How Can Sibling Rivalry Affect Relationships Between Parents?

Some siblings love spending time together, experiencing arguments only occasionally. For some families, though, sibling rivalry can have a pronounced negative impact on other family members 1. Sibling rivalry can send repercussions that affect others, including the relationships between parents 1. Parents should intervene to prevent intense sibling rivalries from creating lasting patterns that continue into adulthood.


Sibling rivalry can begin to take place when a second child is born, according to 1. Children might begin to compete for toys or the attention of their parents. When sibling rivalry involves competing for parental attention, this can cause strain between parents because they are constantly being asked to direct attention to their children 1. This leaves less time for parents to invest in each other, because they are always listening or applauding the competing actions of their children.

Quality Time states that when siblings squabble as part of their rivalry, this creates discord and stress for everyone in the house 1. When there is constant fighting, this could leave parents feeling on edge. Patience levels might wear thin, leaving parents with less emotional energy to spend on one another. Whenever possible, project a united front to your children.


Parents might unconsciously fuel sibling rivalry by treating children differently, according to the University of Michigan Health System 12. For example, one child might remind a parent of a cousin or other family who was particularly difficult to get along with. This might cause the parent to treat a child differently. If the other parent observes this unequal treatment, this could cause additional discord between the parents. Parents might also bring their own negative childhood experiences with siblings into their role as parental partner or parent, according to psychotherapist Dr. Jane Greer, interviewed in an article called “Troubled Marriage? Sibling Rivalries May Be at Fault” for "The New York Times." Tensions within the marriage could cause additional stress around the house, feeding into sibling rivalry 13.

Moving Forward

Parents can tune into different reasons why rivalries exist. Siblings might argue because they are at varying developmental stages, and need different types of attention and support from their parents. Parents can tune into personality differences that might explain rivalry; one child might prefer some quiet time alone with a parent while another child wants to share funny stories and antics. Parents can reflect on their own conflict resolution strategies, according to 1. If parents fight or bicker in front of their children, this could create behavioral patterns and habits that siblings are quick to mimic. Additionally, don’t play favorites by assigning extra privileges to one child and not another, since this can create further rivalries.