TLDR: I have fighting adult siblings. How can I mediate?

I have two adult sisters (I'll call them Janet and Carol) who have been fighting for some time now.

The root of the fight was two years ago when Janet lived at Carol's house. Janet was in a very unfortunate situation and needed help. But Janet began to take advantage of Carol. Eventually Carol put her foot down and called out Janet for her behavior. Janet moved out and and hasn't forgiven Carol since.

From my point of view Carol has reached out a couple times to fix the relationship and apologize but Janet rebuffs these attempts.

This is where it feels tricky. Our family will still hang out with both Janet and Carol (though not together). Carol feels a little hurt that it feels everyone is condoning Janet's behavior - which is somewhat true. As they are both adults it feels awkward to call out Janet. It's gotten to the point where Carol doesn't feel welcome anymore and is moving out of state.

I can talk to Carol openly about it. If I bring it up to Janet, or suggest she lets things go, she will become very cold.

It has had far reaching effects on all our siblings. If any kind of party is held, Janet won't come if Carol is there and vice versa. It is hard to quantify but this has caused great emotional anguish for my parents and other siblings.

What strategies can I employ to mend this relationship as a sibling?

  • Welcome to IPS! I edited out the "should I" part, since we can't decide for you what to do (you can check out the help center for more on what questions are on topic here). You mention that you've tried talking to both of them, are you looking for help with improving those conversations? If so, could you give us some more details about how that's gone, and what interpersonal skills you want to improve? Do you have a specific goal like encouraging them to attend family events together again, to talk to each other about their dispute, something else? – Em C Nov 6 at 2:52

Mediation is to help two parties who want to come to an agreement and are willing to talk about it. Janet is unwilling to talk about it, and has rebuffed Carol's attempts to normalize the relationship. Carol is upset over people apparently condoning Janet's behavior, so she's not likely to be open to taking all the blame.

Exactly who is at fault to what extent doesn't really matter here. What matters is how Carol and Janet see it. You may not know how they see it, or know the details of exactly what happened and why. Your opinion of who's at fault doesn't matter either, and expressing one is going to alienate at least one person. You seem to think Janet is more to blame, which means that Janet's likely to treat you as being on Carol's side.

So, your immediate problem is that Janet isn't willing to talk about it. If you can't get her interested in a reconciliation, you're not going to succeed. I don't know Janet, so I don't know what's likely to convince her. How have you tried talking to Janet? If you've been implying that it's Janet's fault things happen, that would explain the cold reception. It's entirely possible that Janet is an unapologetic jerk. It's also possible that Carol spun the situation her way, and Janet's affronted that everyone appears to believe Carol's story.

Open a conversation by being explicitly non-judgmental. Tell Janet you don't really care about fault, because it's unimportant compared to getting the family back together. Tell her you want to understand it from her point of view. Then listen sympathetically. Don't judge. If you give the impression that Carol is in the right, then you are telling Janet you're not neutral, and she'll almost certainly resume her earlier attitude.

If you understand where both people are coming from, and it sounds like you already know Carol's take on it, you can judge the situation. The differences may be irreconcilable. Alternately, Janet and Carol may be looking at the same thing in different ways. You want to try to get them to see the other's point of view in a neutral way, and you probably want to make your neutrality more clear to Janet than to Carol. Ask Carol to consider Janet's point of view. If that goes OK (and Carol may just reject the whole conversation), ask Janet to consider Carol's point of view. Try this until it blows up in your face, or when Janet and Carol understand each other's take on things. If all goes well, they'll probably talk between themselves.

Remember that you are minding other people's business all through this. Your motives are good, but you are meddling in the affairs of others, and they have every right to tell you to get lost. However, even if you only get in a good conversation with Janet, you will have done some good.

There's a great book on building personal relationships. It's a focused on romantic ones, but one of the things they do is they appreciate each other. For them they stand there and look at each other till they realize how silly the fight is & they love each other. Then they praise each other a bit before they go back to their discussion. The book is called Partners in Passion, it's not everyone's cup of tea it focuses on the bedroom - but, I have never experienced a happier & more health couple over long term.

I've used the idea of appreciation within my family - but if everyone doesn't return that idea it falls apart, Gottman says "Turning towards" versus "Turning away" aka returning a connection someone offers (in a healthy way) is the key to if a relationship survives. In some ways it's if they respect or care enough to bother caring about the effort someone puts forth. Hard truth here - your family might not care about the other sibling enough to do the required work - it might not be about the sibling feeling unwelcome, it might be your family isn't welcoming ... disrespecting someone is pretty huge & most of the time it's non-verbal which is why I brought up Mark/Patricia's building respect & appreciation ... which is Gottman's key to successfully measuring how long relationships last.

I like a bit of mercer for conflict resolution with families - it's never about blame etc - one of the examples of how to approach the situations - Link

From managing people at the bar as a bouncer ... if they are drunk, you can use indirection on them like a small child ... moms are usually great at this ... queue in on how your mother would have dealt with it.

Sometimes its just time to change the subject.

Also, everyone needs to move at some point to get perspective on life - mostly they return home eventually. It's a really good thing, even if scary.

Good luck!

  • Could you add the name of the book you mention? Is that where the other ideas you mention (indirection, subject change) are from too, or were those suggestions based on some other experience or reference? – Em C Nov 7 at 3:52

Take the family dynamic out of this for a second and take a look at the situation.

You have two adults who are fighting. What can you do about this to reconcile this? In my experience, if both parties don't want to reconcile: nothing. You can encourage them to reconcile but until both parties are willing to admit fault and accept accountability, there's precious little you can do other than encouraging that to happen.

What strategies can you use to mend this? First all, what is your experience in family therapy? If there's a long-running dispute, it's more a matter for trained professionals than for a well-intentioned sibling with guidance from some strangers on the internet.

But let's say you want to try. The challenge here is to get Janet to accept her responsibility for this. Until she does, this won't change. And as long as your family is choosing sides, she won't see a need to since she thinks she's right. Your best strategy here is to publicly and clearly say "I am not taking sides in this dispute" and not take part in this dispute. Once your family members see that, then you can start working them toward neutrality - one by one. You've seen that confronting Janet won't work, so there's no sense continuing to fail at that. As Janet's support starts to fall off, heads can clear and she can start questioning her role in this. In arguments in my family, that's been the best strategy for me to use.

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