Dear Barb—Sister Acting Up

Dear Barb:

My sister and I do not get along!  It seems like she is always competing with me, even about things like our childhood and who had it the most difficult.  Our parents divorced and my sister went with my dad.  My mom and her did not get along, while I got along great with my mom.  She says I don’t see my mother as she really is, but I could say the same to her.  Every time our conversations turn to my mom, which is quite often, we end up in a big blow up.  I am so tired of it that I find it easier not to talk to her.  I don’t want to be estranged from her, but I do find it difficult to be with her.  Do you have any advice for us? She will probably be angry that I wrote this and not see things the same as I do, but I thought it was worth a shot.  Thanks, Michelle

Hi Michelle:

Thanks for your email.  According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition for sibling rivalry is simply “competition between brothers and sisters.” According to your letter, that is what you and your sister are experiencing.

Sibling rivalry begins when a new child enters the home, and the older children feel the parents’ attention is taken away from them.  At this point, the parents need to step in and resolve this by assuring the older children that they still have their place in the family.  Otherwise, this resentment will be directed towards the younger child.  Sibling rivalry does not disappear, steps must be taken to resolve it or it will last into adulthood.  There are some noticeably clear signs of sibling rivalry in adults.

For example, jealousy, or reminding the sibling of their unhappy childhood, and being perceived as the fault of the other sibling’s unhappiness.  Also being competitive as adults.  For example, who had the best life, or even the worse life; who had the best relationship with particular family members; which child was the favorite? Any number of things can trigger jealousy and envy and make each person feel like they did in childhood.  There are ways you can work towards managing sibling rivalry in adulthood.  Begin by reminding yourself that you and your sister had a different relationship with your parents.  You were both born at a different time in your parent’s life.  While you may remember a strict cold parent, your sister may remember a warm and loving parent.  Parents learn and change throughout their lives.  You both need to respect the other’s view of parents and other family members.  When a sensitive topic is brought up, move on, do not engage the other, and remember it takes two to create an argument.  Focus on what you can do to improve the relationship.  If nothing helps, you may need to visit a counsellor.  Best of luck Michelle.