Sibling rivalry takes on a whole new meaning when there's a race to the altar. Whether or not siblings are close in age, it can be a particularly sensitive subject when an older brother or sister watches a younger sibling get engaged and married first. Fran Walfish, Psy.D., a family and relationship psychotherapist and the author of The Self-Aware Parent, admits that it's not uncommon for an older sibling to feel a natural tinge of jealousy if a younger brother or sister experiences this major life step first. "An older sister may also feel a sense of public embarrassment or humiliation because family, friends, and well-meaning community members may talk about why the older one 'couldn't' get a guy first," she says. "The older sibling might also worry about being beat to the punch with carrying on the family tree by having babies first." These, she explains, are all normal feelings that should be acknowledged, paid attention to, processed, and accepted.
Paulette Sherman, Psy.D., psychologist, director of My Dating & Relationship School, and the author of Dating from the Inside Out, notes that not all older siblings will feel bad or jealous when a younger sibling marries. "Some may feel happy for them, but it is common to experience mixed feelings," she says. So, while the sibling may feel a little sad or disappointed for themselves, they're typically excited for their family member. Reconciling these conflicting emotions can be difficult.
Malinda T. was overjoyed when her younger sister got engaged to her high school sweetheart, but she also felt that it was a personal jab to her that she better get on track. "In this day and age, women aren't relegated to 'wife status,' but I still felt that I was far behind what I was supposed to do because my sister was getting married. Even though I had a successful career as a vice president for a major corporation, the fact that I was unwed and not even in a promising relationship made me feel shunned in a way." Malinda served as her sister's maid of honor and loved supporting her on the big day, and notes that the bride never made her feel embarassed that she was tying the knot first. "My sister always reminded me of how amazing I was on a daily basis. I'm so thankful for that support. My parents weren't hard on me either, but relatives and family friends loved to cast judgment."
When Anne M.'s five younger brothers got married before she did, she didn't really bat an eye. "Ambitious women often sacrifice relationships for their careers," she says. It wasn't until her younger sister got engaged ahead of her that she started to feel a little different. Unlike with her brothers' weddings, she was asked to be a bridesmaid for her sister, but wasn't really included in a bulk of the prep. "I felt foolish in the pink-and-white eyelet dress she chose for us," she says. "I smiled through the day, but I was not happy. My feelings were hurt and I felt disrespected and unappreciated."
If you're an older sibling and you find yourself feeling particularly down about your younger sibling's nuptials, there are some simple ways you can cope. Dr. Sherman urges older siblings to remember that they too will have their special times and will want their siblings to be there for them. Next, recognize that it's normal to have feelings of insecurity and to be kind to yourself. "Maybe get a massage and talk to yourself as you would your best friend and remind yourself that you are beautiful and lovable right now, just as you are," she says. She also suggests trying your best not to let outside judgment rule your choices or make you feel bad about yourself. "There's nothing wrong with being single and no one should pressure you to get married, have kids, or do anything for their reasons instead of yours," she says. "If you were happy with your life before your sibling was getting married, there's little reason for that to change just because of a milestone in her life."