When there is a race to be married, sibling rivalry can take on new meanings. It doesn’t matter if siblings are close or distant in age. However, it can become a sensitive topic when an older sibling watches their younger sibling get married and engaged. Fran Walfish, a family and relationships psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent, says that older siblings can feel a natural sense of jealousy when a younger sibling experiences this significant life event first. She says that an older sister might feel shame or embarrassment because friends, family and other well-meaning members of the community may discuss why the older sibling ‘couldn’t’ get a man first. The older sibling may also be concerned about losing the fight to carry on the family tree and having children first. These are normal emotions that should be recognized, acknowledged, paid attention, processed and accepted, she says.
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Paulette Sherman, Psy.D. psychologist and director of My Dating & Relationship School and author of Dating from the Inside Out notes that not all older siblings feel jealous or bad when a younger sibling marries. She says that while some may feel happy for their sibling, it is not uncommon to feel mixed emotions. While the sibling may be disappointed in themselves, they are usually happy for their family member. It can be hard to reconcile these conflicting emotions.
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Malinda T. was thrilled when her younger sister was engaged to her high school sweetheart. However, she felt it was a personal jab at her and that she should get on the right track. My sister was getting married, so I felt far from what I should have done. Although I had a successful career in the corporate vice-president role, I felt disowned by the fact that I wasn’t married and was not in a promising relationship. Malinda was her sister’s maid-of-honor and enjoyed supporting her on her big day. She also noted that the bride didn’t make her feel embarrassed that she was the first to tie the knot. My sister reminded me every day of how incredible I was. That support was so important to me. Although my parents were not harsh on me, relatives and friends loved to judge.
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Anne M. didn’t even blink when Anne M.’s five younger brothers married before her. She says that ambitious women are often willing to sacrifice their relationships in order to pursue their careers. She felt a lot different when her younger sister got married before her. She was not invited to be a bridesmaid at her brother’s wedding, but she was still part of the bulk of the preparation. She says that she felt embarrassed in the pink-and white eyelet gown she picked for her. “I smiled throughout the day, but it was not what I wanted. My feelings were hurt, and I felt unappreciated and disrespected.”
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There are simple ways to cope with the emotions of older siblings who feel down about their younger sibling’s nuptials. Dr. Sherman reminds older siblings that they will also have special moments and wants their siblings to be there for theirs. Recognize that you are normal to feel insecure and be kind to your self. She suggests getting a massage to remind yourself that you are loved and beautiful right now. She suggests that you try to not let anyone’s judgments or feelings of shame influence your decisions. She says that there is nothing wrong with being single, and that no one should force you to marry, have children, or do anything else for their reasons. “If your life was happy before your sibling got married, there is no reason to make it different now.”