It’s not often average Americans can say they relate to royalty.
But with the media buzz surrounding Prince Harry’s fiercely anticipated memoir, Spare, many with sibling rivalries are feeling a kinship with the Duke of Sussex. The book recounts his sometimes rocky relationship with older brother Prince William, including his allegation of a physical assault during a 2019 confrontation about Harry’s wife, Meghan Markle.
Even though siblings are some of the longest-lasting relationships, intense loyalty and intense conflict often go hand in hand — and the hurt can run deep.
Research published in a 2020 issue of the Journal of Family Psychology found that sibling conflict among older adults in part was associated with symptoms of depression, anxiety, hostility and loneliness.
Here are top reasons for sibling rivalries.
1. Birth order
Firstborn children often are viewed as — and sometimes required to be — the responsible ones, expected to follow the rules, serve as role models and watch over younger siblings. Younger children, who can feel overshadowed, tend to be seen as more outgoing and carefree — and, as a 2020 study on second-born children by MIT economist Joseph Doyle suggests, rebellious.
Those traits “carry over as we become adults,” says certified life coach Krystal Conner, based in Atlanta, Georgia. “We settle in and think, ‘This is the role I have to play.’ We don’t question it, particularly as we get older because we’ve been doing it for so long.”
2. Aging parents
The birth order dynamic routinely plays out once parents need increasing assistance.
“There might be pressure on the older sibling to take on the role of caretaker, and there can be some resentment about that,” says licensed mental health counselor Jody Mykins, from Irondequoit, New York. Meanwhile, “the younger sibling may struggle to know how to help.”
Gender also comes into the mix. The Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 report, the latest available, showed that the majority of caregivers — 61 percent — who make medical appointments and otherwise provide care to a parent are women.
If siblings feel there is a limited amount of something — such as love, support, affection or basic resources — they may feel as if they need to compete to win what is made available to them over their siblings, especially if their parents weren’t particularly generous with love, affection, praise or support, says Conner.
For those “who grew up in difficult eras and recessions, this may be even more pronounced when it comes to tangible resources,” says Conner.
One study from Cornell University revealed that 70 percent of mothers in their 60s and 70s felt closest to one child over another.