your families or your new place. But whatever it is, make it work for you and the current dynamic of your relationship with your siblings.
6. Set clear boundaries
As you grow older, you veer away from the ways that you carried as a child and you become an adult with your own perspectives, own opinions and own preferences. The thing that most families struggle to understand is that even through differences, there is still room for love. Many moments, I have had to vouch for the decisions that I have made in my life and demand respect.
As kids, we used to pick on each other and walk all over each other—busting into each other’s rooms, not honoring each other’s personal space and shutting down each other’s opinions or opportunity to have a voice. But now that we are adults, we have learned to respect each other and set those boundaries that are non-negotiable. By doing this, we not only honor each other’s differences, but we love one another through them.
7. Become friends
Yes, you and your siblings are connected by relation. Sometimes, you feel like you’re obligated to be in their lives, even when you aren’t getting along or when you don’t agree with where they are in life. But your siblings can be your lifelong friends—if you let them. Sometimes it takes showing them that you want to be in their lives—and that you want them to be a part of yours. And through developing a sense of comradery amongst each other, you become more than siblings. You become friends.
This is not the entirety of the advice that can help to create stronger relationships with your siblings, but it sure is a start.
You may not have grown up together with all of your siblings. Some of your relationships may have been (or still are) estranged. But luckily for you, you can begin the work of building stronger relationships with your adult siblings at any given moment. And oh, what lifelong friends they can truly be.