Everyone experiences family conflict whether it involves fighting verbally with each other or by remaining silent and retaining frustrations and challenges internally. Occasional friction and opposition are a normal part of family life.
Why do Families Fight?
Unspoken expectations often resemble perfect fairy tale families who unconditionally love each other and always get along. The truth is that all families have built-in-differences across the board. Family members typically differ in:
- Marital status
- Personality (i.e. introversion, extraversion, competitive, laid back, sensitive, etc.)
- And much more …
Toss in the dynamics of a blended family (divorce, remarriage, stepfather/stepmother/stepchildren) and family challenges typically expand from there.
Emotions tend to run higher when we are in the presence of close family members, and with those that we don’t get along with we can feel forced into the intimacy of family settings which can increase stress levels and anxiety.
Our feelings feel raw and vulnerable with family because, compared to close friends with no complicated ties that we may feel obligated to, friends typically share and respect our values, achievements, opinions, and space, while families have differences at the foundation. It is common to feel that close friends are easier to get along with and respect us more than family members do.
So how do we break through family tension and stop fighting?
Communication Skills and Listening
First and foremost - agree to listen to each other. This means no talking over one another, and no avoidance of conversations, except for topics that your family has agreed are off-limits (and held for a later time once the family is ready). Listening is caring. Listening is the most important aspect of good communication.
Pause and show that you are listening even if you don’t agree. This means listening without a pretense of what someone is going to say and without the intention of interjecting what you have to say before or as soon as the other person is finished talking. Pause and consider what the other person is saying at the moment, and then acknowledge what they had to say before you speak for yourself.
Respect and Empathy
Don’t try to change difficult people. Accept them as they are.
Allow and encourage the freedom for each family member to express themself even if they are a person tough to communicate with.
Difficult people often feel judged. They feel misunderstood, whether you believe their reasons are valid or not. You may not understand their “why,” but each family member must be allowed to communicate without interruption and judgment.
Seek to understand and have empathy for others. Develop a sense of curiosity and ask questions to help you gain an understanding of even the most difficult family member. Consider expressing empathy and bolster open communication by asking, “I imagine this is how you feel … (describe it). Is that how you feel?”
Showing respect and empathy to people, especially when differences are obvious, can go a long way towards soothing and resolving conflict.
Allow Space and Set Boundaries
Boundary setting works well in eliminating fighting and for calming nerves.
Have you experienced tense moments filled with feelings of anger, frustration, sadness, etc. and the only thing that helped you find resolve was time away from the circumstances? Time away can be time by yourself in another room, exercising, reading, or visiting a friend – whatever works for you.
Allow others to be in their own space as well. Avoid adding fire to the fight. If someone needs space to think, allow that to happen.
Protect your boundaries by setting guidelines of what you will and will not allow in a conversation. Examples of conversation boundaries: you don’t allow profanity, screaming, manipulative verbiage like “You are crazy,” “You imagined that,” or, “You are lying.”
At a time when your family is calm, discuss and agree upon specific boundaries. For example, you agree to step away from arguments that have accelerated beyond conflict resolution, you agree to allow and honor personal space if a conflict arises.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Remain as neutral as possible.
It may feel far-reaching for you to be the one that does not sway in one direction or the other, but when you choose to remain neutral – in the middle of the road - you exhibit a sense of dignity and respect for others, which can be catching! You set the example for others to follow.
Know that conflict might not be about you as a person, so don’t take it personally. This means, remove your personal feelings from the equation. People choose their own behaviors, and this often results from emotions that have nothing to do with you.
Collaborate to Get Along
Calling a family meeting to join forces and discuss ways to stop the fighting may help to strengthen your family’s foundation. Work together to identify differences, improve communication skills, agree to respect others, and set boundaries.
Start the conversation with a focus on you. Consider saying, “This effort starts with me. I will not focus on trivial things. Conflict happens. I am focused on respecting each family member and working on my communication skills first – including listening.”
Seek support with close family or friends, but if you feel unsafe or if the problem feels massive, as if you cannot resolve it on your own, please pursue additional help. We can help.
At the Family Guidance & Therapy Center, we serve the whole family with therapy designed to help you get the most out of your relationships.
There is no way to quantify your love for your loved ones. We are here for you so that your family stays strong. We are supportive of your values and determined to help each member of your family grow.
There are three easy ways to make an appointment with us, online, call 619-600-0683, or text 619-607-1230.