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Bloody Brothers: The Fraying of Sibling Relationships

Blood is thicker than water?

Well, what if the blood contains petty feuds, simmering resentments, and the occasional volcanic eruption?

Welcome to the fraught world of sibling relationships.

Spending our childhood terrorizing our Des Moines neighborhood, my brothers and I were thicker than thieves. In the family scrapbook, there are endearingly awkward photos of my brothers and me mugging with oversized tennis trophies. Or vacationing in Colorado. Or celebrating the latest family milestone. With our toothy grins, the pictures radiate a boundless joy.

Sadly, that joy would have a time stamp. As my brothers and I have aged, we have drifted apart. Missed phone calls have metastasized into finger-pointing accusations (Were you screening my phone calls? You were, weren’t you!). With my mother’s passing, an uneasy detente has spiked into full-blown guerrilla warfare. The scud missiles are insulting texts, acrimonious phone conversations, and gossip-fueled barbs.

And, yes, they wound every time. Friendly fire, this is not.

While I am unsure of my brothers’ specific grievances, I suspect they are two-pronged: my employment choices and mental health struggles. A licensed attorney, I entered an oversaturated legal market and struggled to find gainful employment. Finding law stifling and hierarchical (document review project anyone?), I have transitioned into writing, coaching, and consulting. While my career path has been unconventional — my girlfriend lovingly calls me a “dabbler in chief” — I find it incredibly purposeful. And, really, where else could I get paid to offer rambling advice? Thank you, Psych Central.

The secondary factor: mental health struggles. A proud academic achiever, I successfully balanced a rigorous academic load with, at times, debilitating OCD and depression. Although law school nearly ground me into submission, I survived and advanced — in part because of a trusted counselor and devoted mother. When my brothers learned of my mental health struggles, there was dismay infused with mockery. The taunts (“the kid is crazy and mentally unstable”) hurt. And while time has passed since the sneering missives, there is an undercurrent of mistrust polluting the relationship.

Those beaming smiling photos sure do seem like a long time ago.

From Cain and Abel to my family’s annual Thanksgiving get-togethers, sibling relationships are notoriously fraught. Pass the cranberry stuffing, you inconsiderate jerk! But as I ruminate about my frayed relationships, there is an unmistakable sadness. The NPR article Your Adult Siblings May Be the Secret to A Long, Happy Life adds proof to the (awkward Thanksgiving) pudding; sibling relationships do matter — even if I curse mine.

Yes, blood is thicker than water — and the petty feuds, simmering resentments, and volcanic eruptions that come with it. Even if I grit my teeth when I say it.  

Bloody Brothers: The Fraying of Sibling Relationships

Matthew Loeb

Matthew Loeb, a Seattle-based attorney, is a mental health advocate. You can contact him at

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APA Reference
Loeb, M. (2018). Bloody Brothers: The Fraying of Sibling Relationships. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 23 Aug 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.