Ask Allison: 'I have a lot of resentment towards my sister. Every time I try to talk to her, she just starts crying'
Our resident psychologist answers your queries about sex and relationships
Q I come from a family of bad communicators. I’m very forthright — perhaps too much so — and as a result I have a fractured relationship with my sister. She really disappointed me at my wedding 10 years ago with her lack of support.
I have a lot of resentment ever since then, which I tried to talk through with her, but she just started crying — which is her default tactic. I would like this to change. What I really mean is that I would like her to change. I have tried talking to her, but she takes everything the wrong way and can’t answer a straight question. Should I just let it go, or is there a way of communicating with her that would allow us to be friendlier? I have three children and she is expecting her first and I would like us to be closer as a result.
Answer: At least you are honest when you say ‘I would like her to change’ most of the time people swear to me that they don’t expect the other person to change, ‘everything would be just fine if only’ their sister, brother, mother or daughter were just a little less annoying, difficult or silent’ but I don’t want them to change’. You have hit the nail on the proverbial head when you say ‘she takes everything up the wrong way’. Let’s just sit with this one for a moment, as it is such a relationship stumbling block for us all. You both have your own perception of what happened and how it affected each of you. Feelings aren’t facts, but your perception is your reality.
When you feel your sister doesn’t see it your way or hears you wrong, you are right. What needs to happen is that you are able to have a conversation that works for you both.
Your communication style — which is direct — is not matching that of your sister, which is perhaps more closed, private and from what you are saying evasive in the face of questioning. But does that make one person wrong? You say you are from a family of bad communicators. You don’t magically become a good communicator just because you are adults, so saying how she really feels in a direct way may be something she has no experience with, or something that she finds incredibly difficult. So, if you go in strong she will only retreat back further and everything stays the same.
The only person voicing their frustrations is you. Often we see the frustrations of a family coming from just one mouth. They are often labelled as the ‘difficult one’ or the ‘aggressive one’. How do you bring about the change you are looking for? Sit with the idea of accepting your sister as she is and then think about what that would mean to you.
I know you are looking for straight answers. Maybe write out what has frustrated you over the years. What conversations or words you wished had been had. Taking your wedding as a concrete example of the disappointment you experienced. Weddings and all major life events like deaths and your sisters’ upcoming birth bring with them a lump of clarity. That clarity comes either with joy — when we feel connected and bonded to the important people in our lives — or with great pain as expectations can highlight major holes and differing levels of commitment to the relationship. It can be very painful when you come to the realisation that a sibling is quite ambivalent about the relationship especially if it means a lot to you. We talk about unrequited love, but this can span across all relationships, none more specific than with a sister.
Ask and write out what you had hoped to have happen at your wedding. Acknowledge what then happened in reality and what that was like for you. Attend with compassion to your emotional wounds.
Ask your sister, being really mindful of your tone that you would love, if possible, to sort some things out. That she means a lot to you and you want to have better conversations as you know the ones in the past haven’t gone the way either of you would have liked
Invite her to see if she will engage willingly in the conversation giving her time to answer her side of what happened. Depending on what you feel will work best, bring your respective answers, meet someone neutral like a park or a beach and either walk and talk or sit down on a bench and listen to each other with the intent of understanding each other’s experience and with the hope of repairing and re-building.
Wishing you the very best and I commend you on walking towards an uncomfortable, but potentially cathartic conversation.
If you have a query, email Allison in confidence at firstname.lastname@example.org