A feud creates an opportunity to have an authentic conversation.

What to Say When You & Your Sister Are Feuding

by Nina Edwards

When you’re feuding with your sister, it’s likely not just a superficial or temporary fight. It’s often a fight that has its roots back in your childhood together. Since it’s rooted in a past conflict that goes way back, it can be particularly painful to deal with. Though not easy, you can work through the feud with your sister by figuring out why you’re fighting and finding the words to begin making things better.

1. Go Ahead, Blame Your Childhood

You may be feuding with your sister now because it was difficult to be equal when you were growing up. As a result, you may find yourself competing with her over some of the same reasons you did when you were 10 years old. Perhaps you felt your parents always sided with your sister over issues. Or maybe you always seemed to be the apple of your father’s eye, and your sister resents you for it. Either way, grievances can become stronger over time and a conflict that begins with her can feel like a volcanic eruption.

2. Discuss the Underlying Issue

Bringing up that you and your sister always seem to fight after a big family event can be difficult. However, by acknowledging your feud with her and the pattern that you notice with your fights, you may be able to bring her to your side. You can say something like, “I know we’re fighting. But, you know, I noticed that we seem to fight whenever we discuss Mom’s illness. Why do you think that is?” Instead of fighting with you, she may want to be a detective with you to try to figure out the problem.

3. Focus on the Present

Try to remain focused on the present, rather than discussing any conflicts that have happened in the past. Try saying, “I feel sad when I think about my relationship with you. And I hate it. Can we talk about how we can get over this fight?” This way you avoid comparing this fight with any of your previous fights, which would only intensify the situation. When you focus on the past, you may end up in a power struggle with your sister over whose version of history is correct, and these power struggles can create even more distance, warn Joann Wu Shortt and John Gottman in a 2006 article in the journal "Social Development."

4. Take Responsibility for Your Part

You may think that your sister is irrational, holds grudges unnecessarily and is absolutely, positively to blame for your current feud. However, apologizing for your part in the conflict can go a long way. The key with this strategy is to apologize for your part in it without taking blame for the entire fight. Saying something like, “I’m sorry for my part in this fight. I know that you felt misunderstood when I said that you should find a new job. I should have listened more closely to what you were saying.” Extending the olive branch in this way can mend a feud, suggests psychologist, author and talk show host Phil McGraw, and it also paves the way for authentic communication.

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