Not to state the obvious, but there are all sorts of family conflicts. Some are little arguments that everyone has with their loved ones from time to time. Others are disagreements that run deeper and often revolve around one or more family member’s disapproval of the lifestyle or choices of another.
Bigger conflicts arise most often during periods of transition or change. Common examples include someone moving in or out of the home, a marriage or divorce, relocating, someone going to college or deciding to leave it, job changes, the birth of a baby, a child starting a sport or other extracurricular, a minor becoming a legal adult, or a serious illness or death in the family. But any stress makes tempers shorter and arguments more likely.
Family conflicts can be disruptive to everyone’s day-to-day life—even those not directly involved. Mood and performance at work, school, and other activities suffers. The stress snowballs, which leads to more and more problems between family members.
Fights may allow hurt feelings, anger, resentment, and other negative emotions to fester. At their worst, they can cause long-lasting or even permanent damage to relationships if not successfully resolved.
A successful resolution is one where all people involved feel like they’ve been heard, understood, and had their opinions respected—even if they’re not heeded. All parties recognize each other’s concerns, apologies are offered where called for, compromises are made where possible, and everyone comes to terms with the reality of the situation.
It’s easier said than done, but it has to be done. More minor conflicts are of course much easier to bring to a close than long-term ones and those related to major life matters. Family counseling may be needed for the most serious or consequential conflicts.
But here are some general tips to help keep or re-establish the peace in your home.
Family Conflict Resolution Strategies
- Stop speaking in anger. when tempers flare, everyone should step back and take a little time to cool off before continuing the conversation. Arguing out of anger is never constructive, and often leads to lashing out.
- Consider whether an issue is really worth fighting over. Often, in homes where there’s stress or unresolved issues, any little thing can turn into a blowout. Don’t get caught up in arguments over trivial things.
- Separate the person from the problem. Try to look at the heart of the matter objectively and discuss it, rather than making things personal.
- Understand that the goal is to resolve the conflict in a satisfactory way—not to win the fight.
- Don’t interrupt during a discussion. Let everyone complete their thoughts and listen to them respectfully. If you’re interrupted, calmly remind your loved one that you gave/will give them the opportunity to speak uninterrupted.
- Remember that listening to someone and acknowledging their side does not equal obeying them or caving to them. It’s simply a part of being respectful and fair, and no true conflict is ever successfully resolved without it.
- Keep an even, calm tone and use your indoor voice. Shouting just raises everyone’s stress level and puts them on the defensive. Nothing ever gets resolved when people are screaming at each other; all resolutions happen after people calm down and talk civilly.
- It’s enough of a cliché that you’ve probably heard it, but it’s still really good advice: Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. When talking about yourself, you convey to others how you feel. When talking about others, you sound accusatory and put them on the defensive.
- Ask questions to be sure you understand other people’s concerns, objections, ideas, and views. Let them ask you questions for the same reason and answer honestly without getting defensive.
- Resist the impulse to drag other unrelated, unresolved issues or feelings into the current conflict. Stay focused on the matter at hand, or else things are likely to get off topic and devolve, rather than proceed toward a resolution.
- Brainstorm solutions together and find areas where compromises can be reached.
- Confirm that everyone is clear on the solution when one is found, and that they are satisfied with it. If there’s a history of solutions not being stuck to, write it down so there’s a record of it. You can even have everyone involved sign it as if it were a contract.