Why Siblings are Good for Your Health

For many people, a relationship with a sibling is a special one. Yeah, they annoyed you on long rides in the car (they didn’t need to take up the entire backseat!) and always wanted to tag along, but they turned out okay. For all the frustrations and petty squabbles, you love your sibling. What you may not realize is that you have more than just a close relationship you carry throughout your life — which is pretty special in and of itself.

Boost Your Mental Health

While most of the research into sibling relationships focuses on the benefits gained when you’re children, there are some studies that zero in on how these relationships help adults. First, let’s focus on perhaps the most studied benefit of your adult relationship with your sibling — the way it promotes your mental health. In many ways, siblings offer the same benefits as strong friendships, but to a more intense degree since they’re family. The reason for these benefits for your mental health is due to the support structure they can offer you throughout your life, as somebody who knows you intimately.

The importance of this relationship starts early, with a strong relationship being one of the greatest predictors of mental health or mental health issues as you age.

While they’ve been influencing you your entire life, like helping you to learn empathy from a young age, having a good relationship with your sibling has been called the “sleeper variable” and a “powerful predictor” to happiness and emotional stability later in life. The importance of this relationship starts early, with a strong relationship being one of the greatest predictors of mental health or mental health issues as you age. This lays the groundwork for positive mental health and a supportive relationship later. Maintaining these relationships has been shown to lead to higher self-esteem and life satisfaction and lower rates of loneliness and depression in adults. Other studies have found that adults who have less active, less supportive, or even strained relationships with their siblings tend to suffer a greater number of negative life events, like divorce, addiction, psychological issues, and problems with the law, among other cited events.

Likely to Be Physically Healthier

Much like mental health and sibling research, the majority of studies on sibling influence on physical health tends to skew toward children. That said, siblings and parents can influence our fitness and our obesity levels (though this may have more to do with genetic predisposition to weight). Siblings specifically have a major impact on children’s relationships with sports and physical activity from a young age, perhaps even more than parents and coaches. One review of research found that children with siblings had healthier physical activity patterns in general.

Siblings specifically have a major impact on children’s relationships with sports and physical activity from a young age, perhaps even more than parents and coaches.

Why does this matter? These healthy lifestyle influences tend to echo throughout our lives, with research showing healthy habits from childhood having positive effects later in life. This is on top of the continued influence our family can have on our health, for better or worse.

What Can You Do?

Well, if you don’t have a sibling, it’s probably too late for you to get one. Instead, we suggest you focus on forming close relationships with your friends and the family you have. If you do have a sibling, maintaining or improving your relationship is important — and not just because of the health and mental health benefits it can provide. The lifespan of the average relationship between siblings has been described an hourglass effect — very close in their early years, slimming in teen and young adult years, before rekindling later. That said, it’s important to remember that improving or maintaining a relationship is a two-way street. If you’re putting in all the effort or your sibling isn’t interested in having a close relationship with you, don’t force it and don’t feel bad. Not every relationship you have will be close. If the sibling is having a toxic effect on your life, the negatives of maintaining that relationship may outweigh the benefits, unless they are willing to work on themselves to remove that toxicity.

If you or your sibling have any resentments or negative feelings about each other, it’s important to leave those issues in the past.

If you both want to have a close relationship, there are ways you can improve or solidify what you have. The most important place to start is by opening communication. Not only should you both establish what type of relationship you want and personal boundaries but keep the lines of communication open. Next, it’s important that you create new memories, not just relive the past. Talk about mutual interests and do those together. You should continue to make time for each other, while also meeting each other’s friends and family, if you haven’t met them yet. Finally, if you or your sibling have any resentments or negative feelings about each other — whether that’s an old argument or feeling like your parents favored one over the other — it’s important to leave those issues in the past. They’ll only poison your relationship moving forward. If you’re ever struggling with any of these suggestions, something new comes up, or you just want help in creating a firm foundation to grow your sibling relationship form, it rarely hurts to speak with a professional family therapist.

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Your relationship with your sibling is likely the longest one you’ll ever have. Having that firm support from someone who knows you so well is a foundation for lifelong emotional strength and mental health. So, despite that time your brother tricked you into eating soap, they may be a little worth keeping around.