The Psychology Behind Why Siblings Often Grow Apart

The Psychology Behind Why Siblings Often Grow Apart


You and your brother(s) and/or sister(s) were once as close as it’s possible for people to be, but there is a reason why siblings so often grow apart later in life, and this article will discuss the psychology behind why this happens to these close relationships.

Your siblings and you each had a different relationship with your parents, no matter how much mom or dad tried to be fair and equal with both of you. For example, the eldest child often has more attention from their parents than younger siblings do. Sometimes they also have higher expectations, but younger siblings see the difference in how their older brothers and sisters are treated and feel less loved as a result.

The Psychology Behind Why Siblings Often Grow Apart

This feeling of unfair treatment between siblings can spill over into how siblings treat each other. Feelings of resentment, jealousy, or envy can pop up when siblings find even minor things to argue about. ‘Dad/Mom always liked you best’ is a common phrase that siblings who are angry over a small thing often like to hurl at each other, which then escalates a small argument into a much larger one.

In this article we will look at rivalry and other psychological dynamics that affect why siblings so often grow apart and what you can do to repair these relationships.

The sibling relationship from childhood to the teenage years

Your closest, and most memorable years with your siblings are when you were youngest. Most people remember being close friends and playmates with their young brothers and sisters, but then they often find that they grow apart after that. If you look aback at photos of yourself, you see that your parents captured more memories of you up to your teen years, or it could be that as a teen, you felt awkward and didn’t want your picture taken as often.

Teenagers are discovering who they are as a separate person from their siblings and parents and this is why these years are usually the ones when siblings tend to grow apart. Parents are tapering off their parenting and teens are turning into independent adults. This driving need for independence is the psychology behind why siblings can grow apart as they mature into their own personalities.

The psychology behind the close early years and the later separation is that your parents often watch to make sure that you play fairly with each other. They are there to help level the playing field and make sure that one of you doesn’t get all the toys while the other has none. But as you gain years and responsibilities, your siblings and you have to work out these struggles without mom or dad’s help.

Sibling psychology from teenagers to young adults

Israeli researchers looked at how siblings often grow apart sometime between the turbulent teenage years and when they become young adults. They say ‘Emerging adults were found to spend less time and to be less involved in joint activities with their siblings than adolescents, but they reported being more involved in emotional exchanges with and feeling more warmth toward their siblings. Conflict and rivalry were also reported by emerging adults to be less intense than by adolescents. Narrative analyses showed that emerging adults had a more mature perception of their relationship with their siblings. Unlike in adolescence, the quality of emerging adults’ relationships with their siblings was less related to their relationship with their parents.’

Related article: What Does Your Birth Order Reveal About Your Personality?

A study in the Journal of Marriage and Family looked at sibling relationships for 9000 people between the ages of 16 and 85 and examined how sibling relationships change for four types of sibling relationship behavior that can be measured. For physical proximity, frequency of contact, giving help, and receiving help over the life course, the researchers say ‘All four measures of sibling relationship decline significantly during early adulthood.’

Young adult siblings and later years

Looking at sibling relationships and why they often grow apart after your teen years, the researchers for the Journal of Marriage and Family also say how close you stay to your siblings as far as your physical location and the frequency that you keep in touch tend to stabilize in middle age. They also found that how often you and your siblings connect shows a slight increase after siblings reach age 70.

Related article: 15 Things You Should Make Time For Again

As siblings and their other family members age, inevitably those who we are closest to pass away, leaving the sibling feeling alone. The researchers say that there is some support for the theory that later in life, siblings act as a type of substitute for parents, spouses, and children, by providing similar social and family support to each other.

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