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All grown up: How sibling relationships change in adulthood and how to make the most of it

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Siblings are forced to interact when they are living under the same roof, but sibling relationships change as kids grow up. (Photo by thinkstock.com)

Hair pulling, eye rolling and an occasional game of capture the flag was enough to sustain normal sibling relationships when you were kids, but what about now? You’re all grown up, they’re all grown up and life has thrown you a different sibling dynamic. How do you make the most of it?

Alex Jensen, a Ph.D. in human development and family studies recently hired by Brigham Young University, says research on this question is in the works. Here’s what he knows so far: the biggest change siblings experience as they age is that their relationships become a matter of choice.

“When you’re not living under the same roof, you don’t have to interact with your siblings if you don’t want to,” Jensen said. “There’s typically a decrease in contact due to separate living. It’s also impacted by getting married, having kids and having a lot of other things going on in your lives.”

But what about the quality of the relationships? What changes there? According to Jensen, conflict usually decreases which can only improve intimacy and closeness.

“Maybe they don’t talk as much, but do they fight as much when they do talk?” he said. “It goes back to the whole issue of not living together. There are not as many opportunities for conflict.”

In addition to rolling with the changes, there are a few actions Jensen suggests people take to maintain good sibling relationships in adulthood. First things first — forgiveness.

“Siblings are the most violent family relationships by far,” he said. “Between 60 and 70 percent of sibling relationships have enough violence to constitute abuse. In adulthood, people tend to hold that against their siblings. You need to learn to let things go, otherwise decreased contact may lead to no contact.”

Lastly, make an effort. Researchers often refer to females as “kin keepers” because they tend to be more focused on keeping families together, organizing reunions and get-togethers, etc. “But maybe you don’t have sisters,” Jensen said, “or maybe you have sisters who don’t take on that role. Somebody’s got to step up.”

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