How many people like conflict? I think I can safely say that no one does. But when it comes to relationships, conflict is inevitable. This is especially true within our families. In an earlier post I wrote about effectively coping with conflict. Now I’d like to put a special focus on resolving conflict between family members. I know that there’s a question that’s popping up inside everyone’s heads. What’s the difference between the two? Coping is just merely making it through the moment without any sort of change or expectation to change. Resolution is about taking care of an issue and making the necessary changes in order for the situation to get better. I think should add the caveat that complete resolution is not always possible, but it doesn’t excuse us from trying to make it happen.
1. Don’t try to resolve an issue while people are still really angry or emotional. Have you ever tried to reason with a person while they are overly emotional? I think we can all agree that when someone is really angry, there is no getting through to them. That’s why if you’re trying to resolve an issue, it’s important to do so while everyone is calm and reasonable. This also reduces the chances of hurtful things being said in moments of pure anger.
2. Be willing to admit when you are wrong. This point may be a tough pill to swallow because we all want to be right about something. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I can guarantee you that you will not always be right in every situation. Be willing to admit when you are wrong can carry you a long way in your relationships.
3. Do your part to repair what was broken. This is where the proverbial “rubber meets the road.” It’s one thing to admit when you are wrong. It’s another thing entirely to take responsibility for what happened and try to make amends for what happened. Let me add the point of you can only do your part. Relationships involve both people doing their part to repair the damage.
4. Give a little in order to get a little. It’s a hard rule in relationships that we can’t have our way all the time. This means that both parties must give a little in order to maintain the health of the relationship overall. There are some things that you should not give on in terms of personal boundaries, and it is important to communicate that with the person you are trying to reconcile with. It is also important to communicate what you are willing to do to maintain the health of the relationship as a whole.
5. Work to resolve an issue, not win a fight. We often go into conflict with the intent to win. As a therapist, I often find myself in the middle of a huge fight between parent and child or husband and wife. And both sides want one thing and one thing only: to win at all costs. This desire often leaves no winner in its wake. Instead, both sides are wounded and it makes resolution even more difficult to achieve. Whenever there is conflict, it is important to face it with the mindset of trying to resolve the issue instead of making the other side squirm or yield. A mindset of resolution often involves using a calm tone, coming up with ideas, and a willing attitude when it comes to making changes.
6. Don’t allow yourself to get sucked into a useless fight. Here’s what I mean by useless fight. If you find yourself calling each other names, getting into a shouting match, or saying things that you’ll know that you’ll regret, then you are getting involved in a useless argument. The goal of an argument is to resolve an issue, not bludgeon each other with our words or emotions. If things are getting to that point, then it might be a good time to call for a break.
7. If the issue is in the past, leave it there and don’t bring it back up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard family members use this rather dirty tactic in order to make their loved ones feel guilty or do what they want. I find that this tactic does not change anything. In fact, I would say that this builds up anger and resentment between family members. A way to counteract this is to turn our attention onto the present issue. Leaving the past in the past is an essential component to our overall relational health.
Conflict resolution is not an easy skill to master or even apply to our daily lives. Before we start complaining about how hard this skill may be, we must first be willing to ask ourselves this question. Are all of our relationships worth the trouble? I think we can all venture to say that, yes, they are worth whatever we go through if they remain healthy and a source of support for us.