Sibling Rivalry - What Is Healthy and What Are Warning Signs

Updated Aug 04, 2023
Sibling Rivalry - What Is Healthy and What Are Warning Signs

Although it may spark healthy debate at the dinner table, when the debate gets heated and people stop talking because of opposing viewpoints, the rivalry has gone too far. 

Favoritism Hurts Relationships

When I was a kid, my parents played favorites as to which child received more attention. My mother favored my sister, so there was a natural sibling rivalry as I fought to get my mom's attention too. Because she was an only child, she overemphasized the need for fairness. Therefore, if my sister got something, she made sure I received it too. The problem was that as a one-income household, I often had to wait weeks to receive the same reward. This sent the message that I was second best. This caused friction between my sister and myself. Because she was the oldest, she held authority over me, but that didn't mean we didn't get into our share of arguments. Perhaps my sister and I would get along better now if there wasn't so much sibling rivalry back then.

History Repeats Itself

Now that I have kids of my own, history has repeated itself. Both my children have sibling rivalry against each other. They often get into competition about who gets better grades, who gets the most stuff, etc. This is one area I never balanced well as a parent. Because I had so much rivalry with my sister, I never learned how to navigate healthy sibling relationships. Human nature dictates there will be some level of competition within a family structure. It is natural for other siblings to be jealous if one sibling gets something over another sibling. This is especially true for people in the Bible. Joseph was favored by his father and received a beautiful multi-colored coat. This jealousy caused his brothers to sell him into slavery. There are other examples of rivalry within the Bible. It is our natural inclination to get envious when someone has something we don't have. This is especially true if we view that special reward as a gesture of love. It can make us seem like we are less loved if we didn’t receive the same reward. 

Jealousy Breeds Rivalry

God does not want us to live with a spirit of jealousy but rather one of contentment, knowing that God will supply all our needs as he sees fit. When someone receives a blessing, it is wrong of us to get jealous. Rather, it is best to rejoice with them when God lavishes his love on their family, career, health, etc. 

But not all rivalry is bad. The healthy spirit of competition between two people who want what's best can spur each other on to do incredible things. This is especially true when someone is working on something specific for the Lord. For example, a friend that is writing a book at the same time as me spurs me on to work hard and finish in a similar timeframe as my friend. This is not for me to get glory, but rather to finish an otherwise daunting task within a reasonable timeframe or even earlier. However, there are warning signs when rivalry is getting the best of people. 

Toxic Rivalry

Here are some warning signs when sibling rivalry is getting bad:

If it ruins a relationship- When siblings part ways because they can't be happy for the other person, the rivalry has gone too far. Jacob tricked Esau into giving him his blessing in exchange for a cup of soup. Jacob's jealousy over Esau receiving the blessing that Jacob wanted caused him to deceive his father. It robbed Esau of his rightful blessing. Jacob and Esau’s relationship was severed forever because of that deceit. 

If it causes them to sin- Similarly, God liked Abel’s offering and not Cain’s. Cain gave less than his best offering to God, while Abel gave all his best crop to God. When it was clear God recognized the difference, Cain’s jealousy overcame him, and he murdered his brother. When siblings are sinning against each other because they're jealous of each other 's accomplishments, possessions, or popularity, the rivalry has gone too far. Life is too short to wish a sibling harm. Although there may be times when even a sibling’s toxicity must be dealt with by establishing firm boundaries, it's never a good idea to cause sin to separate brothers or sisters. 

If it causes unhealthy competition- It's one thing to have healthy competition during a night of board games. It is quite another when every conversation is with each sibling trying to outdo the other. Families miss out on rich, meaningful conversations when topics are dictated by pride. While it is nice to rejoice as a family in each other 's successes, when the announcement is made to cause someone else to feel inferior while it makes the other person feel superior, it's time to call the conflict quits. 

In God's Kingdom, there is no competition. Although it is easy to compare social media numbers and collect awards like they're tokens, God pours his blessings out when and how he deems fit. It is not for us to decide but rather rejoice in each other 's successes. Although it is nice to have others rejoice with us when we succeed, sometimes the best success is to remain silent and allow God to give us his glory later. 

If it causes division- COVID caused great division in our country. People fought over vaccinations, masks, or keeping churches open for public worship. It’s one thing to express an opinion or perspective, and it's quite another to lose a friendship over it. Siblings do not need to be divided, but rather unified. This is especially true for Christian families. It does not give God honor when we become divided over petty things like possessions or popularity.  

Although I did not grow up in a Christian home, I have had arguments over possessions with my sister. Although I wish it didn't have to be that way, it is difficult to be in a relationship with someone who takes something that is rightfully yours. Although God asks us to live in peace with everyone, he also did not ask us to be a doormat. He expects us to speak the truth in love and consider our brothers and sisters in Christ our family rather than our blood relatives. 

Each sibling is an individual. He or she must make his or her own decisions when it comes to health matters, political matters, etc. Although it may spark healthy debate at the dinner table, when the debate gets heated and people stop talking because of opposing viewpoints, the rivalry has gone too far.  

God wants us to honor him by being unified. This includes siblings. Jesus said it best when he said “A prophet is not welcome in his hometown” (Mark 6:4). Families are sometimes the hardest people to get along with. Sibling rivalry has a lot to do with that. Strive to keep a relationship at peace rather than trying to be right in a relationship. It gives God glory and allows you to benefit from intimate connection with others because of it.

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Writer Michelle LazurekMichelle S. Lazurek is a multi-genre award-winning author, speaker, pastor's wife, and mother. She is a literary agent for Wordwise Media Services and a certified writing coach. Her new children’s book Who God Wants Me to Be encourages girls to discover God’s plan for their careers. When not working, she enjoys sipping a Starbucks latte, collecting 80s memorabilia, and spending time with her family and her crazy dog. For more info, please visit her website