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Family Conflict Resolution

QUESTION: What are some principles of family conflict resolution?


A family can be compared to a four-wheeled cart where each of the wheels is free-wheeling. As long as all four wheels face front, the cart rolls along nice and smoothly. But if one of the wheels turns itself crossways to the other three, we have a problem. We have a family in conflict. That family is in need of some basic family conflict resolution skills.

The first thing to be done is to identify the problem. That’s very important. You can’t solve a problem unless you really know what it is. It involves talking to one another and listening to one another. Why does he come home from work angry all the time? What is she facing at work? What does he need at home? Why is she nagging all the time? Why is she unhappy? Take a piece of paper and write down all the reasons. It could be money problems. It could be fatigue. It could be the neighbors, in-laws, aging parents, illness, or the kids. What do these problems make you feel like? Write down un-met needs and wants. The process of writing helps diffuse anger and frustration. It helps a person to think rationally.

After both partners have identified the problem, the second step is to practice the art of mirror listening. It is sometimes called reflective listening. This is a valuable skill to acquire. When your spouse shares his thoughts with you, either verbally or reading from a list, before you counter back with what’s on your mind say something like this. “So when _______ happens, it makes you feel like ______. (Add your own sentence to fill in the blanks.) Am I understanding you correctly?” You are reflecting back to make sure you have understood. Your spouse can then agree or add more explanations. Without understanding the other person’s point of view, no negotiation is possible.

After both partners have identified what is bothering them, it is time to move on to next step of family conflict resolution. It is time to make a plan. How are we jointly going to master this problem? What are our goals for a good outcome? If we can’t reach our goals immediately what are the in-between steps? Both partners are now focused on solving a problem, not battling each other. There will inevitably be give and take.

If it is a money problem, budgeting and spending habits need to be addressed. There are organizations and institutions out there to offer help if needed.

If the problem is with the kids, particularly with younger kids, one of the best things to do is to have an established routine and stick with it. That includes bedtimes, mealtimes, playtimes. Children really want parameters of expected behavior. They want to know what is expected of them. It helps them to grow and mature. For very young children it may sometimes be necessary to take their hand and with their hand “help” them to pick up their toys.

After the problem has been identified, and a plan to solve it has been created, the next logical step in family conflict resolution is to work the plan. Just talking solves nothing. It may involve making a contract with one another, on paper or with a handshake. I will faithfully do this, while the partner will faithfully do that. One family may decide that the wife will process all the bills. In another family it will be the husband’s job.

Older children respond well to the contract approach. In one family I know, allowances were faithfully given when the child meet the requirements of his chore contract.

Your family cart, with all the members in it, is traveling in unison once again.

Learn More About Managing Marriage Conflict!

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