Family conflicts are often the source of problems both individually and as partners. Too often in couples therapy serious difficulties appear within family relationships, both as an individual and as a unit. We must learn to deal with these conflicts to avoid being too much affected.
Why is that?
Most of the time, past histories and unresolved incidents come into play. For example, resentment lingers about the times parents didn’t deal with certain things, or when one person has had to act as a nurse but doesn’t feel they have had enough recognition, etc.
There may be situations that wouldn’t matter so much if they weren’t part of repetitive behaviour patterns – for example “Always sticking their nose into our business, or “Always talking about me in a passive-aggressive negative way.”
At other times, one can feel family pressure to be silent or to tolerate certain situations, which can cause feelings of resentment to build up, leading to falsely cordial or toxic relationships. For example people will say things such as “this is not worth discussing”, but feel differently underneath.
There are also conflicts caused by relationship such as the desire for revenge or domination. For example, in situations of emotional dependence or one partner dominating another, people try to manipulation situations to detach the other partner from their family by raising obstacles to family get-togethers and promoting their own need for the partner.
Reasons are not often lacking when it comes to relationship and family conflicts, but the important thing is knowing how to handle them.
What can we do to cope with family conflicts?
The starting place is to assume that it is difficult for different people with different personalities, environments and education to live easily together – and this is usually what happens when families are mixed.
It is not necessary to have to agree on everything, and in fact, disagreement must generally be accepted to avoid conflict.
We are all educated within our families with their values, their routines and their understanding of relationships. There is no “correct” or “right” model, and partners must accept those differences.
The goal should never be "to win” because family issues and conflicts make us all losers when they become a competition.
Empathy is an essential quality in human relationships. When we put ourselves in the place of others, that enables us to understand how they feel. If it is important for us to be with our parents and siblings, and we are willing to tolerate our differences, we can be sure it's also important for our partner.
It’s usually a good system to set limits early on. Don’t wait for time to pass; talk with respect about what bothers us so we can all manage to interact civilly.
It is not healthy to be defensive and aware of everything others do or say. We all make mistakes errors in communication because something is interpreted wrongly without being what we intended to say.
Do not forget to talk in person. Making accusatory remarks much as “You didn’t worry about how I felt when I was ill,” is a different thing to “It hurt me that you didn’t call when I was ill, because I was expecting you would.” The first statement is an accusation that invites rebuttal; the second expresses feelings – and nobody can argue with how you feel.
Finally, if you still believe that relations are so damaged that you cannot tolerate them, you can avoid contact – but never use blackmail or force a partner to make a choice. The best thing is to just accept that it is better for all that you should stay a little apart from family gatherings, while your partner continues to interact where they want to.
If you have specific questions about how to act in a particular situation with a dominant or manipulative parent or troubled family members, do not forget to send your question to JustAnswer’s Relationship Experts. We're here to help, 24 hours a day. Ask a Question.