Perfectly normal marriages and families experience a certain amount of perfectly normal disagreement and conflict. Similar to snowflakes, no two people are exactly alike. It is inevitable, then, that any two people - or three or four - will have different views on a situation that may result in conflict.

Because the family is where we learn to resolve conflict with others, it's important for parents to both model and teach conflict resolution skills in the home.

Keep in mind that it is not required that your spouse, teenagers, siblings, or parents always agree with you. They won't. What is important is that conflicts are resolved peacefully using open, two-way communication that arises out of a sense of mutual respect.

He said, she said

Very rarely is any issue one-sided. Family systems can be complicated. It will not help you to take the position that, "I am right ... and you are wrong." No one will be won over using that approach. Blaming others is not an effective option.

Conflicts often escalate when people are angry. It's important to cool off first before discussing the problem. Never confront someone in anger. You'll only say things you'll regret later.

Calming down before talking about the problem will also help you separate the person from the problem. They are not the same. Define the problem clearly first in your own mind, taking responsibility for your part in it, and then think through your approach.

Your goal is not to win an argument

You might also ask yourself whether or not this particular issue is worth fighting over. This issue may be a "big box" for your spouse and a "little box" for you. For example, eating Sunday dinner with her family may be a big box for your wife and may not matter that much to you. So let these kinds of things go when they come up.

Remember that your goal in any disagreement is to negotiate an agreement and preserve your relationship. It is not to win an argument. Don't turn this into a competition that results in a lose-lose situation. You may make your point and lose the tender feelings of your family.

Give others the benefit of the doubt

Realize that many problems are the result of misunderstandings. We may attribute motives to another's behavior that are inaccurate. Don't assume you know why someone did what he did. Or that it's all about you. Focus just on the behavior at hand.

Then as you begin the conversation, stick to the topic under discussion. Resist the urge to bring up other issues that upset you or past conflicts that have already been discussed. That's a sure-fire way to end your conversation with an unresolved conflict.

5 steps for resolving family conflicts

1. Let the other person speak first

. (Not easy, I know) Listen carefully to what she is saying. Do not interrupt when she is speaking. Wait for your turn to express your views.

2. Check that you understand the other's position

By asking curious questions about what he said or meant. Tone of voice is important here.

3. Now

articulate your position reasonably and clearly

Leave your emotion out of it.

4. Find some common ground

. What do you agree about? Work from there.

5. Come up with several different possible solutions. Then find one that works, agree on it, and STICK to it.

Trying new behaviors takes time

Following these steps will take time and patience. You may be more used to avoiding conflict, making excuses, triangling in others to resolve your conflict for you (Jim, you tell Sally to do her homework), or just barking orders. None of these ways of resolving conflict works well.

In some cases, family conflicts are long standing and remain unresolved. At that point, it might be time to seek professional help. Hitting or belittling others should NEVER be tolerated, under any circumstances.

The effective resolution of family conflicts depends on negotiation and mutual respect.

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