For many people, families are a safe space where they can be themselves and have fun. Having a loving family means a refuge where you can share your thoughts and feelings without reservations. When families are in harmony, it’s a positive thing that can help people in many different ways.
However, even the best relationships can’t be free from conflict forever. Individual differences lead to different ways of communicating and reacting. Strong emotions and differences in opinion can lead to strife and conflict.
If your family is experiencing conflict, you might be wondering how you can resolve it in a positive way. Family conflict doesn’t have to be the end of your good relationships.
How To Handle Family Conflict
In order to deal with family conflict, it’s important to understand the roots of conflict. In most conflicts, individual differences and misunderstandings are the underlying issues. Families may share a lot of similarities such as values, experiences and inherent traits, but as people grow up, they begin to have unique experiences and develop different ideas.
However, differences don’t have to destabilize your family relationships. The issue comes when differing viewpoints or ideas are presented in a threatening or unhealthy way.
When confronted with the potential of conflict, it’s important to know what you can and can’t control. You can’t control what the person you’re interacting with will say, but you can control what you say in response. Think of communication like a game of chess where every move you make influences the move the other person makes and vice versa. Many conflicts can be headed off at the pass simply by not rising to a provocation. Consider the following ideas for diffusing a provocative conversation:
• Ask questions instead of challenging the person’s ideas
• Change the subject by linking another topic
• Bring up something positive to interrupt negative rants
Conflict Resolution and Choice Points
One of the keys to resolving conflicts is recognizing choice points. This is the part in any interaction where you have the choice to make a negative or positive choice that will likely influence the rest of the conversation and your own emotional state. Remember, you can’t control what other people say and do, or their moods. You don’t know the reasons why the person you’re talking to is choosing to make provocative conversation, but you do have control over how you react to it. For example, consider the following conversation:
Mike: That’s a stupid idea.
Lisa: Like you know anything!
Mike: I know when something is stupid.
Lisa: You’re stupid.
As you can see, Lisa is at a choice point right after Mike tells her that her idea is stupid. In the example conversation, she immediately responds angrily when Mike calls her idea stupid. You can probably understand why as no one likes to have their ideas called stupid.
However, that was the point where she could control the conversation. Instead of responding negatively, she could have said something like “It does seem a bit stupid, but let me explain.” In that scenario, she’s recognizing Mike’s assessment, but moving it in a more positive direction.
In a family conflict, choice points give you the chance to control your own response. They also give the other person a chance to think about whether they really want to continue the conversation in a provocative and negative way. You might be surprised at how often simple diffusing works in a conflict.
Family Therapy For Family Conflict
Sometimes a family conflict goes too deep or is too complex for family members to resolve on their own. This is where family therapy can help. Unresolved conflicts between family members might be the root of the problem, and these conflicts can affect non-conflicting members as well. Negative emotions continue to build up and cause tension and stress. Family conflict can cause a lot of individual pain, including anger, bitterness and erosion of trust. It’s important not to sweep these issues under the rug and continue ignoring them.
Family counseling can bring family members together in a positive way. A therapist works as a much-needed neutral third party to bring a new perspective to each family member. As previously mentioned, misunderstandings and differences are often the root cause of conflicts. Therapy can help you more clearly see and appreciate the differences in each family member. You will also learn the important skill of listening as well as learning how to resolve conflicts.
There’s no shame in seeking professional help to allow your family to heal and move forward in a positive way.
Doctor Howard Samuels is a family therapist in Los Angeles who specializes in treating addiction, mental health problems and relationship problems. Find out more about family therapy and how it can help your family by getting in touch with him today.