We all get angry, even furious, from time to time, especially about conflicts at home. Conflict and anger are natural parts of family life. But how you handle them makes all the difference in having good relationships with loved ones.
Issues like money and chores may be at the root of family conflicts. But the way you resolve these issues has a big impact on how your children will react to adversity in the future. Resolve a conflict in a calm and respectful fashion, and your children will likely follow your example. But if you tend to yell, blame, whine, or ridicule your partner or children, you may see the same behavior in your kids.
Families have multiple sources of conflict in their lives. Sometimes, parents disagree about how to raise their children, how to divide housework, or how money should be spent. Other times, heated arguments break out between children that can involve the whole family.
It’s human nature to think that you are right in any argument and to want to get your way. But without looking for a solution that makes everyone feel included, you may find that small arguments escalate into much bigger ones. Unless you learn how to fight fair and resolve conflicts peacefully, disagreements can tear apart your family.
Fortunately, you can solve arguments in a number of ways without becoming angry and destructive. Remember that, despite your differences, you love and respect each other. The viewpoints of everyone in the family are worth hearing and need to be acknowledged.
The first step is for each family member to do his or her best to listen carefully to the others. Calmly try to clarify the differences in the argument, taking the time to say, “I’m not sure I understand. Do you mean—?”
Define the conflict and frame it so that it’s you and your partner or family vs. the problem, not you against your partner or children.
Once you understand the problem, you can start to work on a compromise that benefits everyone involved. People with jobs in conflict resolution call this a “win/win” solution, an agreement in which everyone is a victor.
If a problem bubbles up, make sure to get it resolved right away rather than letting it fester. Many couples, especially those with young children, may use their kids as an excuse for not resolving their problems with each other. They reason that the kids take up too much time and that they don’t need to focus on their relationship. This is untrue and can lead to problems down the road. Don’t let an unresolved conflict be a roadblock in your marriage or relationship.
Above all, avoid criticizing, being defensive, stonewalling, and acting with contempt. These are behaviors so dangerous that they are considered serious threats to marriage.
If a fight has grown too intense, it might be appropriate to take a time-out. Don’t forget about the argument entirely. Try to revisit this issue once everyone is calmer, when you’re in a better frame of mind to reach an agreement that meets all needs.
If you handle marital conflicts constructively, you give your kids a model for a healthy way to handle their own conflicts.
Kids may not yet be able to control their emotions, so physical outbursts are common. As a parent, you may need to intervene and tell your children calmly what you see. “It looks like you were angry that Billy took your toy, so you tried to hit him. What could you do to make him feel better?” This will give kids a way to talk about their feelings. Explain that it’s OK to be angry, but that they can’t hit. Experts advise never hitting, shaking, or spanking your children, or they’ll think that is an acceptable way to solve conflicts.
It’s also important to praise children when they are being helpful and cooperative. As they get older, you can create “natural consequences” for negative actions, like a loss of privileges, so they can learn appropriate ways to resolve their conflicts with their friends and siblings.