Turning dilemmas into discoveries. Here, what to do when adult siblings quibble too much.
Q. I have an issue with my sister. First let me say I do love her and we spend quite a lot of time together. Here’s where the trouble comes in. Both of us always want to be right – about everything. I’ve noticed this escalating in recent years (we’re now both in our mid-50s). It doesn’t seem to matter what we’re talking about, the need to be ‘right’ is always there lurking around the corner, ready to launch an argument. The other day we were talking about a movie we saw and we quarrelled about a particular scene. She thought one thing happened and I was sure it was something else. Not that it mattered. But neither of us could let it go. I can’t explain this need I have to be right. Any suggestions on how we can get off this path (or how I can)?
A. Let’s reframe this issue. Maybe it’s not about needing to be right as much as it is about needing to be heard. There’s a difference.
“What’s more important – whether it was Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt in that vampire movie – or having a good friendship with your sister?” That’s the question posed by Debra McLeod, a Calgary-based former divorce mediator turned relationship expert. “Your sister may just want you to listen to her without instantly rearing up and arguing a point.”
Debra thinks you may both be stuck in a pattern that could be masking a simple need. “People love to feel heard. They love to feel validated,” she says. “We all have that in us to some degree. I don’t care if people agree with me half the time. I really don’t. But I do want them to know where I’m coming from.”
Debra suggests a two-step process to wean yourself off the ‘I need to be right’ addiction. The first is simple: Try listening more. The second involves visualization. When you feel a verbal tug-of-war coming on, picture being in an actual tug of war, she suggests. Imagine yourself pulling on one end of the rope and your sister pulling on the other end, with a big mucky puddle in between the two of you.
“What’s the best way to end that – to disarm the other person? Just put the rope down,” Debra says. “What’s going to happen? The other person will either fall down or stop pulling. The point is you end it.” (Debra says it’s actually less common to see the ‘who’s right’ fixation among siblings than it is in, say, married couples – but we won’t go there.)
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