Conflict is inevitable amongst families. Any sort of conflict, lack of communications, fighting, or mismatching personality styles, can deteriorate family relationships. The lack of communication skills to talk through conflict damages intimacy, bonds and trust between you, and not being able to have open conversations with each other, can harm family life. Not talking effectively to each other can often lead to resentment or stonewalling. The way families chose to resolve and handle conflict makes a huge difference to family life.
Sure, you’re not always going to agree with your family. The reason isn’t important, it’s the intimacy and respect for the other people in your household that is important. Conquering family conflict and resolving family arguments effectively, teaches kids how to negotiate and reach compromises, setting them up for strong relationships throughout life. It’s like their trial run for the real world.
We’re never going to find anyone who pushes our buttons as much as our family does. Through living together as a family unit, we have years of practice building our communications skills that we can model our future relationships on. So, it’s important to get it right at home first. Whether your family conflict remains a simple argument, or it includes years of unresolved disputes among family members, it’s important to make attempts to restore peace by reaching resolutions that are agreeable to everyone involved.
What can you do to set the tone for your household?
We all come from different backgrounds, so it’s important know your audience. Be aware of the people you are trying to connect with. We all have bad days and do or say things we shouldn’t. Happy family life is all about accountability and communication. Firstly, if you blow-up, then apologize! Be accountable and communicate this. Teach your kids to own their own mistakes. Children tend to mirror their parents’ behavior. But be developmentally appropriate when you apologize, i.e. “You scared Mommy when you touched the stove and mommy yelled.” With an older child, you could say, “I yelled because I reacted from anger, rather than being reflective about the situation.” The older the kid is the more abstract you can be with them. But whatever you do, explaining yourself and your anger to the kid is key. It’s important emotional coaching.
How to develop conflict management skills
- Reflect not react - think about what you feel.
- Slow down. Count to ten very slowly, before you react. By counting you’re being reflective over your experiences/feelings.
- Use ‘I’ statements, and don’t use the mom finger! Hide that away, you should own what you did to contribute to the problem.
- As yourself what did you do to contribute to the conflict – we can’t change anyone else, we can only change what we did to contribute to it this time.
- Do some inner soul searching to find what you are to blame for.
- Stop pointing! Even, if you don’t think you did anything wrong, if you point to the other person, rather than yourself, you’re not being productive.
- Ask, “What do you need from me, so we don’t argue again?”
- Take responsibility for the solution – ask yourself what you could maybe do to prevent another conflict.
- Stay in your lane – don’t bring the other person in to the conflict. You can’t change another person, but you need to express what’s bothering you about their behavior, i.e. “It’s very frustrating to me to pick up your dirty socks, when the laundry basket is right there.” Instead of, “Why can’t you ever put your dirty socks in the laundry basket!”
Tips for building healthy family relationships.
Try these steps to working through an issue.
- Accountability – be accountable for your words and your actions.
- Open communication about the conflict – discussing the issue from everyone’s perspective before making a decision on how to solve the issue.
- Talking about solutions rather than problems – let each person in the family voice their idea of a solution. Set ground rules for discussing the conflict. i.e. No one is to bully, yell, or blame during the conversation.
- Validate and acknowledge everyone’s perspective and conflict solutions
- Be reflective rather reactive and check in regularly with everyone’s emotions. i.e. “How are you feeling today?”
Sometimes family conflict can be too hard to solve on your own, brainstorming with each other might not work, and you might not be able to reach a solution as a team. Then you may need some external support to mediate the situation. It’s best to seek extra help before the conflict causes permanent damage to family relationships.
Jessica Topor is a licensed marriage and family therapist with experience working with clients of all ages. She has extensive training in working the individuals, couples, and families. She earned her MA and PhD from Michigan State University and has been working with clients for 10 years now. She has experience working with families to help with sibling relationship issues, couples experiencing distress, and families with children with disabilities. Jessica works with couples, families, and individuals, and has experience with all age groups. Jessica's PhD is in human development and family studies, she specializes in work with adolescents and early adults, as well as individuals struggling with developmental crises and transitions. She also completed a degree in Sign Language Studies and has worked with Deaf community. Jessica is listed on National Coalition for Sexual Freedom as a Kink Aware Professional.
If you would like to schedule an appointment with Jessica, call The Center for Relationship and Sexual Health at 248.399.7447.
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