By SHELLIE-ANN JOHN
We are all aware of the famous TV game show Family Feud, and it is considered a great game for families and friends of all ages. In order to play the game, family members must be divided by teams and one member of each team competes against the other in a face-off, as the questions are being asked. The team that buzzed in with the correct answer receives control of the board and has the option of playing or passing control to the other team. Sounds exciting right?
However, what happens when feud is no longer a game in the family? What happens when conflict fills the air in the home, when we are no longer speaking to each other, when the tension is so high that you can cut it with a knife?
Just as the game, families are divided but in negative ways. Some family members are also divided in teams but the teams are working against each other. There is constant face-off between parents, parents and child/children, siblings, in-laws, step parent and/or close relatives. At times, the person who receives control takes it over and dominates the entire family. When family members are no longer close or even speaking, it could be for few reasons such as: harsh words have been spoken, trust and commitments have been broken and/or they each have different expectations for what “family” means. Conflicts in the home can be as a result of all the following and much more:
• Ineffective communication
• Technology/social media
• Time/quality time
• Roles and responsibilities
• Trust: unfaithfulness (real or suspected)
• Difference in style
• Sarcastic comments
• Broken promises
• Material things
• Parent attention/favouritism
• Equal share in responsibility
• Older sibling taking advantage
Parent and child conflicts
• Generation gap
• Respect on both sides
• Parents not listening
• Choice of partner
• Working children not pulling their weight
• Technology/social media
• Taking sides
While conflicts are inevitable and we cannot escape them, too much conflict within the family can create havoc and wreck one’s family life and functioning forever. In general, when you hear the word conflict, negative connotations come to our mind. However, our view of conflict determines, to a large extent, whether or not a creative solution will be found. We, therefore, need to acknowledge that there is a positive perspective where conflict is an opportunity for creative change and development. Family problems may present themselves in all shapes and sizes; some are short-lived and easily managed, while others are more persistent and difficult to handle.
The following are three steps of the perspective triangle strategy in managing conflicts in the family.
Step 1: Your own perspective
• This step requires you to achieve a higher degree of self-awareness. You do so by asking yourself what is really bothering you.
Step 2: The other’s perspective
• This step is fundamental. It requires you to have empathy, which will widen your understanding of what is really going on. Put yourself in the shoes of the other. For a moment, suspend your own judgment and do your best to see the situation you are confronting from the perspective of the other.
Step 3: The third party’s perspective
• Often, a trusted person from the outside can give a fresh perspective about a problem you are trying to resolve. In this step, you put yourself in the position of a third party observing the situation you are involved in.
Additional keys to resolving family conflicts:
• Stop the fighting
• Get to the root of things
• Answer the question: how did this conflict affect the whole family?
• Try and make the first move
• Talk it out through family conference/round table
• Attack the problem, not the person
• Treat each person with respect
• Acknowledge and listen
• Use “I” statements
• Give the benefit of the doubt
• Keep the conversation going
• Ask yourself: “Would I rather be happy or right?”
• Be easy for people to talk to you
Under the Division of Health, Wellness and Family Development, the Community Mediation Centre provides private and confidential mediation services for people experiencing conflicts and challenges in their families. Contact: 660-7709.
Shellie-Ann John is the office manager at the Community Mediation Centre, under the Division of Health, Wellness and Family Development, Tobago House of Assembly.
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