Wedding Day Blues
Battling sisters should be stopped from ruining a sibling’s chance at happiness
By Patti Carmalt-Vener 08/28/2014
I dearly love both of my sisters (who are both older than me), but they just can’t stop fighting with each other and putting me in the middle. The last time I can remember them ever getting along was when we were all in elementary school.
Even then it didn’t take much to set one off against the other. We are now in our 30s. None of us is married (my fiancé says it’s pretty obvious why), yet they’re both taking an interest in my wedding, which is set for October. So as not to be accused of playing favorites, I asked my best friend Shelly to be my maid of honor; Janice and Kendra will be my bridesmaids and they seemed fine with that. My sisters have given me lots of unsolicited advice about my dress, my hair, the reception venue, the band, etc., but I’ve been able to firmly hold my ground and remind them that it’s Brad and my special day and we’re going to do our wedding exactly the way we want.
To make a long story short, Janice and Kendra had a big fight (something about my wedding) and each one has come to me and said I have to take the other out of the wedding party or they won’t come to my wedding. Brad thinks I should just demote both of them from bridesmaid status to guests, but they’re now making it clear they don’t even want to be in the same room with each other and won’t show up if the other is going to be there. Our mom passed away, and since they’re the only family I have left I’d be devastated if either one of them wasn’t there. But I feel like they’re trying to manipulate me. What should I do?
I completely understand your sadness and deep resentment about your sisters threatening to be absent on your wedding day because of their own rift. There is, however, more at stake here. Sibling rivalries often begin in childhood, but when this competition continues — and escalates — into adulthood, it deprives both individuals as well as other family members of the chance to feel heartfelt joy and unconditional love for one another.
Whatever the cause of their latest friction, it’s clear each one holds strong views that she’s in the right and, thus, should be sided with. You should not be subjected to the pressure of having to choose between them. The fact that you’re so upset suggests that both of your sisters realize they hold a lot of emotional power over you and are trying to disrupt your sensibilities by forcing you to make a choice with which you feel uncomfortable. If they continue to be consumed with unprocessed feelings of jealousy over which one you love more, it might be in their respective best interests to explore in therapy what’s really triggering their resentments and overriding their judgment insofar as involving you as the bargaining chip to get what they want. Both of them need to own their own part in contributing to their volatile equation. I don’t believe in going into the past unless it’s interfering with the present. Given what you’ve shared with me, however, I’m concerned there’s a long history of experiences full of hurt and resentment and I believe Janice and Kendra would benefit from counseling, where these experiences can be explored and acknowledged in a healthy manner.
In the meantime, it’s critical for you to be able to calmly set boundaries with both of them and not get caught up in their quarrel. It’s also entirely possible that your gentle decline of what they may truly have thought was helpful advice caused them to feel hurt and, in turn, subliminally use their own fight and put you in the middle as a way to strike back for being rejected. What buried feelings are inhibiting them from saying, “I’m disappointed Anna doesn’t want my advice, but I understand her need to do her own thing”? If these feelings are interfering with other relationships beyond just you, professional counseling will help your sisters identify how to remedy the ongoing rivalry between them. n
Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website, patticarmalt-vener.com.