It’s hard to avoid the nonstop news stories and interviews with Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and the release of his new book, Spare. From royal family infighting to disagreements over bridesmaid dresses to feelings about one’s new stepmother, we can all relate on some level, especially on the heels of the holidays.
Conflict resolution is tough in family relationships especially since many of us never learned concrete conflict resolution skills or even effective communication skills within our family life growing up which adds to the causes of family conflict.
Before airing your family’s dirty laundry, consider your options. Using concrete and healthy ways to help resolve and even prevent family conflict before it’s too late and rifts are so deep there’s no going back is often the way to go. Hurt feelings, sibling rivalry, different viewpoints all can cause rifts with loved ones.
According to the Cornell Family Reconciliation Project research, more than a quarter of Americans (27%) are currently estranged from a close relative which translates to approximately 68 million Americans. No one wants that for their family so we’ve pulled together the following tips to help prevent and resolve family conflicts in a constructive way. Some may work for you and some may not but taking a step back and reframing a situation when tensions have cooled can often make a world of difference.
Tips to prevent conflict before it happens:
- Identify what you can and can’t control: When you know a family gathering is coming up, prepare in advance by going over the patterns of discussions or arguments that tend to crop up. A big key to preventing and resolving conflict is understanding what you can and can’t control. You may not be able to control your family member but you have total control over your reaction to that family member which can make a difference and preserve your mental health.
- Instead of blowing up, reframe what’s being said: Instead of getting angry, if you feel you’re being accused of or blamed for something first, take a breath and calm down. They say, “There may be some truth to that,” or “I hadn’t thought of it that way but I see your viewpoint.” This can diffuse a conflict quickly. Obviously, you don’t want to be a doormat but by stepping into the other person’s point of view you can often see why a comment is being made.
Tips to resolve conflict after it happens:
- Suggest meeting with the individual: This is suggested if both of you are willing to meet and discuss your issues in a calm manner. This way you can try and resolve the conflict and move forward instead of allowing it to fester.
- If you’re in the wrong, apologize: A sincere apology is always the best route after a conflict. Own what you did and apologize with no caveats and state in a concrete way that it won’t happen again.
- Forgive and forget: Sometimes you’ll never see eye to eye and holding onto anger is destructive so consider forgiving and forgetting and moving forward. Keep in mind if what happened was abusive then you have every right to cut that person out of contact with your or seriously limit your contact with them.
The following tips for further reconciliation are provided by the Cornell Family Reconciliation Project:
- Decide to reconcile for yourself—weigh the benefits to your own health and well-being including not regretting it later on.
- Abandon the need for an apology—remember there are always two sides to every story, let go of the need to be right and assign blame.
- Consider your role in the rift—reflect on the situation from their perspective.
- Change your expectations—don’t set unrealistic expectations for the relationship going forward, determine what is the least you can accept.
- Focus on the future—forget the past and focus on building a new future, setting boundaries and clear terms as needed.
- Create a plan—seek the assistance of trained professionals, such as therapists and mediators, to develop and implement a plan to initiate contact with your relative(s).
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