“So, as I said, I have been reading about triangling, but that led me on to a section on “cut-off” and how it’s not a good thing to do in relationships because when you have cut off you preclude any possibility of the relationship improving.  You don’t solve anything, you just get rid of it.

I don’t want to have anything to do with my sister.  I feel relieved that I do not constantly have to be watching my back for the next attack.  There is no part of me that wants to have anything to do with her.  But I feel guilty, I feel that I “should” have contact with her, that I should keep on trying, that it is incumbent on me to make the first approach to her, that it is “wrong” to want to keep my distance.  I feel it only at the level of an imperative, not a desire to have contact with her, an obligation rather, but it bothers me.  As does the internal criticism that I haven’t done enough to keep the relationship on tracks.”

“Isn’t there an assumption underlying what you’ve just said?”

“Yes, there is.  The assumption that every relationship has the potential to improve.”

“Do you agree with that assumption?”

“I think I had to agree with it, as a child.  I think the alternative was too awful to contemplate.  As a child I could not afford to believe that some relationships are not capable of improving.  It would have been death.  Certainly the death of hope.  So I think it’s a habit that I acquired, of assuming that there was always the potential for improvement.”

“And what do you think now?”

“Now?  I think that if I had tried harder or done something differently, things might have worked out.  I blame myself for not being more tolerant, for not being less needy (of praise), for not being able to brush off aggressive comments.  I think if only I was a different person, we’d still be getting on.”

“That sounds like someone else talking to you, telling you that those things should be true.  It’s a fairly critical voice, isn’t it?  Is that how you would talk to a friend in a similar situation?”

“No, I’d probably say to the friend that they were a wonderful person, and they’d done all they could and there was nothing else they could have done, and sometimes things don’t turn out as we would like them too.”

“So you are much kinder to a friend than you are to yourself?”

“Yes, in a word.”

“How would it feel if instead of that voice running in your head running you down all the time, the voice was encouraging, sympathetic?”

“It would feel very different.”

“Which voice do you think is the most accurate?  The one who says that you did all that you could and now it’s time to leave it?  Or the voice that convicts you, that says it is all your fault, if only you had been able to behave differently, and so on?”

“I think the first voice is more accurate.  I have tried really hard and I’ve just run out of ideas.”

“So, do you really think that if your behaviour had been different, things would have been different?”

“I don’t think my sister is aware or willing to acknowledge how she feels about me, and so I don’t think her behaviour would have changed, however I behaved.  She does not want to address the issue of sibling rivalry at all, yet it colours all of our interactions and comes down to there not having been enough love to go round.  If I had changed, it might, our relationship might have appeared better on the surface, but I would have been compromising my own needs and that would lead to a deeper depression.”

“Which, presumably, would not be a good thing?”

“No.  Definitely not.”

“So that would not be a path worth pursuing?  Does that mean that you do not believe that any relationship can be salvaged by one person?”

“Sometimes, I think one person has to swallow their pride and give a failing relationship a kick-start, but then the other person needs to follow on.  No one person can do all the work, nor should it always be one person who makes the first move.  Now, I think there are some relationships where the capacity for improvement has disappeared if it was ever there at all.  I also think that it needs both people to be working on the relationship and if only one person is able or willing to do the work, then improvement might not be possible.”

“And, in that situation, if the person carried on assuming that there was potential for improvement, but they were doing all the work, what would it feel like?”

“As if you were banging your head against a brick wall.  And besides meaning that nothing was going to change, it actually hurts to keep banging your head against a brick wall.  So, I suppose it is not just that the relationship is not going to get any better, but that it is going to make me feel worse, that it is going to carry on hurting me.”

“Certainly, it sounds as if you would find it depressing to be continually trying to mend a relationship, but not making any progress.  Aren’t you allowed to give up?”

“I think I am, now, as an adult. It isn’t as if I haven’t tried. I do not need to have a relationship with someone that continually hurts me.  What would that say about how I view myself?  That that is all that I am worth?  No, I don’t think I have to have a relationship with someone who is not also trying to make the relationship work.”