The session was supposed to be a consultation between two middle-aged sisters—my client, Annie, and her sister, Carol—about sharing their multigenerational summer house on Nantucket Island. They’d never been particularly close, but their relationship had soured in the last few years, as they’d been struggling to navigate the scheduling, maintenance, and financial management of the house. The summer before, in fact, they’d had a huge blowup over which family would get to use it on July 4th weekend—after which they didn’t speak for six months.
Seated in my office, they started off, in a polite but guarded way, talking about certain dilemmas they hadn’t been able to resolve, like whether to replace the storm windows, given that they disagreed about its necessity. Rapidly, however, the conversation degraded into a heated debate about who was at fault for the July 4th mess. Then it veered into even more complicated territory.
“Of course you’d say it was just an innocent misunderstanding,” Carol scoffed. “God forbid you admit to being selfish. You were always such a goody two-shoes. No wonder Daddy liked you better!”
Annie stiffened and responded with a thin smile. “That’s not true at all. I just didn’t fight with him all the time. Besides, he might’ve been nicer to you if you weren’t always getting between him and Mom and taking her side. It made him lose his temper.”
“Hold on, you two,” I jumped in. “One of the things that can make relationships…