5 Effective Behaviours for How to Resolve Conflict in Family Relationships

by Gideon Hanekom
October 6, 2021

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Conflict is a natural and necessary aspect of life and relationships. According to some studies, the problem is not with conflict itself, but with how we cope with it. As a result, in this post, we’ll review five effective behaviours for how to resolve conflict in family relationships.

The Truth About Family Conflict.

The fact is that conflict is inherent in our relationships.

Even the happiest couples and families have conflict.

The majority of conflict happens as a result of someone failing to respond appropriately to another’s actions.

There may also be disagreements or a need that is not being addressed.

However, despite our best efforts to prevent conflict, it is occasionally unavoidable.

What separates successful relationships from others, though, is how relationship members address conflict.

Many relationship experts agree that how we resolve conflict appears to be the deciding factor for the quality of a relationship long-term.

However, despite this perspective, many couples and families still want to avoid conflict, which often results in conflict avoidance behaviour, which has a slew of negative consequences of its own.

Yet, a more beneficial way of thinking about conflict is to recognise that its presence, not an indication or predictor of relationship quality.

What is more critical is how we resolve conflict.

How to resolve conflict in family relationships

That is the line at which happy and unhappy couples or families are distinguished from one another.

As a result, one could argue that good conflict resolution is a talent that everyone should acquire in order to ensure the long-term success of their relationships.

Therefore, let us begin by examining several harmful behaviours that we should avoid during conflict and entirely remove from our family relationships.

Avoid engaging in these harmful behaviours during times of conflict.

  • Contempt. Contempt is perilous because it manifests as statements that elevate one partner above the other.
  • Defensiveness. Defensiveness manifests itself when the defensive spouse makes excuses or attempts to deflect blame rather than accepting responsibility.
  • Stonewalling. Stonewalling occurs when a spouse totally withdraws and constructs a wall rather than facing the issue.
  • Selfishness. Occasionally, we become so focused on our own needs and expectations that we ignore the critical nature of appreciating our partner’s requirements and wishes.

According to Dr John Gottman, the most devastating and destructive thing we can do in relationships and in times of conflict is to demonstrate contempt.

Contempt, in all its manifestations, is ruinous to relationships because it fundamentally transmits disgust and superiority, particularly moral, ethical, or characterological superiority.

When we treat people with contempt, we are essentially saying, “I am superior to you and you are inferior to me.”

Now, contempt is damaging to relationships because it is frequently fuelled by long-simmering unfavourable ideas about another person and manifests as an attack on another’s sense of self.

And as you might guess, demonstrating contempt will most likely result in more conflict, particularly hazardous and deadly types of conflict rather than in reconciliation, which in the long run is disastrous to a relationship.

That is because it is very hard to resolve a conflict with someone when the other person perceives you to be disgusted with them, condescending and behaving as their superior.

Yet, I’ve seen my fair share of couples trying to do exactly this.

They spend a huge amount of time breaking each other down with the goal of building the relationship up. That’s not how it works, however.

How to resolve conflict in family relationships

Additionally, some study indicates that couples who are contemptuous of one another are more prone to contract infectious diseases (for example, colds, the flu, etc.) than couples who are not.

In other words, acting with contempt towards one another can make us physically unwell, indicating that this is not only a psychological issue but also a physical one.

As a consequence, it’s easy to understand why contempt is the most lethal of relationship killers according to some experts like Dr Gottman.

So, this cannot be overstated; feelings of contempt fundamentally damages families psychologically, emotionally, and physically (as in health), and usually indicate imminent relationship implosion.

It is critical, therefore, that if you are serious about how to resolve conflict in family relationships (or your marriage), that you begin by avoiding harmful behaviours that can resolve relationships from the inside out.

Consider this – until you eliminate harmful foods, you cannot repair the harm they do by adding healthy items on top of them.

You must first eliminate what is generating some of the existing issues before introducing other possible beneficial elements.

In our last post on how to prevent conflict in family relationships, we discussed evidence that indicates that the occurrence of conflict in relationships is irrelevant. The real issue is our approach to conflict.

In other words, how you resolve each conflict in your specific context has the potential to either save or destroy your family relationships.

Again, I want to emphasise how critical it is to eliminate harmful behaviours in addition to adopting positive behaviours.

The Following Are Some Good Methods for Resolving Conflict And Maintaining Family Relationships:

Listen Empathetically

Effective and empathetic listening is nearly usually at the top of the list when it comes to communication.

We cannot resolve conflict in family relationships (or any other kind of connection) unless we pay attention to and understand the perspective of the other person.

Thus, it is critical to listen with the intent of comprehending the other person’s perspective during a conflict.

That is not to say that you must agree with them or view things their way, it simply implies that you place a higher premium on the individual than on your viewpoint.

As I stated in our last piece, the importance of the family bond always outweighs the importance of winning an argument.

Thus, a good rule of thumb is to be receptive while you listen to the reasons behind the other person’s feelings.

How to resolve conflict in family relationships

Refrain from being defensive. Maintain a calm and kind tone throughout the talk. Make an attempt to understand the other person’s point of view.

It is hard to respond to another person effectively if you do not understand (or care to grasp) their perspective.

Needless to say, knowing how to resolve conflict in family relationships is nearly impossible if one does not comprehend the other person’s perspective.

And yes, this includes the perspective of your children.

That is a trap that many of us as parents fall into. We disregard our children’s viewpoints because we believe we know better.

While we may know better today, this does not diminish the critical nature of them feeling heard and having a space to express themselves.

It boils down to teaching kids how to initiate an open and honest discussion about anything.

That is a very essential talent that they will always have access to.

Extend Gratitude

Disagreements can create a stressful situation in which your defences may go up and you and your family members may be on high alert.

However, people’s defences are raised only when they feel threatened, such as when they are criticised or humiliated.

However, expressing gratitude is a highly effective method for avoiding this.

For instance, following your partner’s or another family member’s sharing of their experience, express gratitude by saying something like:

  • “I’m grateful you shared it with me.”
  • “I realise how tough it was for you to express that. We appreciate your confidence in me with that.”

While it may seem silly, expressing gratitude and validation for another person’s feelings and point of view goes a long way towards winning them over and inspiring them to be receptive to yours.

How to resolve conflict in family relationships

We are fundamentally reciprocal creatures – we naturally do to others what they do to us.

Additionally, the way others make us feel by their behaviours and words has an incomparably greater effect and longevity than anything else.

Expressing gratitude makes others feel good, which results in a bit less hostility, distrust, or defensiveness directed at us.

Everyone, even your family members, enjoys being recognised and acknowledged (yes, even your children).

Use this as a highly effective life hack for rapidly resolving conflict in family relationships.

Be Curious

In order to listen with empathy, there is the need for a healthy dose of curiosity on your part.

I’ve taught this idea to many of my coaching clients in the past — demonstrating real interest and curiosity in your partner’s stance, viewpoint, ideas, objectives, behaviours, needs, and wants will provide you with a wealth of information to utilise to advance your relationship.

Additionally, by approaching a conflict with curiosity, you open the door to learning something new about yourself and the other person.

Now, how can we demonstrate more curiosity?

To begin, the most straightforward method is to ask good, open questions.

How to resolve conflict in family relationships

However, here is where the majority of individuals fall short.

Individuals in troubled relationships frequently use questions to probe and interrogate rather than enquire.

One approach will result in defensiveness, while the other will provide you with additional knowledge to help you improve your connection.

Thus, in order to resolve conflict and maintain family relationships, it is critical that you develop an increased curiosity in your family members’ perspectives and the possible causes for any current disagreements.

Again, many individuals in relationships prioritise self-preservation and defensiveness, attempting to assert their position at all costs, but overlook the chance to discover why conflict occurs in the first place.

What requirements were not met?

Which expectations were unsatisfied?

What have I neglected to do or say?

What have I said or done?

Was there something I overlooked?

How can we avoid a recurrence of this occurrence?

Curiosity may be the devil’s advocate, but it will almost always rescue your relationships.

Consider Taking a Break.

It is really useful to understand how to resolve conflict in family relationships.

While much of it is philosophical, there are certain practical strategies you may employ.

While many relationship experts stress the need of taking a break amid conflict, many married couples and families continue to underutilize this concept.

Indeed, the reverse is frequently true, in my experience.

When we are in conflict with a loved one, we frequently become so fixated on pointing out the errors in their arguments and defending our own that we lose all sense at times.

However, a far superior strategy is to request at least 20 minutes when you begin to feel overwhelmed in order for both of you to de-escalate the talk and cool down before returning to it.

How to resolve conflict in family relationships

According to research conducted by The Gottman Institute, couples who took a 30-minute break during an argument returned to the discussion with lower heart rates, which makes resolving conflict in relationships simpler.

When you and your spouse are engaged in a disagreement, one of you (or both of you) may start feeling overwhelmed.

That will likely result in increased levels of arousal, with your heart beating faster, blood flow to your organs slowing, and adrenaline pumping.

You effectively enter a psychophysiological state of “fight or flight.”

When this occurs, communication and problem resolution become more difficult.

That is when it might be beneficial to take a break during a conflict.

However, how should you approach taking a break?

How can you take a break during the conversation most effectively?

To begin, it is critical for you and your partner to develop an awareness of the ways your physiology influences your communication and to utilise them as cues.

For example, when you become good at noticing yourself or your partner becoming wound up, you can respond to those physical cues before allowing the conversation to escalate to a full-blown argument.

Second, you must develop the ability to self-soothe, since this enables empathy, optimism, and creativity, in other words, improved problem-solving.

Psychology talks about emotional self-regulation, and it’s one of the most important skills you can learn as part of a family and couple.

At its most fundamental level, emotional self-regulation entails exerting control over one’s actions, emotions, and thoughts in order to accomplish long-term goals. In more concrete terms, it refers to the ability to moderate disruptive emotions and impulses.

Self-soothing is a way to regulate your emotional state, of which there are many practical examples:

  • Reading a book.
  • Listening to soothing music.
  • Go for a walk or a run
  • Play with your pet
  • Have a nice shower or bath
  • Weightlifting
  • Punching a punching bag
  • Playing videogames
  • Spending time in the garden.

Discuss your emotions and needs.

As previously said, conflict typically arises when one party does not respond appropriately to another’s behaviour, or when there are differences of opinion or when a need is not satisfied.

Ironically, we frequently allow conflict to recur in our relationships because we are terrible at communicating our wants and needs to one another.

People, on the other hand, prefer to let things fester under the surface, expressing their outrage only when they reach boiling point.

However, it is frequently too late at that point, and all that occurs is that individuals get furious and defensive.

For instance, during a disagreement, our initial instinct may be to inform our spouse of how they have hurt or upset us.

However, it is far more beneficial to discuss how YOU feel and what YOU require in language that the other person(s) understands.

How to resolve conflict in family relationships

When it comes to family relationships, blaming the other person for not getting what you want is completely pointless.

It is seldom effective, but people continue to do it.

A far superior strategy for obtaining what you want is to simply explicitly state your desires or needs.

While this may seem elementary, the more adept you get at it, the more likely your needs and desires will be met, and therefore the probability of conflict will decrease.

However, the converse is true.

When a family member expresses their desires, it is critical that you look towards your partner or sibling, listen attentively, and then ask, “how can I meet that need?”

It’s all about giving and taking when it comes to resolving conflict and maintaining healthy family relationships.

Children Should Be Taught.

The last method for how to resolve conflict in family relationships is to future-proof your family.

I feel that it is critical to educate our children on good conflict resolution techniques.

Regrettably, life does not come with an instruction manual that automatically teaches us these lessons.

Unless we learn it someplace or are taught by someone, we will very certainly end up winging it, which will almost certainly result in substandard outcomes.

As a result, I believe that educating our children on how to resolve conflict in family relationships is critical.

And, certainly, it is critical for parents to convert their mistakes into lessons.

While we are not always adept at resolving conflict, this provides a chance to teach our children something useful.

How to resolve conflict in family relationships

Parents, on the other hand, are sometimes concerned about the impact of family disagreements on their children, which I understand.

However, family disagreements may be an excellent chance for children to practise their communication and interpersonal skills, as long as their parents serve as positive role models.

Now, this is self-evident, but we are not discussing family abuse.

That is a whole other subject that often needs the assistance of a specialist.

Additionally, in many situations, when a family is abused, the only truly feasible and acceptable course of action is to leave the situation rather than attempt to resolve it.

That being said, we may utilise family disputes to teach our children good conflict resolution and family relationships skills that they can continue into their personal and professional life.

Take Away

If you find yourself in a conflict cycle and want to learn how to resolve conflict in family relationships, in particular, begin by putting the emphasis on relationship building rather than on “winning” the fight.

Take notes on the aforementioned behaviours and begin applying some of them in your family situation.

Additionally, recognise that while conflicts are a natural part of every relationship, what matters most is how we resolve conflict.

By developing healthy behaviours and strategies for resolving conflict, you may get a better understanding of people and strengthen your relationships.

Convert your family relationships into chances to deepen your bonds!

Most certainly, the outcomes will be beneficial and long-lasting.

About the author 

Gideon Hanekom

Gideon Hanekom is the creator of TheRelationshipGuy.com, a renowned relationship blog that ranks among the top 50 relationship blogs in 2024. The website shares valuable insights on creating healthy relationships life. Gideon holds a Master's degree in theological studies and transitioned into professional counseling more than a decade ago. In addition, he since completed post-graduate studies in Psychology at Massey University. With over seventeen years of marriage to his wife and two children, Gideon brings both professional and personal experience to his relationship advice. His articles have been featured on respected platforms such as Marriage.com and The Good Men Project.

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