How To Navigate Difficult Sister Relationships

By ReGain Editorial Team|Updated June 16, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Tiffany Howard, LPC, LCADC

One of the most special family relationships in existence is that shared bond between sisters. From the moment you’re little, a connection is formed that brings you closer and closer each day. This is the perfect description of that loving sisterly bond, but not all sisters have this type of relationship. It may be something that occurs when you’re young, or it’s possible that as you grow older, you realize that there was never much between you from the start.

Some difficult sister relationships start that way, while others may begin to experience challenges later in life due to age difference, other family members' influence, or differing career goals. Whatever the scenario, it can be saddening to know that when something major happens in your life, you can’t pick up the phone and call your sister because your relationship is in a bad place. If the relationship with your sister is one that seems beyond repair, is terminating the relationship completely the answer to your sibling issues?

What Went Wrong?

Learn How To Rebuild Your Sister Relationship
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People become sisters in various circumstances. You may share one or both parents, and sometimes, circumstances permit you to be adopted into a family, and from that adoption, a sister is gained. Whatever the scenario may be, a sister is more than just the relation between two or more women. It’s the bond and the love that makes the relationship more special than almost any other.

What could happen in life that’s so bad that it causes stress or strain on the relationship? Of course, the answers to this question could be endless. Relationships can be difficult to manage, even between or among sisters. Numerous circumstances can lead to disconnect or a break in the relationship, causing sister issues.

Most won’t admit it, but sisters are usually the worst at navigating or managing healthy relationships. It is common to hear of sisters or older siblings becoming estranged. Regardless of how hard other members of the family may try, bringing them together or salvaging their relationship can be impossible. Some sisters admit to leading happier lives without communicating with their sister because they prefer to avoid the drama or strenuous relationship. Most psychologists agree that putting an end to the relationship entirely shouldn’t be the first step. Attempting to make the relationship work is better than not trying at all unless the connection has become stressful or overly toxic to remain in.

When sisters are born, parents usually prefer that they grow up loving and caring for each other with healthy family dynamics. However, the personalities, social skills, likes, and dislikes may make this difficult and nearly impossible for some. One siblings’ perception of the other may cause them to become withdrawn and disassociate themselves from each other. Although the dream or idea is for sisters to be best friends, it doesn’t always become a reality in the same way.

The Foundations Of Sister Rivalry

One of the biggest culprits in sister rivalries is family. Unintentionally, parents can show a major difference between their children. In the parent’s eyes, each child is different and needs to be loved or treated differently. While the parents mean no ill intent, this difference in attention isn’t always perceived as love by one or more of their children. If a child feels that her parents show favoritism to one sibling over the other, it can cause resentment that grows over the years, eventually leading to difficult sister relationships.

Abuse is another foundation for strained relationships between sisters. If one sister were overly aggressive or abusive towards the other, there would likely be negative effects on the relationship between the sisters. It’s difficult to maintain a relationship with toxic people that were mean to you or bullied you as a child. It stays with you and can ruin your relationship with others. It’s also a major factor in destroying your self-esteem or self-worth. If you’ve been or are the victim of any abuse, even non familial peer problems, you should speak with someone for guidance. Living with the pain from being mistreated as a child or an adult can make it difficult for you to maintain any healthy relationship.

Grief is one of the most common denominators in division among siblings. The loss of a parent or other sibling could cause one or more sisters to become withdrawn during this hard time. They may see it as if there’s no need to continue the sibling relationship because the parents are no longer around. In many families, the parents are the glue that holds the siblings together. Grief from the loss of a parent can be traumatic, especially if one sibling feels that others didn’t do their part or care for the parents as much as they did. You should consider that grief is a time that families should come together and support each other. It also causes some deeply embedded emotions to surface, which could cause animosity among sisters.

Personal struggles can cause a rift among sisters. If there is a problem with drugs, alcohol, or similar issues, it can destroy relationships, even among siblings. In most cases, sisters go above and beyond to make things better or help their siblings through times like these. After many failed attempts, it’s normal for one or more siblings to walk away from their sister because they feel there is no hope. It begins to put a strain on their personal life and cause chaos at home, work, and in their social circles. In these instances, walking away may be the best option.

Facing Difficult Sister Relationships

Once the relationship with your sister becomes too difficult to manage, estrangement may present itself. This is the process of outgrowing each other or going your separate ways. Estrangement is extremely painful when it arises as a result of conflict or distress between the sisters. The decision to walk away is usually reached when one person finds it impossible to move forward in the relationship. Long story short, there are some things that push the bar or cross the line to the point of no return.

Crossing the line may be the result of saying hurtful things, making cruel remarks, behaving negatively towards one’s spouse or children, refusing to take prescribed meds for mental issues, or associating with questionable people. All these factors are concerning and understandably damaging to a relationship. However, they don’t have to be the downfall or end of the sisterly bond.

Managing Difficult Sister Relationships

If you are in search of ways to manage a difficult relationship with your older sister(s), it means that you have hope that the relationship can be salvaged. This is positive, and there are a few things you can do to restore or initiate a healthy bond with your sister. Though, this article doesn't have all the answers to creating and maintaining a healthy relationship, therapy can be a great way to get more in-depth, personalized help. 

  • Be compassionate with your sister and attempt to consider their perspective along with yours. It’s easy to assume that your sister is mean or deliberate in their actions. Most often, anger sets in prematurely because a person misunderstands what was spoken or the intentions of their sister.
  • Have a conversation explaining how you feel and why you feel that way. Sometimes it’s a matter of misunderstanding what the other person is going through. You need to talk with your sister to find out what they’re behaving the way they are. Tell your sister what problems you have with her and talk them over. You would be amazed at what can be accomplished just by having a simple conversation.
  • Take a step back. Don’t cut your sister out of your life completely. Give them a little space or yourself a little space. Don’t call as often. Reduce visits to once or twice or month. Make it clear that you’re available if they need you but you’ll be taking some time for yourself. Send an occasional text or email to check in on them. This allows you to experience your true feelings when you’re not around them or talking to them as often. Do you miss them? Is it hard not seeing or talking to your sister often? Do you catch yourself picking up the phone to call them? If you answered yes to these questions, the space you’ve taken may be helping you to realize that you value the relationship with your sister more than you thought.

The Cost Of Walking Away

Once you’ve decided that enough is enough and you can’t take anymore, you may decide to walk away from your sister. Unless you’re completely disengaged, walking away won’t be easy, and it may come at a cost.

Before you say goodbye to your sister for good, think about your efforts and the outcome. Consider your role in the downfall of the relationship and what it says about you as a sibling. Are you willing to live day to day thinking of yourself as the person that walked away from family? Is cutting your sister out of your life the best and only way to cope with the pain you’re experiencing? Are your feelings toward your sister the result of a deeper issue you’re dealing with in your life?

Some experts believe that sisters who have a strong network of family and friends live happier and healthier lives. Therefore, it’s important to try and rekindle difficult sister relationships whenever possible. Try to think of ways to make the relationship better before you walk away completely.

Only terminate the relationship completely if you’re sure that there’s nothing else you can do. Once you walk away, it’s as if you’re saying that you’ve done and said everything possible. Think long and hard about the decision you make to end a relationship with your loved ones because sometimes, it can be difficult to reestablish a relationship that you turned your back on.

How To Rebuild The Relationship

Learn How To Rebuild Your Sister Relationship

If you know that there is hope for the relationship, work to re-establish the bond. There are steps you can take to make the relationship better.

Consider the following.

  • Talk to other people in the family to get their perspective on the relationship between you and your sister. It may be something you’re missing or misunderstanding. Hearing what others think may provide insight that you haven’t considered in the past.
  • Make a list of all the things you love about your sister. Take about a week and write down these things as they come to mind. Now spend a weekend imagining that you’ll no longer be subjected to the things you love about her.
  • Compose a list of all the things that bother you about your sister. Once the list is complete, take a close look at it and see if any of those things are reflective of your mannerisms or ways. It’s sometimes difficult to see yourself in others. But sisters are more alike than they ever thought. Now, consider the items on the list that aren’t that major. Are you overreacting? Be fair in your thought process but get to know yourself in the interim.
  • Have a cordial departure. If you decide to walk away, it’s your decision. However, don’t do it with malice or hatred. Instead, try to arrange a cordial departure. Talk with your sister and explain that you’re doing it for the sake of your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Doing this will grant you closure and prevent you from feeling awful about removing yourself from the relationship. It is often during the closure conversation that the relationship is re-established, which gives substance to the statement that it’s never too late to regain what once was.

Summary

To work through difficult sister relationships, each sister must be willing to compromise or do the work. It can’t be a one-sided effort. Sisters don’t need to be close but having a decent and respectful relationship is the foundation of a quality relationship between or among sisters. The most effective approach to reestablishing any relationship is to seek individual or relationship counseling. There may be a misconception that relationship counseling is for couples only. It can be extremely helpful in family situations as well. Taking the initiative to seek counseling shows that you care enough to save the relationship between you and your sister(s). Even if the relationship isn’t salvaged, you may experience individual healing after discussing your issues.

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