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Advice for living with a sibling as adults
August 5, 2014 5:18 AM   Subscribe

My brother (24) and I (female, 26) are sharing an apartment starting next week and I have anxieties. I'd like to prepare for whatever problems or conflicts that may arise. Wall of text to follow...

Apologies in advance for this being so long and fraught. This is more about me wanting to have a plan to fall back on, rather than actually thinking this is going to result in disaster.

A few details:

I'm going back to school and my brother just finished his undergrad and is temping/ looking for real job. He moved away from home 4 years ago and I moved away 7 years ago. We grew up in a small town with our mom, our dad died when I was 7 and he was 5, and mom never remarried or dated. Mom is very sensitive, introverted and solitary. We are both introverted and sensitive but more social than our mom, and all three of us are anxious people.

I'm tired of living with strangers and we both needed a place at the same time, so it just made sense.

I want to come up with a plan of attack for conflicts that will inevitably arise between us. Dealing with conflict is one of my least favourite things to do, so naturally I'm not very good at it.


What I'm worried about:

- I have a history of bad roommates / bad apartment experiences which makes me sometimes edgy, controlling and possessive of my space. Over the past 7 years I have had 9 apartments and a total of about 11 different roommates- and of those, I've had a total falling out with at least 5. I find it hard to want to interact with my roommates sometimes and would rather be alone in my room/ avoid the kitchen until no one's in there.

- With my brother I tend to take on the "bossy older sister" role sometimes. Partly in the absence of a father figure I tend to try to give my brother advice sometimes because our mom doesn't really take an active role in our decisions. In a way I wish I could find a father-figure for him because he needs it. But sometimes I do this in a rude / bossy/ unkind manner.

-At the same time, I'm messy and not a very good housekeeper ( I always let food rot in the fridge, I don't notice dust and grime, I leave dishes in the sink, I don't own a vaccuum cleaner)

- My brother and I haven't lived in the same space for 7 years and I don't know what his routines are.

- I'm introverted and not very assertive and sometimes have trouble being open about my needs in a calm manner. I'm looking for ways to maintain open communication because that is something I struggle with. My brother has a very similar personality to mine but is less controlling.

- My brother's always been kind of depressive though he has never gone to therapy. His girlfriend just dumped him about a month ago so he's sad and mopey right now. I want to strike a balance between being a supportive sister and not enabling him to sit around feeling sorry for himself. We've never had anything anywhere near to a father figure in our lives and I think this is part of why neither of us is particularly emotionally hardy.

- He's not a rowdy guy but has some pretty badly-behaved friends/acquaintances and since he's not assertive, sometimes stupid things happen to him because of his stupid friends. He's at a point in his life where he needs to start being less passive ( is how I see things)

On the other hand I think this is a good time for me to work on these issues with someone I know I can trust. I'm at a good place in my life and I feel strong and determined to make this work. It's an opportunity to become closer with him at a time when we could be growing further apart. We have a lot in common: we both play a lot of music, have the same taste in TV shows, love biking, share the same political views, have a similar sense of humour, and are studying/ studied similar fields.

Does anyone have advice on how to prepare myself for possible conflicts. Also, if anyone has lived with a sibling in a similar situation and has pointers or tips on how to maximise harmony. My biggest fear is having a falling out with my brother.
posted by winterportage to Human Relations (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I shared an apartment with my older brother when we were both in our twenties (I was 21-24 maybe, he almost 3 years older). We have very similar personalities to you and your brother, I think, and an established relationship that mirrors yours.

Reading over your question, my thought was: You will be fine. Mostly.

There are a couple of potential problem areas I could sense:

The first would be your concern with his friends running roughshod over your shared space. That is a legitimate concern with any roommate and is something you should talk about before anything happens. (That is, don't wait until his friends are coming over, are over, or have left. Do it long before you two start moving your stuff into the new place.) You want to have specific boundaries in place that still allow him to have his friends over (which means, frankly, you will have to be okay with sometimes being inconvenienced by his social life). Also: Keep in mind that you don't get to decide his behavior in regards to his friends. This sentence:

He's at a point in his life where he needs to start being less passive (is how I see things)

is where your problems are going to start, if you have problems. Except for maintaining the previously set boundaries, keep your mouth shut and your opinions to yourself (even if asked) about his behavior/relationships/friends. If you don't, won't, or can't manage it, understand that this will be the seed of your falling out with your brother.

(See also: In a way I wish I could find a father-figure for him because he needs it as a similar problem area. Doing this will sink you because your brother is a grown-ass man, capable of managing his own affairs without your input.)

The other problem area would be that you see this as a means to work out your own issues. Oh no, sister. That's what therapists are for. If you don't have one, get one. Do not use your brother, especially if he is depressive, as your issue-working-out partner. That is not his job. He's your brother, not your life partner, life coach, or therapist. These people all get paid to help you for a reason. If you need that kind of help, get it. But not from your brother.

Sorry if my words have sounded a bit harsh. I speak to you as one controlling sister to another--and as one who has maintained a fine, friendly relationship with my brother for over 40+ years.
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 5:58 AM on August 5 [13 favorites]


GoLikeHellMachine has given you good advice. In addition to her words, you might also consider a cleaning service, if you can afford it. Even once a month would be worth it to take that pressure out of your relationship.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:11 AM on August 5 [4 favorites]


You're not his mom and don't want to be, so get out of the habit of thinking of how you can or cannot enable his tendencies to this-or-that. Your mantra should be "He's at a point where...he's an adult and can come ask me for advice if he wants and I'm at a point where I am not the boss of him."

Make a chore list, and once a week check it and do stuff like throw away old food and clean the bathroom. You also display passivity here, you know? You don't have to just not develop strategies to get around your weaknesses - you can make workarounds, like lists you put on the fridge and calendar items that remind you do to things. You can buy a vacuum cleaner.

Talk about who's going to do what house things and when; be explicit. If you both really hate a thing, then flip for it. If house stuff is just...no for both of you, then budget for cleaners to come a couple times a month.
posted by rtha at 6:11 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


My advice is to sit down with him and talk to him about a plan for conflicts. Every roommate situation has some conflicts. Tell him you want to make it go as smoothly as possible. He is likely going through the same anxiety about this on his side. Why not work it out together? If I had to get more specific, I would make an initial plan to have a once a week meeting to go over an issues whether they be as a result of living together or any other life issues.
posted by 724A at 6:18 AM on August 5


I want to strike a balance between being a supportive sister and not enabling him to sit around feeling sorry for himself.

You're his sister not his mom. As long as he's paying the rent, let him feel sorry for himself.

He's at a point in his life where he needs to start being less passive (is how I see things)

is where your problems are going to start, if you have problems. Except for maintaining the previously set boundaries, keep your mouth shut and your opinions to yourself (even if asked) about his behavior/relationships/friends. If you don't, won't, or can't manage it, understand that this will be the seed of your falling out with your brother.


I'm going to partially disagree with this. If family can't tell you when you're messing up your life, who can? So it's fine to offer advice, but if he doesn't take or is not interested then back off.

Like if you say "Bro, you let your friends walk all over you. You need to get a spine." And he says "Nah, I'm good." then just say "OK" and let it go.

Also, save your advice for the really important things. Don't offer it on every minor thing he does that is harmless, but annoys the hell out of you.
posted by nooneyouknow at 6:41 AM on August 5


Agree with the suggestions above to delineate boundaries and a conflict resolution plan in advance of the actual move. I also suggest, in light of your fifth bullet point, talking in advance about communication issues - how you struggle in that area, what you'd like to try to mitigate the issue, and expectations for maintaining healthy roommate communication.


Really, though, what's going to make or break this living situation is how meddling/controlling you are.


I tend to try to give my brother advice sometimes because our mom doesn't really take an active role in our decisions.

Your brother is an adult, his mother should not be taking an active role in his decision making. His decisions are his own now. She's actually doing just the right thing by not being actively involved in these matters.

I want to strike a balance between being a supportive sister and not enabling him to sit around feeling sorry for himself.

Again, he's an adult, so if he wants to sit around feeling sorry for himself, that's his prerogative. You should only comment on things if/when his behavior begins to seriously negatively impact you. (Hint: being bothered that he's moping when you'd rather he not is not a serious negative impact.)

He's at a point in his life where he needs to start being less passive ( is how I see things)

It's nice that you see things that way, but again, not your business. Leave him be. Growing up means fucking up, learning from mistakes, and hopefully not making them again.


Also, no offense intended, but I don't think you're doing yourself any favors when you justify controlling behavior with the "lack of a father figure" excuse. You are grown ups now.


Good luck with everything.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:47 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


As the younger sibling in this situation, it didn't work after a few years precisely because of the "being told what to do-you're messing up your life-grow up already" comments/actions/behaviors. If you really want to have a good relationship with your brother, treat him like an adult who can manage his own life and make his own decisions. I think you see him as a little kid but he's not that much younger than you. Think of when you were his age and what your life was like then. If anything is going to cause conflict, it's acting like you know better how he should lead his life than he is.

By the way, lack of a father figure doesn't really mean anything besides being a crutch. By all means work out whatever issues you believe you have in therapy and focus on getting yourself well. If he thinks it's right for him, he will on his own time. But realize he may not have that same belief.

You have the opportunity to live in a better situation than you have in a really long time and you should rejoice that you have each other to rely on. Be the person you want to be, not the one you think you should be.
posted by lunastellasol at 6:59 AM on August 5


My advice is to sit down with him and talk to him about a plan for conflicts.

Seconded. You have obviously had some conversations with him about it making sense to move in together, but have you two talked about how that will work out, what potential problems or sore spots either of you anticipate, etc? You have a big advantage here vs. other potential-roommate-situations here in that you ALREADY have lived with your brother and know how your personalities interacted as you were growing up, now you have the opportunity to develop and grow that relationship as adults.

Given that you both identify as introverts, I think a pretty easy rule would be "what goes on in my room is my business" -- no one gets to bitch that the other is hanging out in their room too much / having friends in their room / leaving their room a pigsty (obviously if there are rats running out of the room having gorged themselves on month-old pizza, that's not okay)....

Are either of you going to be squicked out by the idea of your sibling getting it on with someone behind that bedroom door? Is one of you a night owl, while the other likes to do dishes at 7am? You guys know each other so I think you can probably have a much better, light-but-meaningful conversation about all those sordid nuts-and-bolts than the average roommate gets. Use it to your advantage.
posted by tivalasvegas at 1:33 PM on August 5


Sit down together and make a plan for what the rules of the house are just like you would with any other roommate. The key is that when you do this you're both equals. It's not him listening to the rules for living in your house, it's both of you deciding together what the rules should be. Your preference might be no more than two nights a week of his buddies hanging out in the living room, his might be that you don't let food rot in the fridge. Keep your discussions about what you each need to happily cohabit with someone and leave the discussions free of any judgement about what they do with the rest of their time.
posted by MsMolly at 4:52 PM on August 5


He's at a point in his life where he needs to start being less passive (is how I see things)

Ok so this is a particular stressor and A Thing I've Noticed for me, but i've seen repeatedly that quite a few of the women i know who are around your age(say, 24-28) are firmly in this "no! i need to start taking life seriously and being an adult" sort of phase and are basically determined to accelerate towards their 30s and think everyone else should to, whereas a lot of the men i know, and i'm your brothers age with many male friends and peers i've known since middle school who are the same age, are completely content to you know... just be in their early 20s, and just fuck off to an extent.

I've lost count of the numbers of friends, acquaintances, sisters of friends, etc who fit into the "it's time to get serious!" side of that.

And the thing is, he has his own place. He's paying his rent. He presumably has a job that enables him to support himself perfectly fine, and friends, and a normal life. He's not some depressed hermit eating himself to death or an unemployed "loser" playing xbox all day or something, right?

Just because you disagree with his attitude and approach to life doesn't make them The Wrong Way To Be Doing Things. I've lost friends over this, and i'm perfectly fine with it.

I mean he's in his early 20s, when else in your life are you supposed to burn off this ennui if you're just going to let it follow its natural course until you get tired of that lifestyle? What's so wrong with approaching life that way at what is, as far as i can tell, the designated age to do that and figure yourself out?

Really, though, what's going to make or break this living situation is how meddling/controlling you are.

I fully agree with this. The comments on the "father figure" thing as well. My oldest, best friend couldn't live with his sister because of this. I love both of them, and they have a great sibling relationship... but she just looks down on his choices and lifestyle with the same disdain you seem to be showing here and they end up fighting a lot if they live together/see each other all the time.

This seems like a recipe for a TON of resentment and a flameout, unless you can recognize that you really shouldn't be approaching this way and really, properly tamp it down.

My brother's always been kind of depressive though he has never gone to therapy. His girlfriend just dumped him about a month ago so he's sad and mopey right now. I want to strike a balance between being a supportive sister and not enabling him to sit around feeling sorry for himself. We've never had anything anywhere near to a father figure in our lives and I think this is part of why neither of us is particularly emotionally hardy.

Well i mean, i think it's totally fine to be mopey. Lay in the yard or on the couch blasting music and drinking coronas all day while it's still sunny. Watch netflix all day, whatever. That's normal breakup stuff and there's nothing wrong with wallowing in it a bit, especially if it's so recent.

Everything you've described seems like stuff he'll figure out on his own, one way or another, that you really don't need to be trying to guide him through because you think he should be processing it in some specific way.

I mean, does he know you think he's this useless at managing his own life and feelings? I'd bet he does already, and that you've vocalized it many times before. But on the off chance he doesn't you should definitely bring this up before you move in together. Because that biley resentment of his life is going to come out every time you get annoyed at him, and that's crap.
posted by emptythought at 5:16 PM on August 5


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