The 13 Worst Things to Say to Your Sibling
There are some thoughts and feelings you should never share with your sibling.
You've seen your siblings go through all sorts of ups and downs through the years, and shared plenty of good times and not-so-good times together. But while you likely feel like there is nothing you couldn't share with your brothers or sisters, there are a few things it might be wise to avoid. Whether it's to keep from creating unnecessary tension in your relationship or to ensure you don't hurt their feelings, these are the 13 worst things to say to your siblings, according to experts.
"You know what you should do…"
Advice from siblings can often be valuable and appreciated—for many, their brothers and sisters are the first people they go to with questions about what they should do in difficult situations. But that's typically only when the advice is requested. Offering up your suggestions about how a sibling should proceed when they're sharing their concerns is unlikely to be appreciated—and in some cases, could actually damage the relationship.
"When speaking with your siblings, resist the urge to tell them what they should or should not do," says licensed marriage and family therapist Rachel McCrickard, founder and CEO of Motivo. "Remember, you can't control the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others. You are only responsible for what you say, and how you say it."
"You shouldn't have done that."
Closely connected with unsolicited advice is criticism, which is often hard for the recipient to distinguish—and is not likely to go over well. Being honest with your siblings is vital, but that doesn't mean you need to get accusatory or critical of the choices they make or what they do with their lives.
"Avoid criticism," says licensed marriage and family therapist Sofia Robirosa, author of The Business of Marriage. "If you don't like something that your sibling is doing, express how it makes you feel by using an 'I statement.'"
"You have it so good."
Plenty of younger siblings look up to their older brothers and sisters (and sometimes vice versa). But while it's great to admire those closest to you, it's much less healthy to compare yourself in a way that puts you or them down. Saying things like, "Your job is so much better than mine," or "I should exercise as much as you do," puts yourself down and puts your sibling in an uncomfortable position.
"Comparing creates division in relationships," says Robirosa. "It creates the message that one is superior and that does not promote closeness."
"How much are you making these days?"
Discussing finances in general terms with your siblings is inevitable, whether discussing plans to buy a house or getting a raise at work. But spending an excessive amount of time talking about money can create awkwardness and even resentment, particularly if there is a major discrepancy between how much each sibling earns.
"That's not a big deal."
As one of the closest people to your siblings, you should focus your conversations on helping to build them up and encourage them. So when they accomplish something or express pride in some aspect of their life, your energy should go toward trumpeting their success, not throwing cold water on it.
"Saying things like, 'That's not a big deal' or 'You would be doing that anyway' demotivates your siblings," says Robirosa. "In relationships, we want to be supportive and cheerleaders of those we love, and celebrating achievements is part of that, even if you don't think it's a big deal what they have done."
"I've already heard that one."
Considering how long you've spent together and how well you know one another, it's inevitable that you will have heard plenty of your siblings' best jokes or anecdotes. But while it's fine to let them know you know where their joke is going if they've told it a few times, try to be polite about it. Besides, as you get older—and your opportunities to hang out or even chat on the phone become more limited—you will value these times even more, and should be more likely to forgive a familiar story.
"I don't really have time right now."
You're busy. Your brothers and sisters are busy. But that's why it's so important when one of them reaches out to you that you don't brush them off, but instead embrace the opportunity to catch up. Especially as you get older and opportunities to spend time with one another become increasingly scarce, you should take every chance you have to enjoy their company or conversation. Instead of saying, "I don't have time right now," you should be saying, "It's so great to hear from you."
"Hi, I have bad news."
You probably share plenty of updates about what's happening in your life with your siblings—good, bad, and everything in between. But while your brothers or sisters are often the best people to share your pain with, if you've been having a particularly tough few weeks, you should be sensitive to their situation when you decide to share.
"Maybe you have some bad news you want to share with a sibling like you need surgery, lost your job, or had to file bankruptcy," says psychiatrist Vinay Saranga, MD, founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatry. "Be careful what information you share with people, and make sure they are emotionally stable before you do. If you feel someone can handle what you have to say, then go for it. If not, it might be best to wait until things settle down again."
"Remember the time you did that to me?"
Every family has its disagreements, and some may have hurt you or your siblings deeply. But while it's important for all sides to air their feelings and for everyone to feel like they've been heard, at some point everyone needs to agree to forgive and forget. What you don't want to do is trot out the family's old disputes for no other reason than to hurt each other or express your own ongoing hurt.
"Rehashing these hurtful and past memories does us no good," says Saranga.
Reema Beri, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist at Great Lakes Psychology Group, echoes this point. "While there is validity and usefulness in talking through your problems, disclosing your running tally of all of their perceived slights will not accomplish anything other than making both of you feel worse," she says.
"I have something to confess."
There may be something you've been keeping from your sibling and have wanted to tell them, whether to get it off your chest or to correct a false belief the family has been operating under. These are noble motives, of course, but if you have a major secret you feel should be shared, it's all in the timing.
"Do not confess a big hurtful secret right now," says Saranga. "Maybe you secretly did something hurtful to your sibling in the past that you want to come clean about. [But] now is not really the time. If you want to get it off your chest once and for all, wait for things to settle down. Many people are not at their best emotionally right now, and adding to the stress and pressures they are already feeling could cause them to take what you have to share even harder."
"Why are you so concerned about that?"
You probably grew up teasing one another about everything from what you wore to the music you listened to. But while teasing is often an expression of affection between people who really know each other, there are some things it's not a good idea to make fun of someone about—even if it comes from a place of love.
"Do not poke fun at your siblings for their concerns over health and safety," says Saranga, emphasizing that this is true whether someone's worried about a strange rash or mole that's suddenly appeared—or, of course, if they're feeling unusually anxious due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. "Some people are taking this virus more seriously than others. If someone wants to wear a mask, gloves, and stay in complete isolation in these times, that is their decision. Do not make fun of anyone for this, let alone your own siblings. That just adds to the emotional stress they are already feeling."
"You're blowing mom and dad's health issues out of proportion."
Even though you and your siblings have the same parents, your relationship to them might be very different, and you likewise might have very different ideas about what they need in terms of care and health. One sibling might think that your parents need significantly more health assistance than the other siblings. In these situations, it's important to remember that everyone has your parents' best interests in mind, and to not dismiss each others' views.
"Don't say, 'Mom can take care of herself. She knows what she is doing,'" says McCrickard. "Instead say, 'Let's decide together what messages we want to communicate to mom.'"
"Mom and Dad always liked you best."
Sure, every family has its particular dynamics and inevitably there is a bit of favoritism from parents giving extra attention to one child or another—leaving resentment or jealousy in its wake. But as you get older and become adults, it's important for siblings to take greater responsibility for their own feelings and sense of self-worth. Rather than begrudging a brother or sister for getting more of your parents' attention or support in the past, you should be focusing your energy on how to create a stronger relationship with your sibling in the present.