No matter how tight-knit a family is, at some point in their lives, they will encounter family conflict. Conflict within families can arise at any time and be the result of just about anything. The key to overcoming family conflict is knowing how to best resolve it and move forward.
What Is Family Conflict?
Family conflict is defined by an active opposition between family members. The opposition can be over nearly anything and can involve any combination of related individuals. Conflicts are often presented as disagreements between people regarding areas of topic that both parties feel strongly about. In regard to families, there are four primary causes or sources of conflict.
- Sibling rivalry
- Disagreements over financials and occupations
- Conflict regarding extended family and in-law relationships
- Child-rearing or discipline techniques, measures, and principals
Types of Family Conflict Resolution Categories
When family conflict arises in a family, it is handled and resolved in one of three primary ways.
Conflict-avoidant-prone families will normally be presented with a conflict and then act as if nothing is happening. They are masters at sticking their heads in the sand and avoid getting to the root of the issue. They might act as if the problems don't exist, but that doesn't mean that anger, sadness, and resentment aren't brewing underneath the surface. Without any resolution, family members sometimes choose to remove themselves from the family altogether, because it feels easier to do that than to handle the conflict head-on.
Families with a collaborative approach to resolving conflict will talk issues out, allow their emotions to surface, and discuss the things that are bothering them. These families value communication, have higher rates of children with solid interpersonal skills, healthier marriages.
Families who take conflict on in an aggressive manner tend to attack each other either verbally or physically as a primary means of handling disagreements. Living situations that involve aggression can be stressful for everyone. Families that adopt this conflict resolution approach would benefit from positive conflict resolution strategies in order to work out differences more effectively.
Examples of and Resolutions for Common Conflicts in Families
Conflict has a wide range of intensity and variation types. No matter how uncomfortable a conflict within a family might feel, the vast majority of disagreements are common and fixable. They can be resolved with the correct steps and approach.
Your Sibling "One-Ups" You
You have dreaded coming together for Christmas for months because you knew this was going to happen. It has happened for as long as you can remember. Everything you share and celebrate, from a job promotion to your child's A in math, gets "one-upped" by your sibling. It's frustrating. It makes you angry, hurt and constantly ready to lash out.
First, recognize that sibling rivalry often stems from jealousy or feelings of inferiority. His behavior feels undermining, but know that this has more to do with his own feelings of self-worth than it does your accomplishments. When the one-upping begins, try to recognize his great achievements as well. Be the first one to congratulate him on something. Pair your news with a nice comment about something that will validate him as well. Model positive behavior for him in what you say and what you do.
Disagreement Over Money
You and your spouse can not see eye to eye on spending and saving. You want to save more and he likes to spend it. Every time you start to discuss money, the conservation ends in yelling and both of you storming out of a room.
Set the stage. Pick a time of day to discuss the issue that doesn't tend to trigger you both. (Agree on a space and time to converse and avoid high-stress times in the family.) Avoid laying blame. When you want to express concern or thought, use an "I feel" statement rather than a "you" statement. Allow for each party to speak their peace. Actively listen to what your partner has to say, rather than think up comebacks during his share session. Know that in situations regarding money, it is likely that both of you will have to compromise a little.
War With Your Mother-in-Law
You want to have a low-key first birthday party for your baby, only including a few family members and close friends, but she wants to celebrate the day in the biggest and showiest way possible. It's a stand-off and neither of you seems to want to budge.
A bit of budging is ultimately what you will both have to do. First, consider her feelings. Why does she need a big event? Are there feelings going on with her that you might have not considered? Perhaps you jumped to conclusions and assumed that she wanted the day to be all about her. Ask her why it is important to have a big party. Consider giving her part of what she wants. In the case of in-law conflict, a bit of compromise can go a long way. She might not get her 50-person invite list, but maybe a few of her close friends could attend the party and soothe her needs.
When working out the issue, keep a united front with your spouse and don't budge on any hard lines in the sand. Compromise isn't the same thing as relinquishing all desires. In-laws should be included in much of the child-rearing, but you are the parent and your thoughts and opinions do come first.
Disagreement Over Child-Rearing
You and your husband were raised differently, so you will probably have at least some different opinions on how to raise your child. You want to send her to a private school, but he is adamant that public school is the way to go. The disagreement is making your life together unbearable, and the conflict is pouring into other aspects of family life.
Don't ignore the elephant in the room. You have to deal with this head-on. Make time for each of you to state your case. Try making a pro and con list and attempt to remain non-biased in doing so. Hear what he is saying. Maybe there are some true pros to his perspective. Make sure to validate his thoughts, you are equal partners in the parenting game. Use language like, "I head what you are saying," and, "Your point is a good point." If you can not come to a decision in a single evening, table the discussion temporarily. Decide on a time and date in the future to revisit your conflict and see if things shift after the initial discussion.
Code Red Conflicts
While most familial conflicts are common and strike at one point or another, some family conflicts deserve more attention and assistance than the status quo. Knowing when something is entirely out of your control is a powerful tool in itself. These "code red" conflicts generally require the help of someone outside of the family that has special capabilities, such as a mediator, counselor, or mental health professional.
When to Seek Help
If a family member is exhibiting any of the following symptoms or behaviors, seek professional help. While many types of conflict can be resolved with the tools that you already have, some issues are best left to the professionals who are trained to handle them.
- Loss of sleep
- Consistently poor performance at school or at work
- Sudden marked impairment with typical social functioning
- Excessive sadness or anger
- Exhibits physical violence
- Expression of wishing violence upon themselves
Conflict Doesn't Mean Doomed
Yes, some types of conflict can definitely warrant serious intervention strategies, but most family conflict is something that will pop up and pass if handled correctly. No family is perfect, and every single one has their squabbles and battles. Know that your family conflict does not mean that something is wrong with you or yours or that your family is doomed. Having conflict and working through it effectively is a sign of strength, intelligence, and devotion.