As an ideal to work toward, the image of the perfect family can be inspiring. More often, though, it is dispiriting because it sets an impossible standard. Trying to be the perfect parent, partner, or child adds unnecessary pressure to our already complicated lives. It is no wonder that even the families we think are picture perfect experience conflict. Whether it is pressure we put on ourselves, or perceived pressure put on us by others, our daily struggles to live up to that ideal (or to intentionally resist it) limit our ability to simply be who we are and accept others for who they are.
Closeness (physical proximity as well as emotional attachment) and familiarity enable families to be loving and supportive, but they can also lead to conflicts. We don’t always feel the need to be as accommodating with family members as we might be with others who are more at arm’s length. We may feel that family has to accept us no matter what and as a result, we push the limits of what is acceptable. We may also hold unrealistic expectations of family members.
Certain factors can increase the likelihood of family conflict.
- Different values, priorities or expectations.
- Change in circumstances (e.g. having a new baby, children leaving home, losing a job, getting a new or more demanding job, health issues, divorce).
- Sibling Rivalry.
- Differing ideas of how to discipline children.
- Involvement of in-laws/extended family.
- Friendships outside the family.
- Money concerns.
- Daily stress (commitments, lack of time).
- Unmet or unrealistic expectations.
Conflict cannot be avoided entirely, but there are ways to manage it and even make it productive. Effective conflict resolution can enhance relationships. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Set boundaries. When disagreements arise, it is important to maintain a safe, productive space in which to discuss them. If emotions are high and voices are raised, for example, you may agree to postpone the conversation to give the parties a chance to calm down. Consider setting parameters, such as focusing on the current situation without bringing up past experiences.
- Listen. Active listening is key to resolving conflicts. When another person is talking, it is important to focus on what he is saying and to the feelings beyond the words, rather than on your rebuttal or other distractions.
- Shift your perspective. Separate the facts of what actually happened from your interpretation or emotional response to what happened. See the situation in a neutral light. Without the filter of hurt feelings, anger or fear, situations often become much more manageable.
- Be an example. Instead of trying to change someone else, show her by your own example how to respond more positively to a difficult situation.
- Remain open-minded. We all like to be right, but often being right gets in the way of resolution. Be willing to consider another point of view. Even if you can’t accept it, you can still treat the other person with respect.
- Seek outside, professional help when needed. Some conflicts are too big to handle on your own. Working with a professional counselor or therapist can keep conflicts from escalating and resolve them more quickly.