Maybe your family doesn’t have a lot of conflict – in which case, lucky you – but if you often find that there’s friction, falling-out and shouting in your immediate or wider family, read on.
Although it’s normal to disagree with family members at times, if there are often arguments it can become very stressful and sometimes damaging too. Because people have different beliefs and values, it stands to reason that we won’t always agree with other people in the family. But, it’s how we deal with those differences that’s the key to calmer times.
Some families are very good at smoothing over differences and agreeing to differ on certain things, but for others it becomes almost impossible to agree to differ on certain subjects and there are often family members who become intentionally aggressive and hurtful.
It can be quite disconcerting to find that people growing up in the same family have such opposing beliefs and values, especially when it comes to disciplining children, experiencing a health crisis or being redundant. Basically, we want members of our own families to understand us and our needs, but they too have needs that might not be met during difficult times.
So, what can you do if you find this often happens in your family?
Well, one thing is that it’s better not to label people in your family – see my last blog published on 1 June regarding this very subject! If you find yourself saying things like “Well, that’s the way Joe is – he’s always been selfish”, try to think about whether that’s actually true or it’s just a shortcut to glossing over what’s happening.
That’s another point though – some people want to gloss over contentious subjects and not look any deeper into them and sometimes that’s more difficult to deal with than someone who gets into arguments very quickly.
If you can stand back from a situation, it can help enormously – it’s more likely that you’ll find some sort of resolution then. If you take the view “mine’s the right way and yours is the wrong way” it immediately polarises people, as well as irritating them. Of course, we all think that we’re right but trying to understand the other person or people is the first step towards a resolution. To understand, we have to really listen to what they’re saying and even if it sounds preposterous don’t write it off immediately. There’s a reason why they think that, even you feel that it’s an uninformed opinion.
If you find that you’re too angry to listen to them, suggest walking away and cooling down before resuming a conversation. That doesn’t mean ‘sweeping it under the carpet’, but coming back with clearer ideas of what you might say in future discussion. A conversation might begin with “I felt really upset when we talked before, but I really want to understand where you’re coming from. Could you start again and tell me what it is that you like/dislike about this?”
Some stages that families find difficult to negotiate are:
- Birth of a baby – a reason to celebrate but it’s then that people realise that they have very different ideas about the whole process from breast feeding to education (and a million things in between!).
- A young person becoming an adult
- Separation and divorce – a big source of conflict in most families as people tend to ‘take sides’ and feel very strongly about what’s happened.
- Changes in financial circumstances – other family members often have opinions about what you should do if you’re poorer or wealthier, for whatever reason, than previously. More money can cause envy, less can escalate people into resentments or, if they’re lucky enough not to be in that position, they often have an opinion about the person whose finances have changed. Unfortunately, they often feel the need to express that opinion, even if it’s unasked for!
- A new job – if this means longer travelling time to work, this in itself can cause conflict as that person may not be so available for family get-togethers or to help out in ways that they used to.
So, the list is endless, but ultimately it comes down to trying to understand what’s happening and then navigating through it.
So, work out if an issue is really worth fighting over and then, if you feel that it is, keep in mind that the idea is to resolve the conflict, not necessarily win the argument.
Then (and this can be a hard one!), remember that other people aren’t obliged to agree with you about everything. They’re allowed their own opinions so try to respect what they’re saying and stick to the topic, not bring in other things from the past that are no longer relevant.
After that, try to find some common ground and work on that rather than the differences but ultimately recognise that you might have to agree to disagree.
If you can find some peace within your family and find some resolutions to any conflict that’s occurred, that’s priceless really – a happy family life is to be treasured, especially when things are particularly hard going.
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