It’s strange to think about how various factors of your childhood impacts your lives as adults, and whether or not you want this to be true, your relationships with your siblings can affect your romantic relationships. In addition to things like whether or not your parents are divorced, the sibling dynamic of your household can influence all kinds of things: Your personality traits, your communication skills, and even your love life.
I come from a pretty average family: Divorced parents, one older brother, and lots of cousins. Though my childhood had its ups and downs, I feel pretty lucky overall to not have any serious emotional baggage that gets dragged into my adult relationships. However, I had no idea about all the subtle ways your family can influence you without you even realizing it. Things like your birth order have a natural tendency to inform your personality traits, which obviously become a huge part of how you function in romantic relationships as you get older, and the way you resolve conflicts as a kid can also impact your argument style even after you’re all grown up.
Although at the end of the day you’re in control of your own love life, it’s still worth noting that there could be factors at play that have been a long time in the making — here are five ways your siblings can impact your adult relationships.
According to a five-year study of 190 families by Penn State University, people with one or more siblings of the opposite sex saw themselves as more capable of both attracting and interacting with the opposite sex. Researchers found that an opposite-sex sibling provides natural opportunities to practice things like conflict resolution and emotional control, which can be crucial skills in later relationships.
On the other hand, people with only same-sex siblings may not be as aware of how to deal with the challenges of opposite-sex interactions. The study also found that reducing sibling conflicts can be beneficial, too: Mixed-sex siblings who shared their feelings and secrets with one another also had greater perceived romantic competence.
A 2013 Ohio State University study found that for each additional sibling you have, your chance of divorce reduces by two percent, while only siblings are much more likely to divorce than those from a big family. According to Donna Bobbitt-Zeher, a co-author of the study: “More siblings means more experience dealing with others, and that seems to provide additional help in dealing with a marriage relationship as an adult.”
Between 2005 and 2007, 41 Mexican American women aged 12-18 were studied for risks of teen pregnancy and its effects on younger siblings. The research found that a girl whose older sister became pregnant as a teenager was five times more likely to get pregnant as a teen, too. It’s common sense that we look to our older siblings as role models, but it’s still pretty surprising that pairs of sisters can influence one another’s childbearing that significantly. Although you might assume that watching an older sister struggle with the hardships of teen pregnancy would make someone less likely to engage in risky behaviors, the research found that the study’s participants didn’t see an early-in-life pregnancy as a hardship, and actually ended up wanting a baby of their own, too.
Even if you don’t have any siblings and think you’re in the clear, your only-child-ness can also affect your love life: Only children tend to be confident, smart, and relate well to others, all of which can inform who they end up choosing to be with in the long run. Only children tend to be most compatible with last-born siblings, but an only child who marries an only child can expect for the relationship to be a bit of a power struggle because of both of their perfectionist natures. So just to be safe, maybe ask potential partners about their siblings on the first date.
If you have a sibling who’s close to your age, you’re probably super familiar with the concept of sibling rivalry. Maybe he or she was always just a little bit better at basketball or spelling than you, and over time it started to turn into a nasty, ongoing battle for mom and dad’s praise. Although oftentimes these sort of petty, attention-craving antics die down as siblings become more mature and start to see their own value as individuals, this constant feeling of competition can seriously harm you if it never quite goes away. This kind of tension-filled relationship with a sibling can spill over into other aspects of your adult life, conditioning you to be extremely competitive, which in turn might negatively impact your romantic partnerships.