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Family conflict

Taking the middle path with families

Relationship. One word that brings to mind love, laughter, tears, fun, and jeers. But where there’s love, there’s also conflict. Conflict is almost intrinsic to relationships. Despite all the love, we often argue and fight in several of our relationships—especially those within our families. Even the art of storytelling uses it as a popular central motif. Fairy tales and mythologies have time and again demonstrated this recurring theme. For instance, Cinderella and Snow White had evil stepmothers; the Hindu epic Mahabharata saw the great war between the cousins Kauravas and Pandavas; the Norse gods Loki and Thor could never see eye-to-eye.

However, renouncing a legacy or waging a huge war might not be the wisest thing to do today. So, how do we diffuse tense family conflicts? Let’s find out.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a relatively new approach to teach people how to best regulate their emotions and reduce conflict within families. Dialectical essentially means that two extreme opposites can be true; that there is more than one way to see a situation or to find a possible solution. The opposite of dialectical, would be, seeing things as all or none, or believing that there is only one right way. When we walk the middle path between these two, we change our attitude to the situations we encounter. This change encourages us to be more flexible and approachable to others, which results in fewer disagreements and conflicts. It can also help us avoid making assumptions and blaming others.

Nip the misunderstandings in the bud

Imagine this: At a family gathering, skeletons get dragged out of the closet. Issues that were considered insignificant before, suddenly stare you in the face.

This can happen when people carry baggage from the past. Maybe, if we let each other vent out our feelings—hopefully privately—an impending scene might be avoided. Initiate a dialogue and nip all misunderstandings in the bud before things get out of hand.

Don’t let it take over

Consider this: Someone in your family has scratched your car in an accident and is not ready to accept it. Maybe they are afraid or maybe they don’t want to pay for the damages. Either way, you are furious and are minutes away from blasting them off.

While the anger and frustration you feel in the given situation are valid, what the person is doing by not taking up the responsibility for their actions is sheer disrespectful. But, if you let this issue into your relationship, it will change your equation with them forever. It is important you keep the problem separate from your relationship, otherwise, you risk having the conflict overtake your life. When two people are at odds, they sometimes say and do all sorts of irrational things, project, deny and shift blame. Handling such individuals and situations with calmness and rationality helps save relationships.

While people might do this to seek attention at times, more often than not it is simply a difference of opinion. The trick here is to let it slide.


Don’t discuss when distressed

Think about this: A regular family dinner has suddenly turned into an aggressive scene straight out of a TV family drama. People who were happily enjoying their food minutes ago are now arguing and yelling at each other for issues old and new.

While problems with the family members can be painful, especially when least expected, it is important to approach such situations rationally. Try keeping the argument from escalating and wait till everyone has calmed down. Do whatever you can to not let it escalate further. Discussing issues when you are still feeling emotional is a bad idea. Wait for the intensity of the emotion to subside and then talk about it. The time you spend not discussing it will allow you to revisit the incident logically. All you need to do is step back and think before approaching the matter again. Approaching someone when you are still feeling angry can heighten the intensity of your emotions around an already hard situation. There’s no reason you can’t wait to make your point tomorrow, so control your instant impulse.

Hold back a retort

Picture this: It’s been a long, tiring day, and all you need is 15 minutes of solitude. Someone starts lecturing you on work-life balance, most likely with a good intention. However, the timing is not right and you’re about to snap.

One way to diffuse the situation is to hold back a retort. Instead, calmly let them know that you are extremely tired and will be happy to have this discussion later. When the person sees there is no negative reaction from your side, they will back off too. There are times when you are at the end of your rope and conflict is likely to arise, but on other days it can be avoided.

Let it slide

Here’s another scenario: Some in your family do not appreciate your life choices—often citing your pets or your travel expenses as examples. You keep overhearing gossip about yourself from someone or the other.

While people might do this to seek attention at times, more often than not it is simply a difference of opinion. The trick here is to let it slide. Sometimes, an altercation or dragging a conversation can actually blow things out of proportion.

Whether you like it or not your family is part of you and you are part of them. It is always easier to give up on people, but when we do that, we give up on much more. We give up on our memories, our identity, and the warmth of having a family.

So, don’t quit on your family, because they certainly won’t.

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