The Plan to Resolve Any Family Conflict

How to navigate the murky waters of family conflict without destroying your relationships.

Posted on | By Dr. Jen Hartstein | Comments ()
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Take Healthy Back with Your Family (5:36)

Virtually every family has experienced some sort of conflict between its members. Maybe it’s a fight between siblings over who gets their mother’s china, or an argument between spouses about parenting or a disagreement with one’s in-laws about rules related to the children. Whatever it might be, familial conflict is unavoidable.

The reason that family conflict is so common is due to the emotional connections we have with our family members. We love our families, and will do anything for them. Although we love them, we do not always like them, however. Our emotional connections feed our reactions to the judgments and input our families provide, which can make us feel out of control, disrespected, and unheard. When this happens, our emotions guide our decisions, causing us to act out in hurtful, impulsive ways. It is important to remember that our feelings are valid all the time. What we do with our feelings, though, might not be.

Most familial fights boil down to one issue: power. Family members are fighting for the power position, forgetting that the roles that they inhabit are all equally important and vital.  We fear, though, that giving in to another family member means losing somehow. We lose sight of the bigger picture, getting caught in the superficial, and we don’t focus on the true source of the conflict.  We convince ourselves that if we communicate our problem, we are showing weakness, leaving ourselves vulnerable. What we do not consider is what we can lose if we continue to fight for power, rather than working toward compromise.

It is important to learn how to navigate the emotions, so that you can express your feelings to the ones you love. If you do not, there could be more to lose than to gain. Below are some steps to help change the communication style within your family and that will help improve the relationships so everyone feels that they are getting what they want: building positive interactions, love and support.

Step 1: Act Opposite to Your Initial Feeling

Although how you feel is always valid, your feelings are not facts. Feelings are frequently changing; facts are immutable. Feelings also cause us to be impulsive. If you live by your feelings alone, you will potentially make bad choices that you feel are right, even if you do not have the evidence to support them.  So, before you head into a situation with that challenging family member, take a minute to think about how you want to feel. If you tend to enter that situation hostile and frustrated and prepared for battle, take a breath, add some logic to your emotion and think about how you can do something differently. Decide that this time, you will smile through it and make the best of the challenge. Let go of the resentments. Decrease the expectations. You’ll be surprised how much less emotionally reactive you become.

Step 2: Use Why Sentences to Explain Your Position

So often we only see our point of view, never taking the time to understand why someone feels the way they do. We discount them outright without ever trying to have a discussion. If you can find the why (without any attitude), and try to understand the other’s intentions, even if you do not agree, you will feel more in control of the situation.

Step 3: Follow This Formula to Fight Right

It is unlikely that you will never have a conflict with your family members. However, we are so afraid of confrontation, we avoid it, creating more tension. Confrontation isn’t necessarily bad, as it helps people understand one another and can strengthen relationships. How you argue is key.

  1. Pick a set time and place to talk: Make an appointment with one another and stick to it.
  2. Stick to the subject at hand: Don’t “kitchen sink” it. Focus on what you came together to discuss and stay focused on that. Don’t bring up every trespass or previous conflict.
  3. Don’t label: Don’t call one another names or box one another in. Be open to the different points of view and ideas. Avoid put downs or mean comments
  4. Use “I feel” statements: Say: When you do (blank), I feel (blank). This takes away the blame and provides a forum for you to express how someone’s actions make you feel.

If you can follow these steps, we have now turned the conflict into a conversation. Isn’t this ultimately what we all want?

Article written by Dr. Jen Hartstein
Clinical and family psychologist