adult sibling relationships

Adult Sibling Relationships: Navigating the Complexities and Benefits

January 18, 2024

Adult sibling relationships are often overlooked in research and society, but they are the longest-lasting relationships in our lives.

Adult Sibling Relationships: Navigating the Complexities and Benefits

Is maintaining a relationship with your siblings in adulthood worth it?

Adult sibling relationships are a topic that is often overlooked in both research and society. However, these relationships are the longest-lasting connections we have in our lives. Understanding the complexities and benefits of adult sibling relationships is crucial for fostering healthy and fulfilling connections. In this article, we will explore the insights shared by Geoffrey Greif, an expert in adult sibling relationships, in a recent episode of The Calling Home Podcast. He discusses the dynamics, challenges, and potential rewards of these relationships.

Affection, Ambivalence, and Ambiguity: Understanding Sibling Dynamics

Greif categorizes adult sibling relationships into three main types: affectionate, ambivalent, and ambiguous. Affectionate relationships are characterized by deep bonds and a sense of closeness. Many individuals consider their siblings to be their best friends and have a lifelong connection with them. However, ambivalence can also be present in these relationships. Mixed feelings and occasional conflicts are normal as siblings navigate the complexities of their connection. Lastly, ambiguity arises as siblings grow older and may struggle to understand each other's choices and behaviors. This can lead to confusion and a sense of disconnect within the relationship.

The Impact of Parental Interference and Favoritism

Parental interference and favoritism can significantly impact adult-sibling relationships. Greif's research reveals that approximately one-third of respondents reported that their parents interfered in their relationship with their siblings during childhood. While some level of parental involvement is necessary, it is important to strike a balance and allow siblings to work out their issues independently. Interference can also occur in adulthood, with parents involving themselves in their children's relationships. Setting boundaries and redirecting parents' focus can help maintain healthy sibling connections.

Parental favoritism is another factor that can strain sibling relationships. While it is natural for parents to have different relationships with each child, extreme favoritism can lead to resentment and tension. It is essential for parents to acknowledge and address these imbalances, ensuring that each child feels valued and loved. Open communication and understanding can help siblings navigate the challenges that arise from parental favoritism.

Navigating Sibling Abuse and Bullying

Sibling abuse and bullying are unfortunate realities that some individuals face within their sibling relationships. It is crucial to recognize and address these issues, rather than dismissing them as normal sibling behavior. Greif acknowledges that it can be challenging to determine the line between play and abuse, especially in childhood. However, it is essential for parents to intervene when necessary and protect their children from harm. Seeking therapy or professional guidance can provide support and guidance for families dealing with sibling abuse.

Dividing Responsibilities and Assets: Challenges and Resolutions

As parents age and require care, adult siblings often face challenges in dividing responsibilities and assets. Disputes can arise over healthcare decisions, inheritance, and the overall division of caregiving duties. These conflicts can strain sibling relationships and create long-lasting resentments. Open and honest communication is key to resolving these issues. Siblings must work together to find equitable solutions that consider the needs and preferences of all family members. Seeking professional guidance, such as family therapy or mediation, can help facilitate these discussions and ensure a fair and amicable resolution.

The Value of Adult Sibling Relationships

Despite the challenges that adult sibling relationships may present, there are numerous benefits to fostering and maintaining these connections. Siblings who have a close bond can provide support and companionship throughout life's ups and downs. They can be a source of comfort, understanding, and shared history. Additionally, maintaining a positive relationship with siblings sets a positive example for future generations. Children who witness their parents' close relationships with their siblings are more likely to prioritize and value their own sibling connections.


Adult sibling relationships are complex and multifaceted. While they can present challenges, they also offer immense rewards. Understanding the dynamics of these relationships, navigating parental interference and favoritism, addressing sibling abuse, and finding equitable resolutions to dividing responsibilities and assets are crucial for maintaining healthy and fulfilling connections. By investing in these relationships, individuals can create a lasting legacy of love, support, and connection for themselves and future generations.

Extra Support: Adult Sibling Relationships

If you would like extra help with your adult sibling relationships, we have worksheets, articles, and more - here.