On the day we burst into the world for the first time, we arrive into a family. We have no say over who these people are and we know nothing of their history or their hopes- for us, themselves or the family unit. Yet, we belong to each other.
This family WILL grow and change over time. Whether this happens because siblings are added, couples part ways, new relationships form and more family members are brought into the fold- the one thing you can count on is change.
Whether you like it or not, you’re connected to your family now and forever. Initially, this connection may be forged by blood, but it will quickly evolve to become about belonging, acceptance, respect, sharing in each other’s joy, supporting each other through hardship, loving and being loved in return.
Every family, though, even where love is present, experiences some disagreements or differences of opinion that can result in tension, at best, and family fractures, at worst.
So how can we nip these problems in the bud before rupture entire families?
If you’re stuck in the middle of a family dispute, try using the tips below to help end or overcome the conflict.
Take time out
Emotions run hot in family disagreements and if you’ve only recently had a serious argument with somebody in your family then the first thing you might need to do is take a little bit of time out. Of course, this is trickier if you live under the same roof as the person you are quarrelling with, but you can still take time out by going for a walk (even if it may mean having to take the pram), having a bath, reading a book in another room, even hanging out washing or weeding the garden can make for a therapeutic escape from a heated argument.
Do whatever you need to do, in order to extricate yourself from the space where emotions are boiling over, until you feel like you can have a discussion where you can speak calmly, but also listen open-mindedly.
With that said, if you are in a situation where you haven’t been speaking to a person, you’ll still need to adhere to the next point…
Put aside your differences for the moments that matter
Molehills can quickly morph into mountains if you let conflicts interfere with significant occasions and times of need. No matter what kind of stand-off you may be in, continue to show up for birthdays and celebrations, funerals and other times of need. Missing key occasions will only add fuel to the fire and possibly also leave you with some serious regrets. Put your pride to the side and (whether or not you’re able to resolve your dispute) your family members will remember that you were there when it mattered most. Just be sure not to use these times to work through your conflict.
Skip the silent treatment
Taking time out to cool off is one thing, dodging someone’s phone calls for months is another. Nothing has even been properly resolved by sweeping it under the rug so ditch the silent treatment and focus on communicating more effectively. More on that below.
Own your part
There’s no denying that it takes two to tango. A dispute where neither family member is prepared to admit fault will only end in an ugly stand-off. If your end goal is repairing your relationship, then you may need to lose the battle to win the war. Initially, this requires re-examining your own behaviour and the weight you are giving to the issues that are creating friction. Are they really more important than maintaining a relationship with this person?
Then, you’ll need to make a concerted effort to see and speak about both sides of the argument. By acknowledging and verbalising both sides of the argument, you’ll remove the pressure for the other person to continually push only their point of view, which is the beginning of a more even and open-minded discussion.
If you’re remorseful or regretful for something you did/didn’t do, express this and make your intentions to improve clear by stating them explicitly and backing them up with an actionable and measurable plan.
Focus on the problem, not the person
Try to separate your relationship from the dilemma at hand rather than dredging up history or making personal attacks. Avoid focusing a disagreement on someone’s character, as they will feel attacked and consequently respond defensively, the issue will be obscured and you’ll achieve nothing.
If you’ve ventured into territory where you’ve begun saying “you always…” or “you never…” then you’re heading down a path that won’t lead to positive conflict resolution. You can attempt to reframe the problem by saying “I feel [insert emotion] when [XYZ happens].”
Give it MORE time
If you’ve tried all of the above and the other party is still unable to work through the conflict with you in a reasonable and mature manner. You may need to give it more time before working through the above steps again. Just because you’re ready to repair the relationship doesn’t mean your family member feels the same way.
Set some boundaries
There may be times when your best-case scenario is maintaining a civil and somewhat distanced relationship with a family member with whom you just can’t see eye-to-eye. Maybe they are too set in their ways to ever see both sides of an argument, or they can’t or won’t change for cultural reasons.
In such cases, the first step is to accept the new form the relationship will take. It is recommended that you enforce boundaries about the treatment you are willing to accept and the amount of time you are prepared to give to this difficult (and likely draining) relationship. Avoid engaging if they attempt to provoke you and remind yourself that their perception doesn’t align with your reality and shouldn’t have any bearing on your self-image.
“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” – Elizabeth Jane Howard
We all need our families, and we wish you luck reconciling with yours.