October 5, 2021 |Gideon Hanekom

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Oftentimes, part of addressing family problems begins with understanding how to prevent conflict in family relationships from escalating into something poisonous and long-lasting in the first place.

Some families have a deep-seated generational conflict that has never been resolved, and this has most certainly resulted in a great deal of hurt and dissatisfaction among the members of the family.

However, it is completely unneeded.

I believe that the most effective strategy to manage disagreement in close-knit relationships is to avoid it from occurring in the first place. Nothing has to be resolved in this manner.

Now, having said that, we are all aware that the prospect of conflict exists in all familial connections at some point.

Even simple disagreements over the remote control might escalate into a scuffle.

That is particularly true if underlying concerns, such as sibling rivalry and opposing lifestyles, have been simmering beneath the surface for a long period of time.

However, if you are willing to understand how to prevent conflict in family relationships, you can avoid a lot of it.

This essay will provide you with 5 practical (and straightforward) methods to think about.

They are really simple and do not necessitate a great deal of explanation.

However, before we get into those, it’s important to take a quick look at some of the distinctive characteristics of conflict in family relationships in order to understand why it’s so important to put measures in place in our families to combat the possibility of festering and growing conflict in the first place.

Conflict in family relationships can manifest itself in a variety of ways.

Distinctive Characteristics of Conflict in Family Relationships

According to some experts like Bowlby (1982), family conflict differs from other types of conflict in three ways: the intensity of the disagreement, the complexity of the conflict, and the length of the relationships.

Emotional Intensity

First and foremost, interactions between family members are often the closest and most emotionally intense of those that exist in the human experience (Bowlby 1982).

how to prevent conflict in family relationships

The strongest ties are those formed between adult couples, between parents and children, or between siblings, and they are characterised by the highest levels of attachment, affection, and dedication.

Individuals are often in everyday touch for a long period of time, which helps to strengthen their bond.

However, when significant problems arise in these close-knit relationships, the great positive emotional involvement could also morph into extreme negative feelings.

Having an extramarital affair or abusing a child might create a hatred as strong as the love that existed before the betrayal.

It is a well-known fact that the majority of homicides occur within family groups.

Disputes inside families are often more intense than conflicts within other social groups.

It follows that managing conflicts in families may be more challenging and that the repercussions of such conflicts may be more destructive as a result of this intensity.


Understanding the second differentiating aspect of family conflicts, referred to as complexity, is particularly critical for comprehending their sometimes-befuddling qualities.

What motivates battered women to remain with their husbands?

Why do the vast majority of abused children prefer to remain with an abusive parent rather than being placed somewhere else?

Some experts like Wallace (1996) suggest that one explanation for this is that the benefits of positive emotional attachments outweigh the discomfort associated with disagreements.

These are examples of ambivalence, which is the most prevalent type of complexity in familial relationships.

The individual is loved, yet they also do things that cause people to dislike them.

how to prevent conflict in family relationships

Love, respect, friendship, resentment, jealousy, competition, and disapproval all weave together to form the web of family connections.

Many of these characteristics can be found in every family relationship.

The presence of regular displays of bonding behaviours may make frequent family conflict less of an issue.

The outcome of a disagreement is frequently determined by the qualities of a relationship that are active at the time.

The first step in helping families deal with their issues more successfully is realising that conflict has many facets.

Length Of the Relationships

A family’s third differentiating characteristic is the length of the relationships, the length of certain conflicts, and the long-term impact of dysfunctional conflict patterns that have developed.

Some experts like White (2001) point out relationships within the family can endure a lifetime (White 2001), for example, the parents and siblings of a person will always be the parents and siblings of that person

As a result, major conflictual relationships within families could last for an extended period of time.

Such prolonged exposure raises the likelihood of suffering damage as a result of the conflict.

It is possible to get away from such situations via running away from home, divorcing, or separating from one’s family ties, among other means.

There are, however, psychological consequences of the disagreement that persist even after communication has been discontinued.

The HOW is more important than the THAT

The study of family conflict has yielded several significant discoveries that are useful to both prevention and treatment.

One is that the type of conflict is just as significant as the amount of conflict that happens.

Some families experience a great deal of tension, but still, continue to function successfully.

This is possible due to the fact that conflicts are entrenched within the framework of other behavioural patterns.

Some researchers like Cummings and Davies (1994) suggest that one important thing to consider is whether or not the disagreements are successfully addressed.

High levels of conflict may not be harmful if the conflicts are resolved in the majority of instances.

how to prevent conflict in family relationships

Another important thing to consider is how much positive behaviour is shared between members of the family when they are not fighting.

According to John Gottman, if there are five good actions for every negative behaviour, a relationship is still considered healthy and can thrive. Here’s a great article that explains it in-depth.

Consequently, family conflict is no longer necessarily seen to be a harmful trend, according to these findings.

If, on the other hand, conflict manifests itself in a way that is physically or psychologically harmful, intervention becomes necessary.

More than two people are frequently involved in a family dispute.

Occasionally, a third family member is lured into a dyadic conflict and is persuaded to take sides in conflicts.

A group of people can band together and operate as a unit to win a battle or resolve a quarrel.

Depending on the circumstances, these alliances could fizzle out or become a permanent fixture in the family dynamic.

They are rather prevalent and can be quite beneficial.

As an example, when it comes to fights with their children, parents tend to side with one another.

In large families, this is especially helpful because it keeps things organised for the parents.

Coalitions bring a new level of complexity to the dynamics and strategy of disputes.

How to prevent conflict in family relationships

Individuals with limited power may find their ability to establish coalitions to be particularly beneficial… Coalitions, like many other aspects of warfare, can be pushed to their breaking point.

Scapegoating, defined as an ongoing, disproportionate alliance of parents against a kid or children, has been shown to be detrimental to development.

It is, therefore, crucial to realise that certain coalitions are detrimental to the operation of a healthy family, and not a good thing.

For example, having a long-term strong alliance with one’s child against the other parent can put the interparental connection in danger and cause long-term irreparable damage.

Ultimately, it’s useful to understand the complexity of family relationships and the role that conflict can play within them.

Every situation, family, and family member are unique.

That can make things very tricky to approach managing conflict in family relationships with a blanket type of approach.

But in saying that, we do know that there are certain common causes of conflict in family relationships, even though families or family members might react to these uniquely.

Knowing that can be helpful, especially when we’re considering how to prevent conflict and family relationships.

Having awareness of what to look out for in this instance can definitely result in a situation where “prevention is better than cure.”

I believe when it comes to family relationships, preventing things is oftentimes a better strategy than fixing things later on.

It’s better to lay a solid and healthy foundation on which one can build rather than having no foundation on which nothing can be built no matter what approach you take.

Common Causes of Conflict in Family Relationships

According to some, the most common reasons for family conflict can include a range of things.

how to prevent conflict in family relationships

For example, certain stages of a family’s development are well known to produce conflict at certain points along the way, and these may include the following:

  • Learning to live together as a newlywed pair
  • The birth of a child
  • Childbirth and the addition of additional children
  • A youngster on his way to school
  • A youngster growing up and becoming a young adult
  • A teenager who is transitioning to adulthood.
  • Every one of these phases has the potential to bring forth a new set of challenges and conflicts.

Changes in the family’s situation can also sometimes have a negative impact on the family and contribute to conflict, and include things like:

  • Divorce or separation?
  • Relocating to a new home or country
  • Having to commute a long distance to get to work
  • Financial conditions have changed.
  • Additionally, each parent’s viewpoints, values, and desires may shift with time, leading them to discover that they are no longer in love.

As we’ve seen, family relationships are intricate, intense, complex, and usually long-lasting.

As a result, they are the perfect breeding ground for all kinds of intense emotional experiences; positive and negative.

Also, even though “escaping” from a family situation can be possible at some stage, in many instances it is not.

For example, a child who is dependent on their parents might not have the immediate options available to venture out on their own to get away from whatever it is they’re experiencing.

Sometimes, a family member must wait things out until such a time it becomes possible for them to remove themselves from the immediate situation.

But before we consider worst-case scenarios, I would like to believe that a family is a powerful unit with far more benefits to the individual members than not.

It, therefore, makes sense to be more concerned about learning how to prevent conflict and family relationships than simply hoping for time to pass or “getting out” as the only options to dealing with adverse experiences.

Strategies For How to Prevent Conflict in Family Relationships

In most cases, conflict occurs when two (or more) conflicting parties hold opposite viewpoints, interests, or goals that appear to be incompatible with one another.

Conflict frequently arises at the height of a stressful circumstance when everything appears to be about to blow up in your face.

how to prevent conflict in family relationships

Most of the time, it is not only tied to the one event that prompted the initial outward manifestation of the conflict in the first place.

It’s common for people to bottle up their feelings and suppress them until they’re ready to explode in a family fight.

As a result, we must be able to work together to determine what provoked the disagreement in the first place, by identifying the source of the problem, and by putting measures in place to avoid it from occurring again.

Nevertheless, I believe prevention is preferable to cure in most situations.

Therefore, if we know how to prevent conflict in family relationships, particularly in our own family relationships, we can prevent a great deal from escalating in the first place.

To be clear, we are not discussing conflict avoidance here.

Conflict avoidance is typically characterised by the suppression of emotions and the avoidance of tough discussions.

As a result of our efforts to avoid conflict, we frequently find ourselves in circumstances where we are producing more conflict.

In the process, we also damage intimacy, create anxiety, and inhibit ourselves from coming up with creative answers to everyday problems that we face.

That is not what we are talking about here.

Having awareness of our own and others’ triggers, developing the sensitivity to respond in a timely manner, and having the flexibility to adjust behaviour so that we prioritise healthy relationship bonds over the desire to control things and have our own way all of the time are all important components of preventing conflict in family relationships.

Now, to be clear, this can be a very difficult task to achieve.

how to prevent conflict in family relationships

When it comes to people, we are normally quite emotional and not necessarily particularly reasonable, despite the fact that we believe the opposite.

However, there are a number of measures we can put in place to establish a firm basis for preventing conflict in family relationships more regularly rather than falling to emotional reactions when provoked by a family member or a particular situation.

5 Techniques for How to Prevent Conflict and Family Relationships

Appreciate each other intentionally.

Long-term, your family’s bonds are more important than any issue that can separate you. With the exception, of course, of heinous and morally reprehensible behaviour, such as abuse or other forms of exploitation.

If that’s not the case, instead of embracing disagreement, reflect on the reasons you value each other as family members and be sure to express your appreciation often. This is referred to as “deliberate appreciation.”

The way you perceive your family members has an impact on the way you treat them.

The positive aspects of your family relationships, such as happy memories from your past and each other’s excellent characteristics, will help to infuse positive energy into your relationships.

However, we are all human, and negativity will inevitably creep into your thinking, particularly during times of conflict.

However, deliberately focusing on the positive will help to counteract any instances in which you may find it difficult to feel positive about your family members.

After that, put your ideas into action.

how to prevent conflict in family relationships

Every time you openly express your positive thinking by validating, praising, complimenting, or elevating a family member, no matter how minor, you are building your relationships and the future of your family.

Doing that goes a long way in preventing conflict in family relationships.

Establish priorities.

According to Dr John Gottman (above), our emotional experiences in the context of a relationship are vital for the overall quality and health of that relationship.

If this is true, then learning to prioritise becomes an extremely valuable ability in relationships.

It is not always worthwhile to argue about a particular event in a family relationship because they are not all of equal importance.

Some episodes are merely a normal part of regular life, whilst others are more significant and have the potential to have a greater impact in the grand scheme of things.

As a result, in order to avoid conflict and maintain healthy family ties, it is critical to ask oneself whether any particular occurrence is worth arguing about.

Now, we all know that in relationships, tiny things may become significant concerns, and if left unresolved, they can escalate into much more serious problems.

However, we have a tendency to magnify tiny things into larger than they should have been, and it is in these situations that we must learn to exercise greater control and accountability.

In order to win a war, it is sometimes necessary to lose a battle first.

how to prevent conflict in family relationships

For example, is it really worth it to have a tranquil home if it means arguing about which way the toilet paper should hang on the roll?

How important is it actually to have a good relationship with your children compared to whether or not the beds are made?

Learning how to minimise conflict and maintain healthy family connections boils down to three things: awareness, prioritising what is genuinely essential, and acting in accordance with those priorities.

Clarify boundaries.

Healthy relationships are characterised by the presence of healthy relationship boundaries.

In order to avoid conflict in family relationships, everyone must be aware of the limits that exist, not just within the family but also between each individual member.

The ability to set appropriate boundaries, of course, is dependent on being aware of one’s own needs and limitations.

In the context of family interactions, it also involves being aware of the needs and boundaries of your family members.

When you understand the motivations behind your own and others’ demands for something, you may negotiate more effectively rather than simply reacting in a knee-jerk manner to each other’s requests.

If you want to avoid conflict and maintain family ties, it is critical that you communicate your expectations and the consequences of crossing them to those around you.

Now, these conversations are not always easy to have. In fact, they are extremely difficult to have in the majority of cases.

how to prevent conflict in family relationships

However, avoiding disagreement and allowing family members to overstep your boundaries only serves to set a precedent for future behaviour and increase the risk of the same thing happening in the future.

The establishment of patterns of behaviour, as well as the very real risk of future conflict, arises as a result of this.

To put it another way, understanding your personal boundaries, as well as the boundaries of your family members, can help you avoid conflict in the future.

These boundaries provide you with guidelines for how each member wishes to be treated and why they wish to be treated that way. This provides you with clear directions on how to navigate your relationship with one another.

Schedule family meetings.

Continual family communication can help to decrease miscommunication, which can help to reduce the risk of conflict arising.

The issue, however, is that in today’s fast-paced world, families rarely take time to sit down as a group to deliberate on how the family will function.

Consequently, plans are sometimes formed swiftly and authoritatively by the parents, often without consulting other family members, and this can often lead to greater conflict.

The opposite is true: holding family meetings is an excellent method to include everyone in the decision-making process and to avoid conflict in family relationships.

how to prevent conflict in family relationships

Now, when many individuals think about these types of gatherings, they imagine an environment that is stressful, full of challenges, and characterised by various obstacles and difficulties.

However, these concerns are readily resolved, and family get-togethers may be used to help families decide how to spend their time together and avoid conflict.

For example, with school holidays approaching, what would the kids do all day?

What sort of family outings are you thinking about organising?

Can we expect the older kids to find jobs?

The list is endless.

If you’re unclear about how to conduct a family meeting, here’s a nice article that includes some useful suggestions.

Pull together.

In order to avoid conflict and maintain family ties, it is important to recognise and safeguard the family unit.

You are a team, and as such, you should work together to provide practical aid, support, and encouragement to one another.

As previously said, conflict often occurs when two or more people’s demands, expectations, and requirements are in conflict with one another, and this can occur frequently within a family unit.

It’s kind of expected, to be honest.

Although a family may consist of several people, it is important to remember that you are still essentially working together as a team rather than competing against one another for personal gains.

how to prevent conflict in family relationships

I can say this because if one team member succeeds at the expense of the others, the entire team suffers the consequences.

Using the analogy of war once more, it would be equivalent to doing everything you can to win a single battle yet losing the war as a whole.

It all boils down to a matter of perspective once more.

You have a far higher chance of preventing conflict in a family relationship and keeping strong relationships in the long run if you focus on what is genuinely essential in the big picture rather than what is in front of you at any particular moment.

So, rather than focusing just on “number one” (a typical motto nowadays), try to identify things that will benefit your entire family.

Having said that, it does not rule out the possibility of individual members “winning” from time to time.

Personal successes can sometimes result in a victory for the entire team.

However, in those circumstances, the team will recognise this and will actively assist the individual member in achieving their objectives since they recognise that the member’s success will most likely benefit the entire team.

The point is, once again, one of perspective and consciousness.

It is just as important to learn how to prevent conflict in family relationships as it is to learn the actual skills for how to resolve conflict in family relationships.

Developing a healthy perspective and outlook on life is just as important as learning the actual skills for how to resolve conflict in family relationships (something will look at in our next post).

Prevention is always preferable to cure.

Put measures in place to build a firm basis for healthy connections between you and your family members, so that conflict prevention and resolution become easier and less stressful in the future.

About the author

Gideon Hanekom

Gideon Hanekom is the creator of TheRelationshipGuy.com, a popular relationship blog that ranks among the top 50 relationship blogs in 2024. The website helps couples to create happier, healthier, and more intimate relationships. Gideon is a trained professional counsellor and holds post-graduate degrees in Theology and Psychology. His articles have also been featured on respected platforms such as Marriage.com and The Good Men Project.

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