Quashing Sibling Rivalry If Your Sister's Jealous of Your Wedding

by Liz Zack

Admit it: Very few people-including your fiance-know you like your sister does. Not many people have the power to make you laugh...and cry with equal ease. If only we could bottle the awesome power of sister-to-sister dynamics, we'd never need guns again. But if you can understand your sibling's motivation, you'll relieve her of her stress-inducing ammo and you'll both remember why you two love each other so much.

The "What About Me" Whiner

This seemingly egotistical behavior is most often associated with the middle child. Whatever you get, she wants an equal piece of it. Got a $5 allowance when you were seven? She was there, right behind you, to demand the exact same compensation from the folks. Growing up in the shadow of her big sister and without the strong "baby" identity of the youngest child, the middle sibling often spends her earliest years vying for a piece of the parental affection pie. When her sister announces her wedding, the middle child, though all grown up now, can often fall back into old patterns of attention competition. She can't help it-even if she's already married!

"People have raw places," says Sue Johnson, an expert in family therapy. "When middle siblings witness their sisters getting all the attention, that raw place gets smacked again." No matter what she has or has accomplished, that insecure seven year old takes over and makes her feel like she's second-rate again.

Cure what ails your attention-craving middle sister. Make sure you take time out to recognize the achievements she's making in her own life and the contributions she's making to your wedding-and make sure your folks don't get so wrapped up in your fairy tale that they forget to do that too.

We know, it's completely ridiculous. Here it is, your wedding and you have to indulge your sister's insecurities. But the truth is, she's not doing it to be malicious. She may just be a bit needier than usual.

If her demands for attention start to become unreasonable, however, then you should tackle it head-on. Have a candid chat with her: Let her know how important she is to you and that you understand if the tables were turned you'd be having a hard time, too, but that right now, you really need her attention and support. Hopefully, a little tough love will go a long way to bolster her ego.

The Indifferent One

You try on your wedding gown for the first time. Beaming at yourself in the mirror, you turn to your entourage expectantly. Your mother coos. Your best friend tears up. Your sister is on her cell. Ugh. You got engaged and suddenly your sister, who was a normal and active presence in your life, becomes withdrawn and uninterested.

Johnson notes this as a sure sign that something's amiss. "When people get cold it's usually because there's some hurt involved-to protect themselves, people shut down." Although passive, this can be one of the most painful sibling behaviors because it's not as in-your-face or confrontational.

The best thing to do? Make sure you're calm and out of the situation (wait until you've left the bridal shop, for instance) and then approach her, says Johnson. Take a risk and gently probe for an explanation.

We know, easier said than done. And yes, chances are she'll just respond with a lame excuse you have no choice but to accept ("Sorry, that was work on the phone"). It's still worth a shot.

Before you say a word, think carefully about how you phrase it. Don't blame-she may get angry or retreat further. Tell her how her silence made you feel. For example, "Yesterday, when we were at the bridal salon, I wanted you to tell me that I looked great in my dress. When you didn't, it hurt my feelings."

Hopefully, by gently opening up the door to dialogue, you'll get an explanation of why she's acting so apathetic ("It really pisses me off that Dad is helping you with your house down payment. He didn't do that for me..."), and then you'll be able to have a discussion about the real root of her behavior.

If it doesn't work the first time, don't lose heart. Keep approaching her and hopefully you will get through or at least get her to realize what she's been doing and put her insecurities on hold...at least until after the wedding.

The Bossy Boss

When you were little, you couldn't walk out the door without your older, "wiser" sister schooling you on the right way to flip your collar and carry your backpack-one shoulder of course. You're both adults now, but some things will never change.

Usually, the eldest child, the bossy sister, is used to being in control. Even though this isn't her wedding, she's most comfortable when she's master and commander. It's about attention-being in control of the show is how she gets hers. But let's cut her some slack: An older sibling also feels a sense of responsibility for her kid sis.

Use your best Machiavellian maneuver and play to the strengths of a bossy sister while getting her off your back at the same time. "Make sure she has a good function," says Barbara LeBey, author of Family Estrangements (Bantam, 2003). "Hand something over. Give her a fiefdom."

Instead of letting her strong-arm you on all aspects of your celebration, give her an area over which she has total autonomy. Don't have any particular issues with the flowers? Give her a budget, a few suggestions, and then free reign. But make it clear that you don't want her taking over. Say something like, "You're such a sensational organizer that if you're up for it, I'd love to give you a few things to organize for the wedding. I know I won't even need to worry about them. I can deal with the rest."

The Mean Sister

Every time you bring up the readings you want to include in the ceremony, your sister makes some caustic, hurtful remark. She's also purposely belittling your decor choices, and she's even starting to say cruel things about your fiance's family. What gives?

When people get nasty, it often means they themselves are frustrated or hurting. Maybe your wedding has brought her own lack of a mate into sharp focus. Or maybe at this point in her life, she's heavier than she wants to be and your wedding will necessitate her wearing a skin-bearing dress and being on display. All these issues can cause a sister to lash out. Whatever the cause, Johnson suggests that the best way to handle it is to get specific.

"Pick a time when she was mean," says Johnson. "Recount it to her and say, I felt this way when you did this. Again, don't blame but be prepared to back up your example with hard evidence. You need to be able put your own weapon down so the other sibling doesn't have to get in her tank."

Give her the chance to let her guard down, feel safe, and tell you what's really got her goat. "You want to get to the point when you're talking about the emotional issues underneath the meanness," says Johnson. "Nine times out of ten the other person will respond when you put down your own weapon first."

Feeling armed and ready to put an end to all the bickering (even if it's all her fault and not yours)? It's worth the struggle to keep the peace, especially during what's supposed to be one of the happiest times in your life. Besides, with all that fighting out of the way, you can get back to the real fun...torturing Mom and Dad, together.

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