Monday, 15 September 2008

Family Conflict

Stuck in the Middle of a Family Conflict
One of my newsletter readers, Sally, has sent me an email asking for advice as to what to do if stuck in the middle of a longstanding family conflict between other family members, in this case her brother and a close cousin.

One way of approaching this kind of situation is to clarify what is within your control or influence and what is not. The ideal outcome you are likely to want is for the warring parties to learn to get on better, but this may not be within your control. If you feel that there is something you can do that will bring the parties closer together then you might try that out to see if it does help, but be aware that this may lead to accusations (which could be justified) that you are interfering or taking sides.
In some situations unfortunately the reality may be that there is not much you personally can do to resolve the situation because one or both of the parties concerned are not really willing to take steps to improve the relationship (from Sally’s initial email to me it sounds as if that may be the case in her situation).

If that is so, then it may be best to recognise and acknowledge that your ideal outcome is not within your control and to focus on what you can do to limit the potential negative impact on yourself. For example, if a situation might arise in which you find yourself in the company of both parties and you are worried about having to be there whilst they argue, consider what your options are. This might include:
  • Deciding not to attend at all, or if it is your own event then making arrangements so that the parties are not both likely to be situated close to each other at the event.
  • Explaining to each party that you don’t want to have to experience them arguing, asking them what they can do to avoid that happening and letting them know what you will do if they do argue – this might include, for example, you leaving the room or the event, if you don’t want to put up with it or listen to the argument.
  • Sometimes the more attention, conflicting parties get, the more they argue so as to prove their point. If that is so, then not giving them attention – or withdrawing your attention when they argue - may be more productive than seeking to get involved.
  • Once you have made your decision as to what you are going to do if they argue, stick to it unless there is a very good reason not to. If you do not carry through what you say you are going to do, then this may well send a message to other people that they can just continue with what they are doing.

    This is a complicated query, so what is suggested above is just one possible approach and different advice may apply to individual situations. Blog readers are invited to contribute their own ideas via the Comments link at the foot of this entry.
Blog Item Written by Life Coach David on 15 September 2008


  1. The title really hit home with me following a family argument last weekend. My brother works abroad and the argument was mainly with me but involved other family members. The key point that came out was that he had been harbouring grudges for many years but we never knew. Keeping the lines of communication open at all times can prevent this build up. Now I know what his problem is I can deal with it. Would your brother and cousin get together to talk this through with you (or someone else) as an intermediary? Do you really know what the argument was about? Do they?!!

  2. Thanks for this helpful comment, Jayne. Certainly if it's possible, either through an intermediary, or directly, to keep communication lines open so as to prevent disagreements assuming a life of their own, that makes good sense.

  3. Jayne, thankyou for your feedback, but we all aware of the argument. Since from September, many family ties have been severed. Nothing else could be done. What was done was done for the best.

  4. What if you were arguing with a family memeber, I argue with my mother often. How can I prevent the arguement from getting heated?

  5. Responding to the query about how to prevent an argument with another family member (e.g. mother) from getting heated:

    This is a tricky one and one with which many readers may be able to identify.

    Two possible suggestions:

    1.Think back to any times (however few) when you have managed to prevent an argument with that family member from getting heated and try a similar approach to what you tried then.

    2. Think in advance about how you can keep calm if an argument arises and try to implement your plan when an argument seems likely to start. You might for example decide simply to make your point once and not keep repeating it. If the family member appears not to agree with your point just say that you have said what you feel and can see that they don't agree so you're not going to keep arguing about it. Then stop arguing about it or remove yourself from the scene.

  6. But my mother go's on and on as if she enjoys arguing, at one time said my piece then walked away in clam way.