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Resolving Differences

Everyone disagrees sometimes, and arguments in families are part of life. However, ongoing arguments and tension can be stressful and overwhelming.

When families argue, tempers can fray, hurtful comments may be made and sometimes people may even become aggressive or violent.

If there is aggression or violence in your family, you need to take steps to change this. Find places to get help for dealing with family violence at Getting Help, or you can call 911 for immediate help at any time if someone is being violent and you feel threatened. You should also seek help if differences in your family are becoming overwhelming for you, or any other family member.

When disagreements occur, there are some things you can do to “fight fair” – helping to reduce conflict and bringing about a peaceful result – even if the final outcome is a compromise or agreeing to disagree.

Typical causes of conflict

  • Different opinions and/or values
  • Misunderstandings or miscommunications
  • Jumping to conclusions
  • Feeling like you are being disrespected
  • Feeling like you are not being heard
  • Family changes – divorce, separation, new baby, moving to a new place
  • Expectations and pressures – money, responsibilities, jobs, disagreements on parenting or other issues
  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse

Take a few minutes to think about what causes most of the conflict in your family’s situation. Is it one of the causes listed above – or is it a different issue?

Keep in mind the members of your family might feel pressures and stresses that are not related to you. At times, life’s challenges can cause everybody to feel stressed. These stresses can affect how people act, how they talk and how they treat others. At times, it may seem that families take out their stress on each other.

Getting along

  • Remember that no one is easy to live with all the time.
  • People can’t always get their own way – even adults who typically set the rules in the house.
  • Communicating means both talking and listening.
  • Different opinions aren’t necessarily bad – different can be good, so long as people are respectful of differences.
  • Many kids and teens explore new opinions and tastes as part of growing up.
  • Sometimes agreeing to disagree is the best outcome. This means ending an argument when it’s clear that no one is going to “win.”
  • Remember that “winning” arguments doesn’t always matter – people can have different opinions, like supporting different teams or liking different music.
  • Try to pick a good time to talk with your family – avoid bringing up issues at the last minute or when people are busy or have other things they have to do.
  • Everyone should be respectful – try not to make hurtful personal comments.
  • Try to stay calm. If family members can’t stay calm during a discussion, ask them to try again at another, agreed upon time.

Effective Communication

  • Take a break from the problem or discussion if it is getting too heated – agree to come back and discuss at another time.
  • Try to find a time when people aren’t already tired, stressed or too upset to talk.
  • Put aside distractions such as phones, TVs or computers – stay focused on the issue and it will be resolved faster.
  • Model the behavior you wish to see in family communication – take turns talking and listening, keep language respectful and don’t walk away in the middle of the discussion.
  • Be willing to find a compromise.
  • Be honest.
  • Communicate in a non-harmful manner.

During disagreements, it’s often helpful to say how you feel. For example, try to say “I feel disrespected when you don’t follow the rules” rather than “you don’t care about my rules!” The other person has a better chance of understanding what you’re trying to say if you refer to specific feelings.

Create a Family Contract

It can be helpful to draw up an agreement or contract to make sure everyone understands the arrangements and the outcomes of certain actions, for example, grounding teens if curfew is broken or school is skipped.

Important things to know about contracts – everyone should understand:

  • The rules set out in the contract.
  • What is expected of each person.
  • What will happen if the contract or expectations aren’t kept.
  • When is the contract over.

Contracts should be reviewed at pre-scheduled dates and revisions should be made as needed.

There is lots of good information on the web about communicating and building good relationships – check out the Links and Resources section for more information.

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