How Do You Solve the Heated Dilemmas of Family Life?

Let’s face it: living in peace and harmony in families can take all the expertise of a skilled conflict negotiator.

How you handle these issues in terms of discussion and resolution may depend on how anger and conflict was handled in your own family growing up.

Here are some different dilemmas encountered in families, all based on true stories, with the facts altered enough that no one should recognize themselves!

You make a promise to someone else without first checking with your spouse. Then you find out they have strong opinions on the matter.

You tell the dentist a funny little family story about something your daughter did (just making small talk with all that gunk in your mouth) and when you repeat the story to your daughter, she is aghast. “I’ll never tell you anything again!” she storms off.

A son moves back home after living away for two years. Out of a job, he at first invites his girlfriend to stay over. Dad says, “Wait a minute, not in this house!”

How do you mend these kinds of fences and barriers that spring up—or perhaps slowly grow and fester over many years?

Dilemmas like this represent different levels of family squabbles, and the tested methods of conflict resolution can help diffuse the anger, deal with the issue at hand, and move on.

The first dilemma (described above) could be a simple misunderstanding or misreading, and may involve backing off with the party you made the promise to. Sometimes this is easier than you could have hoped. Sometimes it may create ill will with your friend or relative. You can tell them you didn’t realize the stakes involved and should have checked with your spouse first. You apologize to the third party, offer to make it up to them another way, and live in harmony in your household. That’s one way. Or perhaps you ask your spouse to compromise.

When something you’ve done angers a family member and involves an outside person, you have to weigh several issues. Obviously you shouldn’t have shared your daughter’s story with the same dentist that she sees, but you’re sure the dentist will let it fly out her other ear: the small banter that dentists and hairstylists, with captive audiences, hear all day long. So you apologize to your daughter and convince her that the dentist will never remember what you said. You also make a mental reminder to tell your own peccadillos to the dentist, not your daughter’s.

The last issue is far tougher, involving at least four people: your opinion and moral stand on the matter, your spouse’s, your son, and his girlfriend. There may be more people involved if there are more kids in the house. How do you stand tough and offer welcoming love at the same time?

How you handle these issues in terms of discussion and resolution may depend on how anger and conflict was handled in your own family growing up. If your home had open, loud discussions about differences or infractions of family rules, you will likely expect that to be the norm in the home you and your spouse establish. My own father had strong opinions and expected rules of behavior. But when one of us lied or fought, we were expected to apologize, make peace, and even kiss each other (once). We were not accustomed to cursing or loud discussions (thank goodness) but sometimes maybe too much was left unsaid—swept under the carpet without real resolution. Sometimes openly expressing anger is healthier in the long run and less destructive for stress levels and emotions.

Cynthia Geisen is an RN who has also worked as a chaplain and counseled people in roles as an interim pastor and advocate for victims of domestic violence. She suggests these five steps to dealing with anger-producing situations in the family (which I’ve adapted here).

Take a deep breath. Cool off. Go for a walk. Then come back and work at the issue with a cooler head and lower blood pressure.

Try to put your finger on what is really making you so angry. In the case of your son moving in and his girlfriend staying over, is it the assumption that this would be okay? Is it him not talking with you about it first? Is it the fact that he doesn’t have a job?

Name your own feelings. Are you hurt? Disappointed? Aghast? Confused?

If there is an ongoing conflict between personalities in your family, look at your own role and attitude. Research and find ways to connect with those who grate on you the wrong way.

Finally, don’t be afraid to risk making the first move towards conciliation and a resolution that will work for everyone.

None of these ideas are right for every situation, but may offer some handles.

How does or did your family handle conflict historically? Open arguing? Hidden? How would you like to handle it with your own family?

For a free copy of a booklet by Cynthia Geisen, “Handling Anger as a Family,” write to Another Way, 1251 Virginia Avenue, Harrisonburg, VA 22802 or send your request to. You can also post responses and discussion on the Facebook page for “Another Way Newspaper Column.”

Posted 5/22/2014 7:00:00 AM

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