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How Birth Order Impacts Your Life and Your Communication

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Are you on top or bottom of the heap?

Families influence how we approach problems and how we communicate with one another. They can also have an effect on the success of our marriages.

While family dynamics help shape and mold us, another component that few people are aware of impacts our relationships. Long-term research confirms that our birth order and position within our family of origin have a predictable emotional effect on our lives.

Where do you fall within the members of your family?

Were you the oldest, the middle child or the youngest? Perhaps you were an only child. If you had siblings, how did you feel about them? Did you feel lost within the family structure, or believe others received special privileges while you always had to be the “good guy”?

Growing up, we struggle with issues of “closeness and distance.”

According to Dr. Ronald W. Richardson, author of Family Ties That Bind, many “outwardly independent people” are in reality only “pseudo-independent.”

They use distance as a way to control their fears about getting too close. “They may have tremendous needs for closeness, but have become afraid of it, so they distance instead.”  They often choose a partner that compensates for their unspoken needs.

What long-term birth-order research reveals

Oldest Child

The oldest child tends to become more serious, reserved, and less playful. They are high achievers, highly motivated to succeed, and are often perfectionists. They assume leadership roles. They can find it difficult to accept criticism and may resent the attention given to younger members of the family.

Middle Child(ren)

Being caught in-between, middle children are often confused about their identity and may not feel special. Typically, they crave attention, thrive on friendships and affection, and often go into the entertainment field. They usually have a large social circle, tend to become people-pleasers, and feel competition with older siblings. They may struggle with identifying and developing their abilities.

Younger Child(ren)

Younger children are often considered spoiled by their older siblings. Because parents have learned better parenting skills, they treat later arrivals differently. There are fewer expectations and less pressure.

Younger children are typically optimists with positive expectations about life. The offside to this is they may lack self-discipline and have difficulty making decisions. Typically, they are more fun-loving, outgoing, and charming. They can be attention-seekers and more self-centered. While the older child may consider them to have had more privileges, the youngest can feel inferior to the older siblings.

Only Child

Only children tend to be well-organized, often perfectionists. They are comfortable with responsibility and with being in the spotlight but do not take criticism well. They lack the social experiences of give-and-take that children growing up in larger families have.

Impact on future marriage

Birth order alters the communication of parents and of the children themselves. They not only react differently but see themselves differently. These patterns are taken with them and influence their adult relationships without their awareness. These patterns are especially relevant in marriages.

When two oldest birth order children marry or two youngest, the dynamics of the marriage can have a different affect than a marriage between an oldest and youngest. Birth order does make a difference in future long-term relationships.

Although these are only tendencies, understanding their potential influence can help us develop communication and negotiation skills that address these challenges and find ways to enrich our marriages.

Perhaps you are having difficulties communicating with your partner or spouse. You have tried to use words carefully, but the connection isn’t what you would like it to be.

Is your birth order influencing your current relationship?

Take a moment and look at the following five questions. Do any relate to you in some way?

  1. What position did you have in your family tree? Do you see any of the birth-order tendencies and interactions within your family? Do you look at yourself in a certain way because of where you fell in the birth order of your family?
  2. Did you believe that Mom or Dad favored your sister or brother more than you? What did you observe or experience that draws you to that conclusion? Can you expand your view of these circumstances with the new birth order information?
  3. What childhood grievances have you hung onto that may have had their origins in birth order? Do you still want to hang on to them? If not, consider starting a conversation with siblings or Mom and Dad.
  4. Do the beliefs about your family continue to divide or separate your family? Have you tried to make contact with an estranged family member? How do you think their family memories would differ from yours?
  5. How can this information change how you raise your own children? Try spending some special, undivided, one-on-one time with each of your children, even if it is just a small amount of time.

Let your children know you love them even when their behaviors are unacceptable. Regardless of birth order, personality traits, or emotional problems, when children believe they are loved, it has a huge balancing effect on any problems they may be experiencing.

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