Families Unite to Decrease Family Conflict | Family Therapist | Erica Ives| Malibu, CA
Updated: Aug 27, 2019
Families Unite to Decrease Family Conflict
written by Erica Ives
Learning new ways to decrease family conflict is an important lesson for all families. Conflict within a family is to be expected and believe it or not, it can actually even have a positive outcome. If conflict is dealt with in a healthy manner, it can actually serve as an opportunity to become more connected and cohesive as a family and decrease family conflict. However, if the issues surrounding the conflict are not addressed, the outcome can also be quite devastating.
Calming down family arguments and conflict can be very difficult, especially once the conflict has heightened. One can know the family conflict has heightened when the voices become louder, threatening or mean statements that might now be stated otherwise are expressed, defensiveness, blaming, and a great deal of unspoken hurtful body language. The problem is that once the conflict is being dealt with in an argumentative fashion, most family members engaged in the conflict or even experiencing the argument as an outside observer, (i.e. children, siblings), are being driven by emotions. Once one is speaking primarily from a place of heightened emotions, they have likely lost or forgot the ability to speak from a place of rational thought. Heightened and unreasonable emotions (i.e extreme rage, utter despair, hopelessness) in combination with irrational thinking (i.e. “this family is pathetic.” “We are hopeless and there is no point anyway in trying to have a conversation.”) creates a space that lacks mindfulness (being truly present in the moment with an open-mind and without judgment). It then becomes really difficult to find the ability to actually step back and become an observer. Taking a step back and viewing the situation as an observer instead of a participant becomes very hard to do. Yet, it would be so helpful if at least one family member is able to take some steps back to gather oneself before they address the issues at hand. All too often, the family conflict escalates so quickly that one becomes increasing angry or frustrated and brings even additional, possibly unresolved, topics into the conversation. Now it even begins to take on more of a life of its own. It is at this point that it may be difficult for families to unite to decrease family conflict and find cohesiveness.
So, what is some expert advice on cooling down family fights, whether it is mom or dad, siblings, or the parents and kids.
Well, the very first thing I must state is that there is any concern regarding immediate physical and emotional safety, then the argument needs to seize and desist and the proper authorities need to be contacted.
If a parent is drinking or using substances, then there is no point in even attempting to have a rational discussion at this point.
Often times, it can be beneficial for there to be a cooling off period BEFORE or IMMEDIATELY when it becomes elevated. Like I stated, it is most often that one is functioning from a heightened and unreasonable emotional state and is unable to be rational in their thinking.
If you notice a particular time of day that the conflict tends to occur, that would be clear indication that is NOT likely to be the most effective time to attempt healthy dialog.
Have each family member write down their perspective on the situation. Remember, this is their perception and you do no have to agree BUT YOU DO have to acknowledge without judgment.
Everyone wants to be heard and everyone needs to be heard. Everyone wants to be validated and everyone needs to be validated. Once you have reached the point of the power struggle, the likelihood of being heard and validated decreases tremendously and then again, you are functioning from heightened and unreasonable emotions without rational thinking.
Attempt to tackle one issue mindfully at a time, with little to no other distractions.
It is critical to note that everyone is affected even if you may want to believe that your children do not know what is going on or you tell them, “everything is ok,” kids all deal with stress in different ways. For example, while one child may want to take on a peacemaker role, another may hold things in, another may act out is destructive and impulsive ways, another may do some splitting between parents where one becomes all good and the other becomes all bad.
And believe it or not, one child may even agree (an unspoken agreement) to become the child who will act of all the family problems and shift the attention onto her instead of the initial dyad. I have seen this with the development of eating disorders, substance abuse, poor grades, getting into trouble at school. This child is actually acting out the family conflicts and is the one who is then brought into my office as the “one who needs to be fixed."
Talk about this one problem at a time during a time when there is no conflict occurring. You can even go to a neutral place, the park, the beach, following an enjoyable family activity. You are all more likely to speak from rational thoughts and reasonable emotions.
If need be, utilize a talking stick. The only one holding the stick is the only one who is able to speak.
If each family member needs to write a letter and read that during the family meeting to help decrease the vulnerability then that can also be appropriate.
Say I love you and remember each member of the family is unique in their own way.
Try and respect one another because everyone deserves respect
To learn more about this topic, read the article Fighting the ‘good’ fight: Families find constructive ways to handle discord.
Author of EATING DISORDERS: Decode The Controlled Chaos