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How Can You Get Along With Brothers and Sisters?

Sometimes sibling rivalries can make you wonder if "brotherly love" is an oxymoron—a contradiction of terms. But here are some tips that can help promote peace.

by Mike Bennett

"You name it, we fight about it," said 14-year-old Jeff. He was responding to a question from Nancy Samalin, a counselor and family life expert (Loving Each One Best, 1996, p. 147).

Amanda, also 14, answered this way: "Lately, we don't fight very much. But one of my sisters doesn't know how to keep her mouth shut. We have different opinions on different subjects and different personalities."

Edward, 13, summed up his feelings about having brothers and sisters this way: "Ninety-nine percent of the time it is extremely annoying, but sometimes it can be quite useful" (p. 145).

Unhappy sisters All of the things that can go wrong in friendships can be compounded in the bond between brothers and sisters: different opinions and attitudes, feelings of unfairness and not being respected, jealousy and revenge. Added to this list is the fact that while you can pick your friends, you had no choice about your brothers or sisters or stepbrothers or stepsisters. Whether they are younger or older or your twin, your siblings can be a major challenge. What can you do to improve the situation?

Don't try this at home

Those of us who have had troubles with brothers and sisters are not alone. Even the Bible is filled with lots of troubled families. Think about the first two brothers—Cain killed his brother Abel out of jealousy! Jacob tricked his twin brother Esau out of his inheritance. Rachel and Leah were in not-so-friendly competition with each other.

Then there was Joseph, his father's favorite and hated by his brothers. It even seems he showed off, with that special colorful coat and the dreams he told them about that showed Joseph coming out on top. But his older brothers got back at him but good! He ended up spending 13 years as a slave and prisoner.

All this, and we're still in the book of Genesis! We haven't even considered King David's dysfunctional family. Yes, there are lots of places to look if you want to see how not to do it. Here's just a quick list of things to try to avoid:

Some of these things may seem justified because of what our brothers and sisters have done to us, but the truth is, they just don't work if you want to improve things.

What successful siblings do

There are some things that do work, but they don't always come naturally. I know a number of good examples of brothers and sisters who get along well, but I haven't heard any of them say it comes easily. Still, if we are willing to fight our natural tendencies and try these approaches, they have been proven to work in the long run.

Since they aren't what most of us would normally do, these tips may shock your brother or sister so much that they will produce an immediate response. If you're lucky, it will be a friendly response, but don't be surprised if your brother or sister just wonders what you are up to at first. Give him or her time to get used to the new approach, and things should improve.

We all have different talents and skills, so we do not always excel in the same things. When brothers or sisters are compared by others, they generally don't like it. We can't always control what others do, but we don't have to make it worse by comparing and competing ourselves. The apostle Paul pointed out that such comparisons aren't wise (2 Corinthians 10:12).

This can work when we make our brother or sister mad by accident. But what if he or she was at fault? If your sister borrows your blouse without asking, or your brother has stuff all over your side of the room, you might be tempted to yell or get violent. But perhaps you can count to 10 or find some other way to calm yourself and the situation, then figure out a way to discuss the situation. If you hear his or her side of the story, maybe you won't be as mad. And if you don't get mad, your sister or brother might react more reasonably too.

Remember Joseph? After that 13 years as a slave and prisoner, he rose to become prime minister of Egypt, when who should show up but his brothers! He had the power to exact the ultimate revenge, but as you read the story in Genesis 42 through 45, you see he couldn't do it. He did play with their minds a bit, but in the end he forgave them and saved their lives.

Forgiving others is part of life, and Peter, who with his brother Andrew was one of Jesus Christ's disciples, wanted to know how many times he would have to forgive his brother. (In this case, "brother" probably didn't only refer to Andrew, but it could have!) Peter generously guessed up to seven times. Jesus said, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:22). Such a tall order cannot be done without help. But God does offer the help we need to forgive others and to improve our relationships with others.

The advantages

Even those who consider their brothers and sisters a major pain may plan to have more than one child themselves when they marry. "If you only have one child that child never learns how to share," Jeff, 14, told Nancy Samalin.

"I think that a big family is important because it shows people how to deal with real situations," said Erin, 16. "It helps people communicate their feelings" (Samalin, p. 156).

There are advantages to having brothers and sisters, though these benefits can be hard to see in the midst of conflicts between the siblings. But when the trouble comes from outside the family, often the brothers and sisters come together to defend each other. As the Bible says, "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity" (Proverbs 17:17).

Brother and sister Brothers and sisters can support each other, and help provide the firm foundation for launching each of us into life. Even those who seemed enemies early in life can become friends and loyal supporters. These relationships are the basis of the "brotherly love" discussed in the Bible. "Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another," Paul wrote, setting a high standard for all of us (Romans 12:10). "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" (Psalm 133:1).

The Bible calls everyone in God's Church brothers and sisters and, ultimately, everyone in God's family will be brothers and sisters—God's children. Maybe part of it is—if we can learn to get along with our real brothers and sisters, we can learn to get along with anybody.YU

About the author:
Mike Bennett works in the editorial department of the United Church of God in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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