by Fran Giordani
The people we love the most can also be the people we disagree with most. Learning to settle family disputes early and avoiding toxic arguments takes discipline and skill, but it's worth it to alleviate stress and squabbling.
Stop disputes before they start
Parenting children as part of a family means there will be fights, but fights that result from long-simmering emotions have far worse consequences than others. Virgin Media’s website on home, family and relationships suggests that the first rule is to stop grievances from festering before they become explosive. This is harder than it sounds, since the subjects that matter most are often the hardest to talk about freely. Try to approach a subject in a managed fashion, rather than storing up the anger until it spills over.
When you are discussing a tricky subject with a family member, listen carefully to what is being said and show that you understand their point, even if you don't agree with it. It is hard for someone to start an argument with you when you are being reasonable.
Choose your words carefully. Explain your grievances as calmly as possible. Keep your volume down. As soon as one person starts shouting, the other will want to shout louder, and the conversation soon becomes explosive.
Conflict between you and your spouse
Elaine and Joe Sullivan, co-presidents of Sullivan Associates in Dallas, Texas, conduct wellness workshops and conferences on personal and professional growth and behavioral change.
Joe says that people tend to partner with or marry their opposites. “When we are different, we have the possibility of an even better relationship and more potential for growth,” he says. “Often we choose a partner because unconsciously we say, ‘This person is capable of inviting a great deal of growth in me or is capable of restoring the parts of me that I have rejected or put in my shadow bag or put aside.’”
Without understanding that this is an opportunity to grow, however, many couples end up in conflicts without knowing why.
Elaine says conflicts also happen when we don't understand the paradox of intimacy. “We tend to choose partners who have the combined characteristics of both our mothers and our fathers,” she says. “We often choose people who have the least capability of giving us what we most need. The good news is that they also have the capacity to give us what we most need.
“There is no one who can be a better healer than your intimate other, and there is no one who can harm you as much as your intimate other. The power struggle in a relationship is always about getting your unmet needs met. This requires becoming more conscious in relationships.”
Settling family disputes
The first step in successfully dealing with a family conflict is to understand and clarify the problem at hand. The tone or subject of an argument often changes from start to finish, so understanding what is truly at the heart of the disagreement is the key.
As a parent and moderator, it is up to you to keep order over this process. Insist that when one person is talking, the others must listen even if they disagree. There should be no tolerance for raising voices or rudeness during this time.
Take notes on all possible solutions with the rest of the family brainstorming together. Then, review each solution and decide as a group what decision should be made. Get feedback from each member involved on how this solution is going to affect them and how they feel about it.
When resolving a conflict among family members, all people involved should feel that their input was taken into consideration. Helping family members feel heard will help demonstrate how the final solution will benefit everyone.
Fran Giordani’s background includes 15 years of in-house editing and copywriting for national periodicals. Fran lives in Boston with her husband, Jay, a graphic artist, and their twin cats, Mutt and Jeff.