Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Comments On “A Case For Neutrality In An Inter-Family Feud”

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Several readers had comments regarding my column “A Case For Neutrality In An Inter-Family Feud.”

Stay Neutral? No Way!

One reader expressed strong opposition to the idea of staying neutral in a situation like the one described. “My ex-wife had me read your column about the sisters. As I told her, and now I’m telling you, staying neutral in any disagreement is bulls–t. If you have an opinion, then express it. I would tell Maureen she owed Carol and apology. I would tell Carol to get over it. I wouldn’t care if they got mad at me too.” Obviously, for this reader, staying neutral is not a strategy that would merit consideration under any circumstances.

Another reader acknowledged that although she felt the idea of staying neutral was great advice, “I am not sure I would be able to stay neutral when one sister clearly said the wrong thing unnecessarily and thoughtlessly.” Other readers also said that if confronted with this kind of a situation, they would most likely opt to say something.

Stay Neutral, Offer Gentle Reminders

Another reader wrote: “Feelings can be fragile and it is understandable that the sister without children, actually from time to time, regrets that decision. Also the sister who quoted the mom was not simply being honest but wanted to hurt … Is it worth the price to make another sister feel anger and pain? I would tell the neutral sister that she need not take sides, but [she should] remind the sisters of the value of forgiveness and family bonds.”

I have to respectfully disagree with this comment. If the sister is going to take a hands-off position — “I am not getting involved, this issue is between the two of you” — then she needs to stick to that position.

If she wants to moralize about forgiveness and family bonds, and she certainly has the option to involve herself in that way, then she forfeits her position of staying out of it. She cannot have it both ways. Personally, I would not recommend the option of her getting into what her sisters “need to do,” i.e., forgive, etc. It will probably do nothing but inflame the feuding sisters and result in more blame and finger pointing.

Also, just because the impact of the sister’s comment was hurtful, we cannot get into her head and say that her intent was to hurt. I think this is one of those situations where “being Switzerland” is in one’s best interest. In many situations, especially in family feuds, I contend that it’s okay to declare neutrality and stick to it.

Sometimes Staying Neutral Does Not Work!

Another reader described how her husband chose to stay out of a situation between his sister and his older brother. The older brother respected and accepted his decision, but his sister was mad and said that his staying out of it really meant that he was siding with the brother. Fortunately, the brother attempting neutrality lost no sleep over the incident, but his sister’s response exemplifies how sometimes you cannot win, no matter what you do!

And Now, For The Rest of The Story …

The sister who initially contacted me with the situation between her sisters provided an update three months later: “At first I rejected your advice to consider staying neutral. But then, after discussing it with my husband, I decided to give it [staying neutral] a try because I could always get involved if the neutral position wasn’t working. But if I got involved right off the bat, then I couldn’t very well say I wasn’t going to get involved.

“Anyway, both of my sisters tried to get me to take sides, saying things like, ‘You know I’m right’ or ‘I’m disappointed that you won’t tell [the other sister] that she owes me an apology.’ My response was the same, ‘You know I am not getting involved.’ They no longer bring it up. I am glad that they stopped talking about the incident, especially in front of my girls.

“We found out that both sisters have discussed the incident with other members of our extended family, trying to get them on their side. Two of my aunts tried to get me to talk about it, but I was able to end any discussion with them by saying that I am not getting involved in my sisters’ issue. One aunt questioned how could I possibly not give an opinion, and I said, “It’s easy. What happened is between the two of them and the two of them will have to resolve it.” My aunt said she never considered not giving her opinion, but she now wished she too had stayed out of it because one of my sisters is now miffed at her!

“I will be inviting both sisters to Thanksgiving. I will put out a list of what each person coming will be contributing to the dinner, so each will know if the other is coming. My husband and I agree that we will not tolerate any unpleasantness in our home, so if anyone brings up the incident, we are ready to say that that discussion will have to end.

“We are not sure how Thanksgiving will go, but I do know that not taking sides was a good move for me.”

A final comment: Not getting involved in others’ interpersonal issues is an option that, at the very least, should be considered. The reality is that in deciding whether to express an opinion, or to remain neutral, both have consequences. This awareness can help one make the best decision based on the circumstances and the relationships involved.


Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
E-mail queries to [email protected]

Dr. Rancourt’s most recent book is,
Its All About Relationships: New Ways to Make Them Healthy and Fulfilling, at Home and at Work

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