The Williams family was at it again. Mom accused Dad of being rude to her that morning. Dad denied it. He claimed his memory was more accurate than hers. Mom said he was crazy and that he was acting like his father. Dad exploded in anger. He yelled that she was stupid and overweight. At that point, twelve-year-old Jenny came in for some help with a math problem. Dad told her to shut up and go to her room. The other two kids, six and nine, cowered on the couch with wide eyes.
Nobody won the fight. Mom went to the bedroom and cried. Jenny hid in her room. The younger two sat transfixed on the couch, afraid to move. Dad ranted and raved in the basement. And wounds were inflicted that would last for years. Communicating in conflict is difficult. When things are tense, it is easy to inflict wounds on family members. We must remember that not all conflict is bad. It can be an opportunity to learn to manage conflict in healthy ways. Start preparing now for your next family conflict. Then when conflict does arise, here are 4 ways to fight fair.
1. Take a time out.
It’s important to stop the escalation of the fight and be calm. Establish in advance that it’s okay for anyone in the family to take a time out during a family fight. When you take a time out, get alone. If you find yourself getting upset, do all you can to relax. Go for a walk, exercise, or take deep breaths. Say something like, “Calm down. I’m upset now, but I love her/him.” Once you have calmed down, approach your family member and continue your discussion.
2. Lower your defenses.
Listening and speaking without defensiveness defuses intense emotions. This reduces the likelihood of saying and doing things you’ll later regret. Pay close attention to what you’re communicating verbally and non-verbally. Avoid blaming, sarcasm, rolling your eyes, and sounding contemptuous. Listen for what your family member is actually saying and not what you think he or she means.
3. Validate your family members.
Put yourself in the other’s shoes. Express empathy for him or her. It’s a simple concept, but it brings real benefits. They feel welcomed and accepted; conflict is reduced. They, in turn, will be more willing to listen to your perspective.
4. Don’t argue about what you said in the past.
These fights are fruitless. Don’t assume your memory is perfect. Admit that you might not remember things as they really happened. Then, move on to the present.
Sound off: What are some other things you can do to fight fair?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your family tonight and come up with rules for dealing with conflict.