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Play nice! Adult sibling rivalry at the holidays

The holidays are a time filled with childhood memories, and as such, it's easy for you and your siblings to revert to the competitive ways of your younger years. Dr. Gail Saltz gives advice on how to keep family frays at bay.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

“Look everyone … I baked 25 varieties of cookies!”

“So what, I handwove the place mats for the table.”

Aren’t holidays relaxing? If you find the holidays incredibly stressful and work-intensive, one reason may be the natural tendency to compete with your siblings when your whole family comes together.

You may think, “Didn’t I outgrow that when I turned 18?” The truth is that a little bit of your sibling rivalry remains inside you no matter how many years have passed since childhood. And it can still drive you to compete in rather destructive ways. We all still want our parents to admire us and feel we are special. We may even secretly wish that we are their favorite.

The holidays are a time filled with childhood memories, and when your parents come to town, you may find yourself needing to be the Martha Stewart of Thanksgiving. Without even realizing it, you may put tremendous pressure on yourself to cook up a storm, make everything gorgeous and buy fantastic presents — all without much enjoyment, because it becomes about winning favored status and outdoing your sister.

It’s a lose-lose situation because you will either feel furious if you don’t get all the kudos or you will feel triumphant and make your sibling feel terrible if your parent does compare the two of you and find your sister wanting. This will only drive a wedge in your relationship, which otherwise could be a valuable source of joy for you.

It's important to remember that your siblings will always be attached to you in a way that friends and even your parents (who will not be around forever) will not. Sibling relationships can be a great source of support, friendship and pleasure if you don’t let competition get in your way. Stressful situations (like the holidays) really do increase the rivalry.

Here are some tips to keep in mind to help you during the holidays:

Reevaluate your old roles
By this I mean that as children you each tend to have a view of your role and that of each of your siblings. When we grow up, of course, we change — but maybe your view of yourself vis-à-vis your sister or brother has not. For instance, you are the decision maker or caretaker and he is the baby and the dependent yet incompetent one. If you keep treating him like the baby it will be frustrating for both of you, so reconsider who each of you have grown into.

Speak in ‘I,’ not ‘you’
When you say “You never help out” or “You don’t know how much work this took,” it sounds like an attack and will put your sibling on the defense. Instead, try “I would love you to help me with this” or “I sure did put a lot of effort into this.”

Be able to say ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I forgive you’
Without BOTH you can’t move forward.

Think before you act or speakRemember once the deed is done it starts the ball rolling, so try to consider both sides and what is to be gained by acting. Cool down for a minute and you will be able to behave more constructively.

Be prepared to negotiateBeing willing to give a little shows your sibling you value the relationship and it's worth it to try.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .