Whenever two individuals interact, sooner or later, there will be some kind of conflict. But in relationships and especially within families, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The price we pay for being our own unique, independent selves is that sometimes… it doesn’t quite fit with someone else’s unique and independent self. Rather than fearing and avoiding conflict at home, try to see what it can teach you about yourself and your loved ones. Families that learn how to work with and negotiate their conflicts successfully are stronger in the long term.
What is conflict?
Conflict stems from our own wants, desires, needs and fears. The stronger our need for something, the bigger the conflict will be when we encounter a situation where we feel that those needs are threatened.
The key to smoothing over conflicts in the family is to truly understand what the conflict means for each member. If you find yourself having the same argument over and over again, perhaps it’s time to examine your family dynamics a little more closely. With the following strategies, you can work on strengthening the bonds that tie your family together.
Quick conflict resolution strategies for your family
- One of the most fundamental strategies in dealing with conflict is communication. Yes, you’ve heard it a dozen times before. However, a lot of people assume communication is simply about making themselves better understood, or talking more. Not so. In conflict situations, take the time to actually understand what needs your family members have that are not being met, and you’ll get instantly to the root cause of the conflict.
- When people believe that what they need is being threatened, they understandably react with fear and hostility. Realise that people are seldom directly against others, but are far more often acting out against a perceived threat. In other words, don’t take it personally.
- Make it your primary goal to understand one another rather than prove who is right. This is more difficult than it sounds. Ask questions and really listen to the answers, not so that you can argue about it later, but so that you can open up a dialogue. When the main goal is to preserve relationship harmony, everyone in the conflict can focus on how they actually agree, rather than the ways they are currently disagreeing.
- Recognise when communication is just not possible and have the strength to let it go. A well-considered Time Out allows everyone to clear their heads and reduces the chance of something regretful being said.
- Understand that some people are on different “channels” in a conflict. Respect that some family members shut down verbally and won’t respond to constant interrogation. Similarly, others just need to be held physically and comforted. Pay attention to body language and have empathy for one another.
- Rather than getting bogged down in details and he-said-she-said arguments, focus on the deeper emotional content of what people are communicating. If someone is accusing you of doing something that hurt their feelings, zoom in on that emotion rather than debating whether you did or didn’t actually do it.
- Always clarify how each party has perceived the conflict – you’d be surprised how many serious disagreements develop from a simple misunderstanding.
Ultimately, even with good communication and a family with each other’s best interests at heart, conflict is unavoidable. The last conflict strategy is the most important of all: know when to walk away.
If all else fails, “pick your battles” and be honest about a dynamic where you’ll just have to agree to disagree. Over time, a family that is self aware and respectful of one another’s position can rid themselves of constant conflict, even if they don’t always agree on the specifics.
If your family is dealing with conflict and needs the help of professional counsellors or family therapists, Australia Counselling can link you with registered counsellors in your local area. Visit our family issues page to search for a family therapist, counsellor or psychologist in your local area.