Resolving Sibling Conflict in Adulthood in Healthy Ways

Updated February 18, 2021
Brotehrs walking and talking

Do you have a strenuous relationship with your sibling? Sibling conflict in adulthood is frustrating and sometimes confusing. You may not understand why you and your sister/brother can't get along, or you've undergone a major conflict and just want to resolve it. Whatever the case may be, you're worried about the relationship you have with your sibling and you may want to ease the discomfort you are feeling.

Tips for Overcoming Sibling Conflict in Adulthood

Issues don't resolve themselves, no matter what type of relationship you are in. Taking action to come to an understanding with your sibling will help you both start to accept your differences and move past lingering hurt.

Consider the "Why"

Before working through issues, consider the reasons why problems might exist in the first place.

Consider Differences in Relationships

You might have grown up in the same family, but both of you have different relationships with other family members. Consider your own thoughts and feelings about your mom, dad, grandparents, and other siblings, and then juxtapose those thoughts and feelings on those of your sibling. These differences in feelings can be at the center of conflict.

Competition Equals Insecurity

Does your sibling compete with everything that you do? Does it drive you up a wall and make you furious and exhausted? Adult behaviors of competition often stem from childhood insecurities. Knowing where this behavior stems from might help you process his or her need to compete more effectively.

Rivalry Can Also Signify Envy

All these years your brother has been trying to one-up you. Is it possible that he envies your life and your accomplishments? Reminding him of all that he has managed to achieve might alleviate the sibling rivalry between the two of you.

Resolving Sibling Conflict

If you and your sibling are at a point where you can sit down and work through some issues, try using these conflict resolution strategies to make the situation go smoothly.

Confront the Conflict Head-On

Make the first move in a possible resolution. Call your sibling to suggest meeting face to face or virtually if you live far apart. While you may have stress and anxiety over sitting down with them, it is important that this initial step be made so you can move towards a place where you are comfortable in close proximity, despite differences. If you decide to meet up, pick a location that is comfortable for everyone, yet also neutral. You'll want to be on as even ground as possible for this.

Siblings arguing

Present Your Problems

Sitting down and hashing out years of conflict can get messy really fast. It's good to stay on topic and organized while you discuss your problems.

  • Suggest each of you make a list of the key issue that you have in our relationship. Steer clear of the petty stuff.
  • Allow both of you to have their chance to present your problems.
  • Respectfully listen and don't interrupt.

Use "I" Statements

Making an "I" statement is an effective and powerful way to state your case without creating blame.

  • Avoid the blame game by making "I" statements.
  • Examples of "I" statements: "I felt upset when things were said about my wife." "I felt hurt when jokes were made about my job."
  • Avoiding the use of "you" in your presentation of problems. Using the word "you" can create a sense of accusations and attack. No one wants to work things out when they feel as if they have to be on the defense.

Remain Calm

In situations concerning adult sibling fighting, emotions can escalate quickly and things can suddenly spiral out of control. If your sibling seems to be exhibiting mounting anger and aggression, remain calm.

  • React to only the content, not the anger.
  • Use open-ended words and statements.
  • Focus on your body language by keeping your shoulders and hands relaxed.
  • Keep your breathing deep and steady.

Practice Active Listening

Sometimes during a conflict, people are so wrapped up in constructing a response that they are not actively listening to the other person. If you want to resolve issues, you have to be willing to hear the other person loud and clear, and this means active listening.

  • Listen with your whole body.
  • Don't create a pre-mature response in your head. When you spend time doing that, you miss out on components of the other person's message.

Offer Possible Solutions

As you're talking, suggest ways to rectify the issues within your relationship. Don't just provide one way to solve things, because your sibling may feel as though you are making a demand.

  • Make sure your sibling feels heard by repeating back what you have heard them say.
  • Create an array of solutions that could benefit both of you.
  • Ask for their solution input.

Check Back In

Chances are sibling conflict resolution is going to take more than one meeting of the minds, but at least one meeting is a great start! If an initial meet-up was productive, don't drop the ball. Make plans to check back in with each other.

  • Make a plan to meet back up in one month to discuss new issues and progress.
  • Start a new meeting by listing positives and progress.
  • Identify new aspects of the relationship that you both can work on.
Sisters talking

Avoiding Conflict

Sometimes a resolution is not possible, and avoiding sibling toxicity altogether is going to be the best route. Here are some tips for avoiding conflict with your grown sibling.

Prepare Yourself

When you know that you will be spending time with your brother/sister, remind yourself that you have different views on certain topics. Consider all the possibilities surrounding the meeting. This mental preparation will help you calm your anxiety beforehand.

Avoid Confrontational Conversation

If you don't agree on certain topics, like religion and politics, don't bring them up. If your brother or sister insists on discussing them, politely refuse to engage in the discussion. Allow your sibling to talk, but neglect to offer your opinion. This may be difficult if you have strong feelings on the topic, but biting your tongue will be the fastest way to end this uncomfortable conversation. When you don't respond to your sibling, he/she will tire of the one-sided discussion and likely change topics.

End Uncomfortable Situations

If your sibling refuses to avoid certain topics, you may have to tell him/her that you are going to leave. Uncomfortable situations cause stress, increasing the probability you'll react, and many times, inappropriately. To avoid a fight, flee from it if you cannot change the topic to a neutral one.

Limit Interactions

If you can't stand to be around your loved one for a long time before feeling like you are going to explode, limit the number of times you meet with him or her. If seeing less of them means that you will be more mentally stable, then consider the possibility of reducing interaction.

Your Sibling Is Family

While you may not like your sibling's personality, beliefs or actions, he or she is still a member of your family, and family is worth trying for. Some cases of conflict will get resolved with time and strategy, but others will be too painful and toxic to overcome. Knowing if things are worth fighting for or if it is more healthy to sever ties is a personal choice that only you can make for yourself.

Resolving Sibling Conflict in Adulthood in Healthy Ways