Tips for a strong sibling relationship
Fun fact: I am a twin. My twin sister and I have always been close, since we were young. Going through similar life stages simultaneously sets us apart from other regular siblings. We’ve become each other’s closest confidante. Whenever we meet people for the first time, they usually ask if we share “twin telepathy”. The funny thing is, we do! We know each other so well that we understand the littlest facial cue and we even know how to make decisions for each other.
Of course, the age-old saying “familiarity breeds contempt” is not unfamiliar to our siblingship. Being very close also means that we don’t always see eye-to-eye. We have our fair share of frustration and annoyance. Through the process of learning to manage these emotions, I must admit that I have days when I get ticked off way too easily. It’s common among siblings, isn’t it? After all, the words “sibling” and “rivalry” seem to come as a pair. There are a myriad of reasons why enmity easily breeds in sibling relationships. One key underlying reason I discovered for any kind of unhappiness I had with my sister is jealousy.
Jealousy and Comparison
As twins, my sister and I are no strangers to comparison. Every Chinese New Year when my family visits our distant relatives, the conversations usually start with them sizing my sister and me up against each other. They comment on our weight, our height and who has more pimples.
Although these were small and seemingly superficial remarks, I actually felt nervous prior to those reunion dinners because I was wondering whether I looked better. I must admit that in my teenage years, I wanted to weigh less than my sister. I wanted to be taller and I wanted to have the better complexion. My relatives certainly did not carry any ill intent when they made those comments, but they provided room for envious thoughts on my end. While weight was not something that I was obsessed with, I became more conscious about it during Chinese New Year. If my sister scored better on any of those fronts, I knew that a sinister sense of jealousy would stir in my heart and I could not appreciate her fully because whatever she had that was better, I wanted.
Judging by the Mandarin and Korean dramas I grew up watching at home, jealousy is a poison that easily seeps into the soil of our sibling ties. We don’t like to confront it because it is an understandably ugly term to be associated with, but most, if not all of us experience it in our relationships. And the struggle is not unique to us. Remember Cain and Abel? Their relationship soured due to Cain’s jealousy, and in the worst turn of events, murder became an option.
In virtually every sibling relationship, there is always the possibility of comparison. Which sibling is the parents’ favourite? Who is better looking? Who is smarter? Which one is more…? With the endless possibilities of points of comparison, there is always the potential for envy and jealousy to stir up in our hearts.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves (Phil 2:3).
Paul’s letter to the Philippian church changed the way I saw and handled jealousy and comparison. It is interesting that while Paul was addressing their conduct, he found the solution in their thought patterns. I started to practise changing the way I think, especially when I recognized that my train of thought was heading towards contempt or envy. As I prayed and continually asked God to change the way I saw others, including my sister, and the way I saw myself, my heart gradually became slow to compare contemptuously and quick to celebrate the wonderful things I saw in others.
Eventually, this effected a change in my conduct, speech and especially in my motives, where I did and said things out of a genuine respect and honour for my sister. Upon learning to value her above myself, I found that thanksgiving came instinctively, instead of jealous thoughts.
Recently, I spoke to my grandfather about marriage. Specifically, I wanted to find out how my grandparents’ marriage remained strong even though they seemed to be polar opposites. As a man of few words, he turned to me and replied with a simple quote from Ruth Bell Graham, Billy Graham’s wife:
“A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”
Very quickly, I saw how this simple piece of wisdom was not just applicable to the context of marriage, but to every relationship we have with others. Because we are so close, my sister and I spend lots of time together. However, that means that we are very often witnesses to each other’s bad days and tired nights when we are more easily agitated and more prone to lashing out with biting words. During these moody days and nights, being quick to forgive comes as a challenge. However, in learning to hold my tongue in moments of anger or irritation, I also learnt that it is far more worthy to preserve my good relationship with her than to preserve my pride. For the many times that I have been impatient and short-tempered, I am thankful for a sister that forgives quickly. She has taught me the value of forgiveness and the value of relationship.
A passing remark that a pastor recently made during his sermon was to “practise acts of love” in our families. The phrase struck a chord in me because I found it interesting that he exhorted the church to “practise” loving our families. Truly, it is not in our nature to love beyond ourselves. We must make a conscious effort to love where we can. How different would my relationships look if I woke up every day determined to practise loving my sister, my father, my mother and my friends?
Admittedly, family is where I face some of my greatest hurdles. After all, it is at home that we witness first-hand the unravelling of the worst parts of our human nature. Yet, I have learnt that it is also with family - when we see the worst sides of each other - that I learn to discipline myself to think rightly, forgive quickly and act lovingly. In doing so, we reap the good rewards of flourishing relationships and matured love.
I am truly grateful and honoured to journey through life with a twin sister, someone who has walked with me through the many ups and downs of life, as described in Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Apart from the many pranks we get to play on people, this relationship is a joy to be in and I am thankful we don’t see each other as rivals, but as God-given siblings.
Hannah Leung (right), 21, currently serves as a cell leader in a youth group in Riverlife Church. One funny incident she recalls is when her twin sister’s friend screamed a loud hello from the other side of the shopping mall, and Hannah awkwardly screamed back, “I’m not Tammy!”
This article 'My Sister, My Nemesis' was featured in Apr/May 2018 issue of IMPACT Magazine.
FROM FOREIGNER TO FAMILY
... Unspoken words from a mother-in-law
WHEN TWO (FAMILIES) BECOME ONE
... Some challenges of parenting a blended family
GRANDMA’S GOD IS MY GOD
... A lasting legacy of faith
BUILDING AN ALTAR IN THE HOME
... My family journey
WHY FOSTER WHEN YOU CAN RETIRE?
... Making room in my heart for more
RELATED BY CHANCE, FAMILY BY CHOICE
... The in-law relationships
HAPPY LABOUR DAY
... An invitation to rest
MY SON ISN’T RAIN MAN
... Raising a child on the autism spectrum
... Searching halfway around the world
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