Love 4 min read

3 Tips For Managing Family Conflict

Peace is within reach.

Family conflict is inevitable. It may be hidden and prettied up with superficial exchanges; it may loom big, front, and center with every interaction; or it may be dealt with in ways that bring healthy growth and change. Sometimes we are so emotionally embedded in the family system that it is difficult to determine how family conflict impacts us and our relationships outside of the home. Yet studies show that those who have experienced healthy family relationships in their family-of-origin are more likely than those who do not, to have higher relationship satisfaction. If we understand how to better manage family conflict, we have a good chance of maintaining healthy relationships with others.

Here are three tips for developing better family relationships.

1. Understand your family dynamics.

Family dynamics are complicated. Every member of the family has their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and they affect everyone else. Parents bring into the family a lifetime of experiences that color the way they interact with the rest of the family. Whether they know it or not, their children are watching them—how they talk to people, how they deal with their feelings and how they manage conflict.  And young children will often act out what they’ve learned, resulting in a pattern of interaction between parents and children that reinforce healthy or unhealthy family dynamics.

Parents are in a unique position to set the tone for how the family interacts with one another. The more attuned parents are to how family members affect one another, the better able they will be able to meet their children’s unique social and emotional needs.

2. Know your role.

We all play a role in family dynamics. And when we are in conflict with family, it’s important  to know how we are contributing to dysfunctional patterns so we can do something about it. For instance, some people go for years without speaking to other family members due to unresolved disagreements. This is also known as a cut-off, and in the absence of healthier coping skills, cutting off all ties may be the only way family members know to deal with the emotional stress that arises during conflict with family.  While the cut-off might appear to work for a while, the repressed anger and pattern of avoidance will most certainly affect how they handle stress in other relationships.  That is, they may be more inclined to be defensive, rigid in the way they deal with others, and/or entitled due to perceived unmet needs. However, they may not necessarily connect these behaviors to family conflict unless it is pointed out to them.

Therefore, if you are unaware of how you are contributing to dysfunctional family patterns and the impact it may have on other relatinoships, it may be helpful to speak to others outside the family, whether it be a friend, counselor, or mentor who can offer objective feedback.

3. Fix your part.

Family members who have felt wronged and mistreated may have a difficult time accepting the idea they need to need to fix something. But there is a distinction between taking responsibility for your actions and being the cause of family problems. For instance, if you feel you were wronged by your mother as a child, and continue to have a problem with her, you are still responsible for how you choose to interact with her. Are you going to limit contact? How are you going to deal with her negative commentary? On the other hand, if you remainin negative, you’ll be resentful. This can spill over into your romantic relationships and friendships.

Gaining a renewed perspective on the past can help you come to some resolve with family conflict and make better decisions. Perhaps the family member who wronged you was also wronged; and while this does not make their behaviors right, a deeper understanding can make you feel and think differently about the situation. Then you may be able make decisions about family conflict from a place of peace.

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