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Family disputes: How to deal with conflict?

The family brings together members who are very different from each other. Don't we say that we choose our friends but rarely our family? Here are some tips on how to prevent and manage family disputes.

Family disputes: psychological causes

Blood ties do not necessarily mean harmony between family members. When you meet your family, frustrations, irrational behaviour or hurts may resurface. In fact, within the family, everyone carries with them both the child they were and the adult they have become.

Many complex feelings can then resurface, triggering any suffering linked to childhood. Among them, the roles attributed to each person (in a sibling, for example) can leave indelible traces by remaining unresolved: one was the "difficult" one, the other the "privileged fragile child", etc. In the event of an objective conflict, whether minor or major, whether it concerns the division of household chores or the distribution of an inheritance, these family patterns complicate the situation and prevent it from being resolved in a fair and serene manner.

The timeless imprints left on the psyche (built up from an early age) can lead, years later, to sudden irritations, temporary rage and settling of scores.

Conflicts in the family: blame and unspoken words

Childhood wounds are completely subjective. Faced with the same situation, members of the same family may react differently, retaining diametrically opposed memories. This factor sometimes makes dialogue impossible because each person has his or her own version of things and sometimes refuses to listen to the other.

This can be experienced as a challenge or a denial of feeling. In this context, reproaches towards siblings or parents, for example, may arise. Expressing them is often a necessity, of the order of liberation. Expressing them to the persons concerned is constructive, as long as the tone is not aggressive or vindictive. This can lead to a discussion in which everyone has the opportunity to explain themselves.

In this way, some of the suffering can be alleviated through acceptance or forgiveness.

Family disputes: How to deal with conflict?

Some situations are particularly prone to conflict, especially when they are related to money: gifts, inheritances, decisions about the sale of a house or a plot of land, etc. In fact, it is common for some people to feel wronged, dispossessed or disadvantaged. In the event of opposition between several family members, it is not uncommon for the people around them to decide to take sides, either explicitly or tacitly. Sometimes the situation quickly escalates until dialogue becomes impossible.

If this is the case, family mediation may be a good option. The mediator is a qualified and impartial third party whose role is to facilitate a satisfactory agreement for all parties involved. The mediator will be the interlocutor for each of the family members. Family members can then view the situation with less anger or tension. The presence of an outsider helps to calm the situation and partly prevents aggressive, excessive or immature behaviour.

On the other hand, all members must agree to the use of mediation, as it is based on the free consent of each party. In case of a family dispute, it can be difficult to bring everyone together with a professional.

Restoring dialogue after a family dispute

After a long or violent argument, everyone involved feels helpless. Taking a step back from the conflict is often necessary at first. Everyone needs time to reflect on what has been said and to distinguish between words spoken in anger and real arguments.

In the vast majority of cases, it is best to accept, put aside the rancour and work towards reconciliation between family members. This can be done by gradually re-establishing contact and possibly organising an event where all family members can meet again. Transparency is essential, especially in a conflict where more than two people have been involved. Therefore, if one of the members gives you explanations, suggest that he or she does so with each of those involved, so that everyone has the same information (and especially that it comes from the same source). Rumours tend to distort what is said.

Family disputes are relatively inevitable because everyone has their own affections, traumas and opinions. Sometimes they are necessary, especially if they allow people to speak freely. Overcoming family disputes means developing a calmer climate and setting a good example for your children.

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