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Friendships—Can Siblings Be Friends?

Family and friends—the mix

Many people consider their siblings their closest friends; many consider their friends like family. Let's look at adult siblings. Sorting out friendships and the priority they should play in life is tricky. And if you have a partner, it gets more complicated. Partners hopefully have a commitment to spending time together alone—that time needs to be protected. If there are children, time needs to be spent with them. Add in time with family (siblings) and time with friends (both mutual and separate) and the juggling becomes infinitely more tricky. Finally, what about alone time? How to balance it all and how to weigh lifelong commitments? With siblings the stakes are often ramped up because the past is brought into play. Siblings may have experienced hurt or rejection from each other for years which they re-experience each time they feel their sibling isn't emotionally available. They may have once experienced closeness and feel it slipping away as other people come into the picture (partners, children, new friends) or they may feel they are getting closer as they age and have a greater need for each other. The line between friendship and siblings is dynamic and can get blurred as new events unfold.

In our book Two Plus Two: Couples and their Couple Friendships, a retired teacher in his 60s told us how hurt he was at being closed out of a friendship with his own siblings, each of whom was closer to each other than to him. "It wasn't that they actively pushed me out," he reported. "They were just very close with each other and I felt there was no place for me. We (his spouse and he) sought out other couples to compensate for that." While the friendship with his siblings did not end, this gentleman felt he needed to search elsewhere for the closeness he was seeking. What was hopeful from this was that he was able to adapt and connect with others.

It is impossible in any triangle of siblings, like the retired teacher's, or friends for everyone to be equally close just as it is impossible for two parents to agree about parenting all the time. Closeness often waxes and wanes across the lifespan. When siblings are close friends the relationship can provide a lifelong source of love and support, the kind of nurturing that can also be found in a great marriage or partnership. Siblings may even refer to each other as their best friend. For those without a sibling or who do not feel especially close to their siblings, friendships with others can provide love and support. Such support is important from some source as it is well-established that those with friends live longer and healthier lives.

Finding a way to examine your relationships/friendships with your siblings is important given the natural bonds that tie you together. While siblings do not have to be close friends (and many are not my current research indicates), the family of origin will run more smoothly if there is at least a basis for conversation and acceptance of family members. At some point older parents will need to be taken care of and estates may have to be divided. If siblings are comfortable with their sibling relationships and have friends to boot, the best of both worlds can coincide peacefully. Relationships can be balanced. No one will feel "there was no place for me" and suffer for it.