My brother and I are two years apart and have hung out with the same group of guys since junior high (we’re now in our 20s). When I pick out some girl I want to talk to, my brother hits on her. He’s a player, so he’s never interested long-term, but I’m not going after any he’s dumped. I’ve gotten pissed and told him to back off, but he laughs. I’m tired of pretending that it’s no big deal. I love my brother and hate him, too.
Hey, those conflicted emotions are proof positive of sibling rivalry. You’re not alone. Almost one-third of adults describe their sibling relationships as rivalries or distant, according to an article in Psychology Today. It generally starts in the toddler years. In the article, Judy Dunn, a pioneering researcher in sibling studies, says, “That little 15-month-old or 17-month-old is watching like a hawk what goes on between her mother and older sibling. And the greater the difference in the maternal affection and attention, the more hostility and conflict between the siblings.”
So this competition with your brother is a mask for the earlier fight for Mama’s affections. As psychologist Stephen Bank contends in Psychology Today, bitter conflict is originally the “fault” of a “disturbing family situation in which parental actions or inactions play a large part.” Dunn notes that while toddlers observe more family dynamics than we ever imagined, they lack the ability to process and understand what may have turned them against each other. That unconsciousness continues into adulthood, unless an individual seeks counseling or is deeply reflective and truth-seeking.
Rivalries between brothers are the most intense because parental and social expectations of men rip a deeper wound. Part of the problem is the cultural belief that it is appropriate to compare brothers, especially with typical child development markers like first tooth or first words. That rating system nags men throughout their life so that the topics of conversation (and pain) become which brother has the bigger house, best car, most money or other markers of worldly success.
The other issue is based on another social premise, the idea that siblings should be our first friends and that sibling friendship is a birthright. But Dunn says, “We don’t choose our siblings. There are personality differences that can be very striking and if you’re stuck growing up with someone day-in and day-out who grates and irritates and provokes, then it seems very understandable that even without the huge importance of competition for parental love and attention, some siblings don’t get on well.”
I think it’s time for you to do two things: First, find a good therapist and invest in the self-knowledge necessary to free yourself from the games that you and your brother still play. Second, find a new circle of companions to hang with so you’re not always in your brother’s shadow. After all, you can grow up even if he doesn’t want to.
I met this guy about a month ago who travels a lot and is really busy with work. When he says he will call me, he usually doesn’t. When we’re together it seems like he really likes me. How can I be sure?
You can trust that he likes you if he keeps his word. But if he makes promises and fails to follow through, he’s just not that into you. A man who is interested in a woman wants her to know that she is important to him. So stop putting up with being treated like you’re the last item on his to-do list. Look for a man who has his priorities straight.