Column: You, me and us

Remember when you first laid eyes on the person who became your husband or wife?

I certainly do.

And three days after I saw her I knew I was in love.

I got lucky—in more ways than I could imagine.

Suppose I tell you that you can understand a great deal about a possible mate if you examine just one often overlooked piece of information. Their birth order.

I married a younger sister of an older brother. She had experience living with the opposite sex and she knew how to be taken care of by an older male, which I was.

You see, siblings are a youngster’s first peers. What one learns from them and the way one learns to deal with them during the early, formative years influences future relationships. A girl who has been raised with a brother(s) will grow up used to getting along with boys. They won’t seem different or unusual to her. However, a girl with only a sister(s) would feel less comfortable around men and likely prefer the company of women.

The order of birth or sibling position is important. Older children learn to be leaders while younger siblings get used to being followers. First-born children find relationships in which they can dominate while younger siblings often choose friends and jobs that permit them to be dependent.

Factors such as these become increasingly fascinating when marriages are studied. For instance when an older brother of sister(s) (OBS) marries a younger sister of brothers (YSB), the couple duplicates the relationship pattern they had when growing up. Each has had experience living with the opposite sex, and while he knows how to take care of girls, she knows how to be taken care of by boys. They avoid some of the more serious marital adjustment problems.

The same pattern applies when an older sister of brother(s) (OSB) marries a younger brother of sister(s) (YBS). She will be dominant while he is comfortable being dependent. Both are used to this pattern. However, since OSBs tend to be clever, she may let her husband believe he is in charge in order to bolster his ego.

Suppose an OBB marries an OSS? Neither has experience living with peers of the opposite sex and both expect to have seniority rights. “I’ve decided we’ll eat out tonight.” “No, we’re going to have the leftover stew. Here!” They not only have a lot to learn about each other, but need to become skilled in negotiation if the marriage is to prosper and survive.

How about a YSS marrying a YBB? Again, no experience with peers of the opposite sex, plus there would be a conflict over dependency needs. They lack experience in making decisions. “What do you want to eat, honey?” “Whatever appeals to you, sweetie.”

Middle children learn how to lead (the younger) and follow (the older), and usually become better prepared than first or last children for different kinds of relationships. They are the most adaptable siblings.

Single children learn primarily from their parents during the critical early years and, thus, may have a difficult time getting along with peers. Frequently, they look for the characteristics of a mother or a father in their spouse, rather than characteristics of a peer.

Clearly, there are variables and exceptions to these generalizations. If two siblings are more than six years apart in age, they tend to grow up like single children. Further, the sibling position of each parent is a factor. Sometimes when a child is especially close to one parent, he or she may act like that parent. An older brother may act like the youngest because his father had been the youngest child. Physical size and ability can also be a variable, as can the way parents relate to different children.

Obviously, birth order and sibling relationships don’t explain everything about human behavior. No system or personality test can, but we do learn a number of clues about why people behave as they do.

In the next column, more details on the characteristics of OBB, OSB, YBS, YSB, OSS, and others.

If you want a good reference, check out The Birth Order Book, by Dr. Kevin Leman at the library