Sibling Rivalry: Unresolved Emotions Can Resurface With the Death of a Parent

Given her lifelong inclination towards taking charge, it’s reasonable to speculate that Tamara assumed the responsibility of finding an aide for their mother. She didn’t enlist the help of her brothers and subsequently resented them for leaving it all to her.”

 As we continue to speculate about the origins of the siblings’ resentments, it seems that Ben’s frustration with Saul’s frugality can be traced back to their childhood. “You were always cheap,” he tells Saul, “even as a child. I remember how every Hanukkah, you gave me a little toy that I didn’t like or want. It made me so angry because I put a lot of thought into what would make you happy.”

Tamara, on the other hand, seems to carry a lifelong sense of responsibility for their mother, which may explain why she took charge of finding an aide without asking for help from her brothers. However, this responsibility also seems to have fueled her resentment towards her brothers for not stepping up to help.

Dan, the youngest sibling, remains neutral and doesn’t take sides during the argument. As a result, he may have grown up feeling disconnected from his siblings and largely ignored by them.

While it’s impossible to determine the exact cause of the Shore siblings’ hostility towards each other on the night of their mother’s death, it’s clear that unresolved feelings towards their parent were mixed with long-standing issues between siblings. In such stressful situations, it’s important to understand the multiple emotions at play and be prepared to handle any potential conflicts with siblings.

Here are three tips to help navigate potentially explosive situations:

  • Remember that grief intensifies unresolved feelings between you and your siblings.
  • Side-step any provocation. Change the subject. Since it takes two to have an argument, refuse to participate.
  • Separate the issues:  acknowledge your siblings’ feelings towards you and offer to discuss them at a later (be specific) time; then get back to the issue at hand.  Make sure you keep your promise to talk at the pre-set time. 

Dr. Karen Gail Lewis has been a marriage and family therapist for more than 50 years. A sought-after speaker, workshop presenter, and author of numerous books and journal articles, she is the founder of Unique Retreats for Siblings ( She focuses on a wide range of relationships, including couples, single women, and adult siblings. Her latest book, Sibling Therapy: The Ghosts from Childhood that Haunt your Clients’ Love

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