Woe Is Me! “My Sibling Rivalry Is Destroying My Family. How Do I Cope?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“I’m 28 and have always had a very patchy relationship with my elder sister who is six years older than me. Earlier it used to be these petty fights and both of us used to get over it. But four months ago, we had a huge argument in my place after which we haven’t spoken since. I tried to contact her twice, one time regarding something of my own and the other time in a very friendly way like nothing was wrong. I was ignored both times. My dad passed away four years ago, and my relationship with my mother is non-existent because she seems to care for my sister more than me. I still wish the best for my sister, without any doubt. But shouldn’t our mother be trying to mend things, at least a little bit? I mean they live with each other but I am the one who is away from home and on my own. How do I learn to cope with this distance?“
— Longing For Family Love
KB: This is horrible, there’s no two ways about it. The worst part of it is what appears to be your mother completely taking one sibling’s side over the other. In families, you expect parents to play moderator, or at least to remain a neutral, Switzerland-like position in sibling rivalries. Especially in the wake of your father’s death, it would seem particularly important for your mother to bind the remaining family together. But parents are human, and they also fail to behave in exactly the ways they should. Now it comes to you to accept the fact that your mother (and sister) are fallible, and think about how you can change this situation or learn to live with it.
If this family bond is important to you — as it appears it is — I suggest you directly seek both of them out a few more times and tell them you want to mend fences. You may want to ask for an open dialogue about what they are angry about; and be prepared to hear their side of the story, which may reflect a version of you or certain events in a way that conflicts with your perception of your actions. But if they are still not receptive, I think you have to work on the only part of this situation you can really control: your acceptance that you may not ever have a real relationship with the family you were born into. Once you accept that, you can work towards building a chosen family that fulfills and supports you.
RD: They’re your family, and it feels like both of you are playing some part in maintaining this distance. It’s commendable that you reached out, and it sucks that your sister ignored you. But if you’re bothered constantly by the distance, then maybe it’s time to reach out more strongly than two unassuming phone calls. Go to them, have a face-to-face confrontation, tell them you want a relationship with them, and you’re willing to talk it out. I don’t know them, but they seem stubborn and petty — the only way to get through that kind of personality is brutal honesty and persistence. That is, if you want to do the emotional labor. I will say — there is no winner here, of who can ice out whom the longest. At the end of the day, you won’t win or lose; you’ll simply either have a family you’re close to, or you won’t. If you choose not to reach out, then you’re going to have to find a way to let them go — but for what it’s worth, it doesn’t seem like you want that at all.
ADT: If you’re truly afraid of losing your family, then I’d just suggest messaging your sister the truth – that you miss her and are afraid to lose her. The simple, powerful truth is capable of unlocking a deluge of emotions, and I’m suspecting your sister, who’s definitely enraged by virtue of the last argument, wants her side of the story acknowledged. But before you do this, you need to seriously and neutrally think who really was right when you had the last argument. If it was her, your best interest is to apologize. If it was you (think very carefully before you arrive at this conclusion) — I think you need to stay away and make your own set of loving, family-like friends. If your mother and sister truly cared for you, they would think about wanting to come around as often as you do — and soon, they’ll realize they love you far more than their own ego. If that doesn’t happen, you know your answer.
LG: I’m so sorry for your loss. Losing a loved one can have massive ripple effects on family dynamics, as everyone learns to live with a critical piece missing in their lives. It sounds like this might be the case here. First, a hard truth: As adults, your sibling relationship is the responsibility of you and your sister, no one else. Your mother doesn’t have an obligation to patch things up for you — that would be to treat you both like children. That said, it does sound like your mother is an integral part of this devolution. You mention you live far away, while your mother and sister live together. You mention you feel unsupported in your grief and distance — that is very understandable, and a valid emotion.
Is it possible, though, your sister and your mother feel unsupported, too? Perhaps that you’ve abandoned them by being far away? Might your sister feel burdened alone by living with and at least emotionally caring for your mother? It’s possible this all of this hurt springs from a lack of communication — it’s not easy to talk about these feelings, in general, and grief makes it nearly impossible. Consider a reset, but not an erasure of the past. Reach out — by text or email, or even a surprise visit home. Say you miss them, and ask how they’re feeling about your relationship (or lack thereof) with them. Then, with that opening, you can share how you feel. Hopefully, with everyone’s emotions on the table, it will become easier to figure out what all of you can do to recover the support and love you each need from the other. Good luck in healing, sad butterfly. I hope you all can find your way to each other again.
DR: If they don’t care about you, then so be it! I understand this is difficult for you, but I’m sure you know that you can’t get someone to care about you, and you can’t change the way people are. Maybe they’ll come around at some point, maybe they won’t — who knows? If it were a toxic friend or partner who was treating you this way, wouldn’t you have cut ties with them? Then, why are you holding on to your family, when they don’t seem to care two hoots about your feelings? It’s just because this is biological, isn’t it? But that’s the thing: we don’t get to choose our biological families, and sometimes we end up with non-compatible ones or ones that don’t want to accept who we are or want us to stifle our personalities.
But you know what? Your biological family can be just that — your biological family. I’m not asking you to actively go cut ties with them, but I’d advise that you try to move on from wanting a relationship with them — there’s always therapy if you need help and guidance.