I have a sister who went through her second divorce over a year ago and has now moved in with my parents. Because she lived out of state with this last marriage, we only saw her at family functions. Since her divorce, she has become negative, mean, and judgmental. Unless she was faking before, she doesn’t seem like her old self. If someone tries to help her, she berates them and tells them to stay out of her business. At the same time, she complains to our mom that no one supports her. She is so hard to be around. She has a bad temper and you don’t want her wrath or to cross her. I can’t know what pain she has been going through, but to bring wrath upon those who want to help doesn’t make sense. All of us siblings are confused what to do. Should we continue to take chances with her wrath or step away?
The fact that you’re writing about how to cope with your sister’s difficult behavior tells me that you care about her and having a relationship with her. Otherwise, you would cut her off and not look back. Let’s talk about how you can build a relationship with her.
I think it’s fair to say that you don’t really know your sister. She’s lived away from you for years and you aren’t sure if this current version of her is her true self or if she’s just in a horrible place following her second divorce. Regardless of the answer, it would be wise to get to know who she is and how you might best fit into her life.
She most likely feels like she’s living in a fishbowl now that she’s living with your parents following her divorce. Her embarrassing information is on display for everyone, so it’s likely she’s feeling defensive. Even if she was a difficult person before her divorce, this recent loss will most certainly amplify her personal weaknesses.
Don’t treat her like a project that needs fixing. In other words, don’t only talk with her about her current situation. See if there are ways you can spend time with her just to visit. Granted, she may want to talk about her current stressors, which is fine, but let her know you’re available for more than just prying into her personal struggles.
If she’s not open to spending time with you, find out what she’s open to. You may be limited to little things like writing a note every so often or sending a text occasionally. However, if your heart is right and you really want to build a relationship with your sister, your efforts won’t be wasted, even if she is responding poorly. True love and compassion is a choice, not just a feeling. You are making the choice to love her, even if she’s difficult. And, if she’s really that hard to get along with, then it will most certainly be a choice on your part, as the feelings of love won’t spring naturally from your heart when she’s being aggressive.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “hurt people hurt people.” Perhaps this can give you a little compassion for your sister as you can approach her with a desire to have a relationship with her. President Spencer W. Kimball taught the following about how we should respond to those who struggle:
Jesus saw sin as wrong but also was able to see sin as springing from deep and unmet needs on the part of the sinner. This permitted him to condemn the sin without condemning the individual. We need to be able to look deeply enough into the lives of others to see the basic causes for their failures and shortcomings.[i]
I have no idea if she’ll respond to you or your siblings. She may stay closed off and distant. If that’s the case, find how you can fit into her life and let her know you’re interested in her as an individual and that she’s important to you. She may not believe it, but if you believe it, I trust she’ll eventually warm up to your persistent efforts to connect to her.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
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