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How to Manage Family Conflict

Conflict is a normal part of all relationships including those in our family.

It is something we all experience at times.

Sometimes it can be healthy and challenge our opinions and beliefs. Other times, conflict can damage our relationships, our physical health and our mental wellbeing.

CatholicCare family relationship educator Pauline Watkin said, “While every family conflict situation was unique, the conflict was more likely to occur when we allow our past scripts write today’s scripts.”

Pauline Watkins
“Conflict comes from the emotions that we feel from an event or a situation. Each time we come together as a family, moment by moment, we carry this emotional baggage from past events.” Pauline said.

“These emotions can build up over time, and if not properly managed, will build to create future family conflicts.”

To better understand what causes family conflict, this article will discuss the effect that conflict has on families, how we can learn to manage it and what to avoid when faced with conflict.

Family conflict and the family dynamic

The family dynamic has vastly changed over the years.

Who we consider as family varies from person to person – the traditional nuclear family is not as common as it once was.

As Pauline explains, family these days can include upward of two households including, care givers, parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles.

“A more common model of what people tend to consider as family are those people of your heart,” she said.

“The people of your heart will all have differing opinions on many topics and issues but as a family unit, there is a lot of unconditional and unceasing love that can bring a family together.”

If your commitment to your relationship is stronger than your emotional reaction to differences of opinion, then family conflict can be avoided.

But if we are determined to prove to our family that we are right in our opinion, and will do whatever it takes for that result, we may end up getting our own way, but our relationship will take a hit, which may lead to long term damage.

Pauline said, “For those of us who were easily triggered when interacting with certain family members, the best thing to do was to learn to manage our emotional triggers.”

“We cannot change the people around us; but we can change how we respond to them.”

How can I manage my own emotional responses to conflict?

If you need to discuss something of importance with a family member, and you know it is likely to cause conflict, the best thing to do is to plan ahead.

“The first thing to do is to identify your triggers – you might even write them down,” Pauline explained.

“Feelings like: ‘I think they don’t respect me’ or ‘I think they’ll start doing or saying something,’ we need to remind ourselves to stay calm and not react to these triggers.”

Pauline said having a plan can help with keeping our guard up and staying committed to remaining calm.

She said the next thing to do was to plan our part of the conversation.

“You might be the kind of person that finds it helpful to have bullet points or a script to stay on track,” she said.

“Write down the pros and cons of the discussion you are about to have with that person and anticipate what their reactions may be so that you can gain some empathy for their opinion.

“When you are in the middle of a disagreement, it can be hard to take a step back and empathise with the other person in the heat of the moment. But if you anticipate their reaction and plan for it, you are better prepared for the discussion ahead without feeling triggered.”

Things to avoid

Pauline said there were four types of miscommunication that could lead to conflict:

  • Arguing
  • Nagging
  • Spontaneous Discussion
  • Insight Drop

While the first two miscommunications seem obvious enough, spontaneous discussion and insight drop were equally as toxic in generating family conflict.

  • Spontaneous Discussion

    Spontaneous discussion is when a conversation is started with no prior planning.

    Pauline said a spontaneous discussion can happen out of nowhere and can go anywhere depending on where the people conversing take it.

    “In terms of family conflict, a spontaneous discussion can ignite emotional triggers,” she said.

    “It is best to be avoided when having planned discussions where conflict can arise.

    If you find yourself dumped in what feels like a spontaneous conversation and you are not feeling prepared, Pauline said the best thing to do was to, “Discuss a time and place with the person for when you can talk about it in the future.”

  • Insight Drop

    Insight Drop is when a person drops their wisdom or experience on someone in the hopes that it will change a person’s mind.

    Most of us are guilty of insight dropping.

    “We believe that by projecting our personal experiences onto others, it can somehow help them to change their mind or opinion, but in fact it is an easy way to create conflict,” Pauline explained.

    “Children and teenagers, are the least responsive to insight dropping. You may think that it will change their mind, but it doesn’t.”

Pauline said the key to avoiding or managing family conflict came down to having emotional regulation when communicating with family members.

“It is crucial to always be mindful of your emotions and your triggers when talking to family. As I said before, don’t let the past scripts write today’s scripts,” she said.

“Each of us are responsible for how we respond to conflict.”

“We can’t change how others think or feel, but we can learn to control how we respond, by managing our emotional triggers.”

If you are needing help in managing your emotions and personal reactions in times of conflict, Contact us today.

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