Healing Sisterhood: Using John Gottman’s Principles to Improve Adult Sister Relationships : Future Focus Counselling & Consulting

Sister relationships can be some of the most enduring and complex connections in our lives. They are rich with shared history and deep emotional bonds, yet can also be fraught with conflict and misunderstanding. Drawing on the principles of John Gottman, a renowned relationship expert, here are strategies to mend and enhance your bond with your sister.

1. Enhance Your Love Maps

In Gottman’s terms, “love maps” are the detailed knowledge we have of another person’s world. Take the time to really understand your sister’s current life, her likes, dislikes, dreams, and challenges. This deep understanding can create a solid foundation for your relationship. Regularly update your love maps by asking open-ended questions and truly listening to her responses.

2. Nurture Fondness and Admiration

Focus on the positive aspects of your sister. Reflect on the qualities you admire and the positive experiences you’ve shared. Express your appreciation and gratitude often. By nurturing fondness and admiration, you build a positive foundation that can buffer against conflict.

3. Turn Towards Each Other

In relationships, turning towards means responding positively to each other’s bids for attention, affection, and support. When your sister reaches out, whether through a comment, a gesture, or a request for help, respond with interest and care. This consistent turning towards each other strengthens your emotional connection.

4. Accept Influence

Healthy relationships involve mutual respect and influence. Be open to your sister’s ideas, opinions, and needs. Show that you value her perspective and are willing to compromise. This acceptance of influence fosters respect and partnership, reducing power struggles and increasing cooperation.

5. Solve Solvable Problems

Not all conflicts are created equal. Identify which issues are solvable and focus on resolving them first. Use Gottman’s approach to conflict resolution:

  • Start with a soft startup, addressing the issue gently and without blame.
  • Use “I” statements to express your feelings and needs.
  • Practice effective repair attempts to de-escalate tension.
  • Compromise where possible, and find solutions that work for both of you.

6. Overcome Gridlock

Some conflicts may seem insurmountable, leading to gridlock. These typically involve deeply held values or dreams. To overcome gridlock, explore the underlying dreams and values behind the conflict. Discuss these deeper issues with empathy and an open mind, looking for ways to honor both of your perspectives.

7. Create Shared Meaning

Develop rituals, goals, and traditions that bring you closer together. Whether it’s a regular phone call, a shared hobby, or celebrating family traditions, creating shared meaning strengthens your bond. These shared activities and values contribute to a sense of unity and purpose in your relationship.

8. Build a Culture of Appreciation

Consistently express appreciation for your sister. Recognize her efforts, acknowledge her strengths, and celebrate her successes. This positive reinforcement builds a culture of appreciation and respect, making your relationship more resilient to challenges.

9. Seek Professional Help When Needed

Sometimes, the issues in a sister relationship are too complex to resolve on your own. A therapist trained in Gottman’s methods can provide valuable tools and strategies to navigate these challenges. Professional help can offer a neutral space to work through deep-seated issues and improve communication.

10. Be Patient and Persistent

Improving a difficult relationship takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself and your sister, and understand that progress may be gradual. Stay committed to the process and recognize small victories along the way. Persistence and dedication are key to fostering a healthier relationship.


Improving a difficult sister relationship in adulthood is a journey that requires effort, empathy, and a willingness to change. By enhancing your love maps, nurturing fondness, turning towards each other, and building a culture of appreciation, you can rebuild and strengthen your bond. Remember, every relationship is unique, and finding what works for you and your sister is essential. With dedication and understanding, your relationship can become a source of support, love, and joy.


  • Bowen, M. (1978). Family Therapy in Clinical Practice. New York: Jason Aronson.
  • Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. (1992). Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
  • Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (1999). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. New York: Harmony Books.
  • Goleman, D. (2006). Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships. New York: Bantam Books.

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I am licensed to practice in Washington State and the following Canadian Provinces: Yukon, British Columbia, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland.