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How Birth Order Can Influence Our Behaviour and Relationships.

Published: May 9, 08:14 am

Although siblings can have the same parents bringing them up, it’s amazing how each child can turn out so different. One sibling may become academic and studious, whilst another takes on much more of an extrovert role, basking in the social limelight. Yet another sibling becomes the home bird, valuing the close filial network, but contrasts with that other child in the family who prefers to establish strong bonds with others out in the wider world. Within this family dynamic of parents and siblings, these nuclear relationships can impact our behaviour and attachments in all sorts of ways.

For more than a century now, psychologists and researchers have been fascinated by birth order, but it is only within the last three to four decades that experts have realized how powerful this influence is on our behaviour and the nature of relationships with our partners.

As an example, imagine a young conscientious doting couple have their first child and aim to be the best parents possible. They want to be the perfect parents and likewise want their child to be perfect. The conditioning is strong, the child will not want to disappoint the parents. First born children can often be driven and perfectionist, pursuing excellence at any cost, hungry for approval and recognition in the adult world. The second child may not have as much attention as the first, and could eventually become more distanced from the family constellation. Friends provide the stronger support system for these siblings than do their parents. When the third child comes along, parents are perhaps more laid back in their approach to child rearing. They feel more entitled to indulge this sibling with the result that child No.3 (the baby), capitalizes on his/her special status, developing such traits as attention seeking and manipulation. They can also be more people oriented and charmers.

This early character formation, fashioned by birth order, can have a strong influence on our behaviour as adults. The modus operandi we use to deal with our parents and siblings remains with us and can cause conflicts with people further on in life. Others may view us as selfish, withdrawn, aggressively ambitious or opinionated, judgements that may surprise us because that’s our normal way of behaving! In these scenarios, the goal of therapy is to highlight how our early relationships condition our later, adult ones. Therapy helps the person to gain insight and understanding, leading to intentional positive change. The script that birth order hands us can be altered. But if not, then at least we can try to employ such traits to their best advantage.

How does birth order play into the dynamic between partners? A possible recommendation would be to choose a partner that does not share our own order of birth, that way we may end up with a person whose tactics for dealing with life complement our own behaviours and dispositions. (There are, as well, always exceptions to the rule, and some of the most successful relationships occur between partners of the same birth order).

However, choosing a partner of the same birth order runs the risk of generating frustrations when we discover that this person does not have the qualities that we sorely lack. People may come to couple therapy bemoaning the fact that their partner doesn’t seem to be ‘responsible enough’ or ‘I wish John was more outgoing.’ The irony is, these deficits often characterize the very person doing the complaining! In desperation we may try to change our partners. A word of advice, however, we cannot change another person, it’s challenging enough working on ourselves.

And work on ourselves we must. If we, with the help of our therapist, can change our behaviours, our partners may be inspired to do likewise. On the other hand, if there is complementarity already in our relationship, it may not be necessary for him/her to change, there being a balance of opposites.

Further sibling combinations could include:-

Two first-borns or two only children – this relationship could be very competitive, both being perfectionist, neither wanting to lose face. Different to second-borns, they’re unable to establish any kind of middle ground.

With two middle children, the ability to mediate makes for a good relationship although facing problems head on, can, by the same token, be something they avoid. Maintaining an untroubled relationship can be the number one priority for these middle-borns, but the cost of not being open with grievances can mean that in later adult relationships communication and transparency are lacking.

The last born sibling couple could have a very playful relationship. However, there may come a time when they both look to each other to take control – and neither will want to take on the mantle of this responsibility! Last-borns have grown up with older siblings taking charge, with others carrying them – this is what they may come to expect to happen in later adult life. Money problems could also emerge for these last children.

Birth Order Awareness – some helpful tips

First-Borns – Stop trying to be perfectionist: Relax! And don’t always judge people by your high standards – live and let live.
- Boundary setting with others is important, so don’t allow others to choreograph your life for you. Learn the art of saying “no”.
-Slot in quality time for yourself. Make sure you savour and enjoy life – tend to and nurture your creativity.

Middle Children – Unfavourably comparing yourself to others comes naturally to the middle child. Learn to appreciate your inherent self-worth, give yourself some slack.
- You may not have shared openly about yourself growing up. There’s no better time than now to begin. Enjoy the freedom that comes with sharing your feelings and thoughts with other people.
- Trying to be everyone’s friend can be tiring, plus you end up spreading yourself too thinly. Be selective in your friendships and surround yourself with a trusted few.

Last-Borns – Instead of abdicating responsibility for things or pointing the finger of blame, don’t pass the buck, but embrace it for once. Take ownership of those small as well as big decisions.
- Last borns love centre stage. But learn now to share the limelight and enjoy the creative energy that comes from collaboration. Hear what others have to say, and benefit from their wisdom.
- Assess your work performance. Utilize that asset you may have ignored – that is, your ability to work well with others.