How to Deal with Family Conflict

If your family life often descends into a chaotic argument, you are not alone. After all, the nuclear family is, in a sense, unnatural. Throughout most of human history, people lived in tribal societies, often sleeping in communal huts and sharing responsibility for the tribe’s young. But when the same four or five people live together in a brick box for years on end, irritations, resentments, and jealousies are going to build. Add into that mix raging adolescent hormones, and it would be astonishing if families did not continually explode into conflict. But, though some family conflict may be inevitable, it need not be severe. Steps can be taken both to prevent it escalating and to calm things back down.

1) Remain calm.

When a teenage girl is screaming and shouting that she wants to be left alone, that she should be free to come and go as she pleases, it can be hard to bite your tongue. Yet anger feeds anger. Do not raise your voice, but do not back down either. This does not always work of course. Sometimes individuals are looking for a fight and will grow infuriated by your calmness. So never give the impression that an argument is beneath you, that you are superior, or that you are amused by it all.

2) Replace the “you-statement” with the “I-statement”. 

During a family row, all sorts of hidden resentments and hatreds can bubble to the surface. To prevent such escalation, avoid striking an accusatory tone. Never say “you play your music too loud”, or “I’m sick of the mess you always leave in the bathroom”; instead, tell the individual concerned how their actions are affecting you:  “I can’t sleep because the music is too loud”, or “I have spent 20 minutes cleaning up the bathroom when I should be resting”.

3) Keep talking. 

Communication is key to resolving any conflict, whether that be between spouses, parents and children, or even whole nations. You must keep the dialogue open. You may disapprove of your daughter’s new boyfriend or your husband’s new job, but do not throw your arms into the air and sulk. Keep talking. And talking does not mean whining or nagging! It is also crucial to choose your moment carefully. So wait until the other person is calm, peaceful, and receptive.

4) Listen. 

That does not mean be quiet and wait for the other person to finish speaking. No matter how infuriating your 13-year-old daughter may be as she screeches that she should be allowed to wear a mini skirt, you must listen. Always try to see things from the other person’s viewpoint. And do not allow your emotions to overpower your reason. Are you approachable? Are you so preoccupied with work that your husband and children do not feel they can reach you without yelling? Remember that listening does not mean obeying; it is a sign of strength, not weakness.

5) Re-state what you have heard.

Counselors often encourage what is known as “reflective listening”, which can be very effective so long as it is used subtly and sparingly. So, for example, imagine your son throws a tantrum because he wants to play soccer rather than visit your mother. Instead of yelling back, allow him to speak. Ask him why he doesn’t want to come and then repeat his reasons in your own words as if you are trying to understand. He will feel respected and validated and be more likely to listen to reason. But be careful. When overdone, this technique can seem patronizing and manipulative.

6) Let some things slide. 

You may often have a good reason for picking an argument. Teenage children can be particularly trying. But do not become a nag. If you are constantly moaning and complaining, two things will happen; first, blazing rows will become the norm, and second, people will cease to listen. Your legitimate complaints will be ignored and your voice will turn into a mere background noise.

7) Make use of positive body language. 

When an argument has run its course, and the tears have dried, use plenty of smiling, hugging, and kissing. In a bitter argument, when nasty things are said, the loving bond is temporarily severed. By hugging and kissing, you are re-affirming that bond in a way no words could ever match.

Family arguments may be inevitable, but that does make them easier to endure. No argument is pleasant of course, but arguments among those you both love and live with are especially taxing. Follow the advice offered here and, though you may still row, you will hopefully find those rows grow milder and less frequent. By Allnatt