"A sibling may be the keeper of one's identity, the only person with the keys to one's unfettered, more fundamental self
The long flight back to New Zealand from Los Angeles is always a challenge for me (as I'm sure it is for most people), even though I've done it often enough over the years. I should be better prepared by now. It was not made any easier this time, by going via Australia, which adds on extra hours..As usual, I brought along plenty of toys to play with: a netbook, MP3 player, camera with photos to down-load, book, and a couple of magazines. And because magazines are cheaper in the US, I stocked up on a couple more at LAX, just for good measure. And as usual, I hardly touched any of this stuff. I would have way more space for my feet, if I didn't bother with all that junk that I immediately stash under the seat in front, and then barely pay attention to. I could use the space, stretch out and maybe get a bit more sleep- rather than sitting semi-hunched in a fugue-like state for the next twelve or thirteen hours, watching the clock move so slowly, and waiting for the next meal.
Anyway I managed to flick through one of the magazines and it included a feature on sibling relationships. I was reminded of this very central (yet often over-looked) set of family relationships. The psychology literature of family relationships is more likely to focus on spouse relationships, or those between parent and child, with sibling relationships receiving way less attention in comparison. Yet the sibling relationship is likely to be the longest relationship of our lives, keeping in mind that at least 80% of us have sibs. Chances are it will last longer than the relationships we have with either our parents, our partners or our kids. Yet it does not necessarily follow that it will be closer than those other relationships- as patterns set down in childhood will often influence our views of our siblings right througout our life-cycles.
It seems that a key component to how siblings relate to each other over the years will be influenced by sibling perceptions as to who was treated more/less fairly by parents. Meanwhile the same parents are likely to claim that they treated all children similarly and in a fair way at all times, though in reality, this would be an impossible task to achieve. All kids are different, and each will need to be parented in a way that takes into account their uniqueness. This still means though, that parents can adhere to parenting philosphies that will still be important and useful for all their kids- there just needs to be tweeking to fit differing individual needs.
A key task for siblings, especially once both/all participants are into adulthood, is to review the relationship, and think about the dynamics that exist. Is the relationship in the here-and-now still heavily influenced by patterns set down in child-hood, and therefore you each had very little control over it? One way to test this, is to think about current levels of confict or competitiveness in the relationship- if these levels are present in ways that might be excessive, (yet you can't recall how they got there), chances are that either or both of you are still responding to those dynamics set down for you (not necessarily intentionally or maliciously) by others, at an early stage of your life. Does this way of relating still fit for two independent people who are now at a completely differnt life-stage? Do you want your relationship to continue to be shaped by age-old patterns, that were laid down years ago, by people who may have long since departed the family, and this life? Or do you want to relate to your sib in the way that each of you now choose, and is free of historical family influences?
The sibling relationship is one that is often over-looked, yet it is likely to be one that last years, and sometimes even decades, longer than other relationships in our lives. And, because of those early shared experiences that only siblings can begin to have some understanding of, the sib relationship has the potential to be a real resource, once lingering negative influences from childhood are banished...Not always easy I know, but it can be done.
If you are keen to look at practical ways of improving relationships with your adult siblings, jump right over here.....
Readers will have noticed that I have been talking about conflict from time to time. I'm especially interested in how it is managed within families, and also close relationships with partners, etc.
New Zealanders (and I'm making a huge generalization here, I know...) often seem to struggle with conflict. And of course, they are not the only ones to do so. In Kiwi Land, it is often denied, or, in the extreme, it is continually present and mismanaged, to the point that it becomes exhausting, and kills the relationship. And sometimes people in the relationship...
I've had a lot of opportunity to observe New Yorkers over the last few weeks, whilst I've been out and on the go. I've seen a lot of public & semi-public interactions, and heard people on phones, observed them relating to their 'significant others.' This got me wondering about how they 'do' conflict. Bottom line is, I don't think they do it any better. Yet (and again, to generalize is not good), they can be so loud, and 'out there.' And, here's the thing- what often sounds (to my sensitive Kiwi ears) like conflict, quite extreme conflict in fact, such as people ranting, people yelling at each other, has often not turned out to be conflict at all (it took me a while to figure this out...). Just people relating to each other New York style,in a vocal and often demonstrative way, and a manner that we are less likely to see in our part of the world. At least in public, anyway. I'm not saying they manage conflict better- in fact I'm pretty sure they don't. But at least they 'tell it like it is', they don't smile quietly through gritted teeth, saying all the while that everything is fine, when clearly it is not..
Meanwhile, down in beautiful Mexico, it is even hotter than NYC...Something I would not have thought possible. This is my second visit, and I'm reminded again that the focus on family is huge, as is the case in many Latin American countries. I've been making the most of the early part of the day which is the coolest, to enjoy the ocean. And at 7am, there have been families, sometimes with three generations present, all quietly (or not so quietly,as the case may be) sitting in the water,enjoying some time to connect, before the demands of the day kick in. Who knows what it means for family relationship functioning overall- it certainly can't do any harm...
To get some useful pointers for managing conflict in relationships, jump right over here....
"Some occasional thoughts about families, relationships, and other things that distract us...."