Posts Tagged ‘family conflict’

It’s weird, but sometimes the people we love the most we hate the most.  We don’t really hate them, but we sometimes have the strongest negative emotions that we have ever felt, toward them. At a moment of conflict, it feels like hate.

This is something we don’t want to admit. It sounds wrong, but really it’s quite normal. Feelings of love and hate live closer to each other than we may want to admit. We act the dance between the two out. We yell at a spouse or child, criticizing them for something they did or didn’t do, or we simmer inside, silently furious that they have neglected or hurt us, but afraid of our own emotions and afraid of conflict. And yet at the same time, we know we profoundly love them and are committed to them.

Why do we sometimes feel so strongly against those we love? There is so much at stake. Close, family relationships have a huge impact on identity, who we are or think we are. In these relationships we gain a deep sense of worth, and that this can be enhanced or damaged by the loved person. Family relationships also control us, adding to or limiting what we get from life in the crucial areas of money, sex and power. Either gain or loss of what we need amp up our emotions and stir fires of deep calm or anger in us.

We may conflict in a casual relationship without much consequence, but we know that a fight with a spouse or child matters. Our feelings in these relationships flash on brightly, like red lights at busy intersections at night.

What do we do with these feelings? We should honor them, we should accept them, we do best to lean into them. They help us. They are our friends. They tell us that we care. They tell us that these relationships matter. They are normal, and we normalize them by not denying them. And we honor them by acting on them; yes, we act on them by having the needed talk, by working out the needed negotiation, by giving time to process these valuable feelings.

This is life. Feel. You  love. Feel. You  matter. Feel. You have relationships that are important enough to fight for, to care for, to resolve.

Feel. You are alive!

Fight Fair

Posted: February 4, 2010 in family
Tags: , ,

“We had a fight last night.”  Few families haven’t said that.

Most of us do verbal battle in our families, often at night when we are all home, and all tired. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A certain degree of conflict is normal, even healthy! Conflict is needed to set things right when they have gone wrong.

My wife has confronted me several times in our marriage over spending too much time at work. As a result, we’ve made more space to be with each other more, to do more fun things together. Lately we’ve been walking together on the days we have off together.  Conflict, if resolved well, can bring about new peace and order in the family.

But how we will fight, now that is worth thinking about, because if we don’t fight well, in fair and productive ways, we can cause a lot of damage and even eventually ruin our relationships. Early in my marriage, I said somethings my wife still remembers thirty years later. I wish I had been able to control my mouth better.

What do families commonly fight over? They fight over significant issues of power and control in important areas of life:  money, in-laws, sex, children, homework, housework, jobs and friends. The underlying psychological reasons include our desire and need to control our lives, our instinctive drive to get our own needs met and the normal competition over the emotional and financial resources available.

In my family we have sometimes fought over how to discipline the children. Sometimes one of us has wanted to be tough on an issue and the other has wanted to be relaxed, to let things go. It’s classic; it’s the old war between the obeying the rules or relaxing and having fun, between having strict in discipline or creating a relaxed, easy going atmosphere. The truth is we need both in the family. Too much just-leave-them-alone and you get chaos and rebellion; too much hammering of the policy and the bedroom turns into a military barracks.

As a result it’s good to scrap about discipline once in a while, and to come to some middle ground between the police academy and an unspervised grade school playground.

Whatever the outcome, conflict should not be seen as something to avoid. The good family is not the family that never fights, but the one that knows how to fight in fair, appropriate ways. 

Here are a few rules for fighting. You’ll recognize some of these. They are borrowed, currently part of the common language and knowledge of good conflict resolution.

 1. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. The goal is to “Get it,” to really listen in such a way that you can truly understand how the other person feels and what they think.

2. Go for win-win outcome. That means you come to a solution both parties can live with.  Avoid win-lose solutions, where someone dominates the others. To help, remember that you are fighting for your relationship, not for a personal victory.

 3. Stay under control. Be kind.  Work hard not to be abusive, mean, cold, hard, inflexible. Giving full vent to your anger can cause a lot of damage.

 4. Give people space and time to process possible solutions if they want or need that. It’s great to work things out on the spot, before you go to bed, before it can build up. But sometimes, other people just need time to cool down and think a little. In that space they may even self-correct.

 5. Stick to the point. Avoid bringing in a bunch of other unresolved issues, and avoid personally attacking the character of the person you are disputing with.

 6.  Support your spouse in front of your kids. If you don’t agree with your spouse, set aside some space and time to talk it through later. Parents who are united can do a super job of dealing with kid issues.

 7. Avoid arguing late in the evening, when you are tired, when you have the least control.

 8. Ask for forgiveness, and be willing to forgive.

One of the most obvious things about the people in your family is that some of them are quite different from you. 

Take the issue of how we process time. We process it differently. Some are speedy thinkers, quick with a response, quick to want to suggest solutions, quick to want to make up after a fight. Others are deliberate processors, slow to know what they feel, in need of time to  make a decision.

One of my daughters processes things over time. Recently we got in an argument over what movie to watch. I pushed; she got upset. It was a bit of a mess.

When the deliberate processors meet the fast processors over an issue, watch out. The quick tend to bulldoze the slow; the  slow tend to stall the quick.

The solution? In the family, it is wise to allow for differences without judging and stigmatizing the way the people we live with process things. The quick can say, “Hey, take a little time and get back to me on what you think.” The slow can say, “It’s good that you want to resolve this now. Let’s see if we can talk it out. What do you think we should do?”

The secret is to honor the other persons process and to negotiate in a way that works for both people. On the movie issue, my daughter and I gave it some time. We came to an agreeement.

Often the differences in our families show up in our likes and dislikes. Some like sports; some like to read. Some like to hike; some like to watch TV. Again it is so easy to be threatened by differences.  If we aren’t atheletic, could it be that atheletic people make us feel clutsy? If we aren’t smart and bookish, perhaps the literary nerds make us feel ignorant.

I like to watch football. My wife doesn’t. She graciously gives me space to do this. And she doesn’t just tolerate it; she supports me in it. Recently I invited a friend over to watch a playoff game with me. My wife called my friend’s wife, and they took a walk during the game.

The solution to our different likes? Again, it is to allow for differences without judging each other. Who wants a family full of rules and reactions that keep people from enjoying what they really love to do? By giving space for others to do what they want, we allow them to be happy and fulfilled. And furthermore, if we will participate in each others likes, we can expand our interests and become increasingly enriched people.

Giving a spouse or child a chance to pursue their passion is a way of serving and deeply loving them. The I-want-you-to-be-able-to-do-what-you-want response is at the core of what it means to love another person.

Differences between us can threaten or enrich;  it’s mostly our choice.