Every family runs into conflict at one time or another. Disagreement is part of any relationship
But some families may be more prone to it than others. Sometimes poor communication is to blame. Other times, family members end up "taking sides," which can create even deeper splits in the household.
But with a little work and patience, it's possible to keep conflict from spiraling out of control. The key lies in setting your anger aside and discussing your differences calmly and respectfully.
Getting to the root of it
First, it's important to understand the source of the conflict. Is it an isolated disagreement or is it part of something larger? If the family's undergone a major change recently, you may need to take that into account. There are lots of things that can heighten stress, including:
--The birth of a baby
--Unemployment of one spouse
--Problems with in-laws
--Trying to juggle busy schedules
--A serious illness of a family member
--Separation, divorce, or becoming a stepparent
Letting a problem fester without addressing it is a really bad idea. A poorly-managed conflict raises the risk that children will develop behavioral problems. It can also affect the health and well-being of adults in the household too.
Whatever the cause of the disagreement, it's important to move forward with respect and understanding. Disagreements can be productive, provided you keep them under control. Set some basic ground rules, such as:
--Replace yelling with calm voices.
--No name-calling should be allowed.
--Give everyone a chance to speak.
--Be respectful of differing opinions.
--Look for a compromise everyone can agree to.
In many cases these things are easier said than done. If so, here are some tips to keep in mind as you work toward a resolution:
Face the issues head on. If you are avoiding a conflict, try to figure out why. If there are unresolved feelings or resentments, it may be necessary to explore them too. Just try to do it in a way that is healthy.
Take time-outs. It's okay to feel angry, but don't let it control your behavior. If you start feeling too angry, call a time-out. Cool down and think things through. Remember, though, a time-out is meant to ease tensions - not as a form of punishment.
Develop greater self-awareness. If you often fight about the same thing, take a look at the root causes. Think deeply about why your family is always arguing about these matters. Accept your part in any conflict, and take responsibility for your own actions.
--"If I give in, am I compromising my principles?"
--"Am I being overly rigid about this?"
Hold family meetings. Set aside time for family members to discuss their feelings on issues that affect them. You can use these meetings to come to agreements and resolve conflicts.
Take advantage of outside resources, such as:
--Financial or legal counselors
--Marriage enrichment workshops
--Individual, couple, or family counselors
Know your bottom line. Think about what you will and won't accept. Ask yourself:
Addressing conflict in a healthy way may require a little trial and error. Once you get it down, though, it can help keep resentments from building and bring your family closer together.
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Managing conflict during divorce. Accessed: 02/24/2011
Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Family stressors. Accessed: 02/24/2011
HelpGuide.org. Conflict resolution skills. Accessed: 04/05/2011
American Academy of Pediatrics. Family arguments. Accessed: 02/24/2011