Does family conflict feel harsh or overwhelming in your home? Would you like to navigate family conflicts more peacefully?
Conflict and arguments are inevitable in close relationships, especially with kids and families. Differing needs, expectations, and moods are bound to create friction. But conflict doesn’t have to create division and disconnection. In fact, families can navigate conflict in ways that increase understanding and encourage reconnection.
When practiced regularly, the following three steps will transform arguments in your home. It may take time to develop this new way of communicating if unhealthy habits like criticism, negativity, and blame have become a pattern. However, with consistent practice, you will notice a significant change.
3 Steps to Navigate Family Conflict More Peacefully
Step 1: Build a Foundation with the 5 to 1 Ratio
Humans tend to remember the negative stuff that happens more than the positive. Researchers call this negativity bias. This bias towards the negative seeps into relationships as well.
To counter negativity and build a strong foundation for your family, implement the 5 to 1 ratio. Essentially, for every negative interaction, stable and happy relationships have five (or more) positive interactions.
For example, let’s say you plan to ask your son or daughter to help more around the house. They are likely to resist this request, however, because you have been using the 5 to 1 ratio, you stand a better chance that this conversation will go okay. Because you have sustained a connection with your son or daughter through five recent positive interactions, they will likely be more open to listening to you.
What are Positive Interactions?
Positive interactions are moments of connection that share your love, support, and interest. They can be simple things, such as expressing a genuine interest in your child’s life, or affection, like a hug or smile. They can be statements of appreciation, such as “I appreciate how you helped your brother fix his bike.” Positive interactions can also be moments you laugh together or when you show empathy towards your child.
Think about the last five interactions you had with your child or partner. Were they positive or negative? It’s easy for parents to get caught up in the busyness of life and forget about these moments of connection. Think of each positive interaction as a brick that builds the foundation of your relationship. The stronger your foundation, the more likely your family will be to navigate conflict in a healthy way.
Step 2: Use Complaints Instead of Criticism
There is a BIG difference between complaining and criticizing.
Criticizing is aimed at a person’s character and damages relationships. Some hallmarks of criticism are the phrases “you always” or “you never.”
For example, “You always leave your dirty clothes on the floor,” or, “You never call me when you are late. It’s so rude.” This kind of attack triggers defensiveness and fuels conflict. It may make you feel better for that moment, but disrespecting or belittling your child or partner never yields the change you seek.
On the other hand, complaining is directed at a person’s behavior and/or pinpoints a specific incident. The message is shared in a way that doesn’t make the recipient defensive. For example, instead of “Your room is a mess! I want you to stop leaving dirty clothes on the floor,” you say “I would like your help cleaning up the dirty clothes on the floor.”
Families will always have complaints about each other. It’s critical to avoid criticism and frame complaints in a way that doesn’t sound like an attack. See Step 3 for how to communicate in a way that helps you connect instead of divide.
Step 3: Start Tough Conversations With “I” Instead of “You”
How do you frame complaints in a way that doesn’t trigger defensiveness or sound like an attack? Start by using the word “I” instead of “You.”
Quick Quiz: Which of these statements would you rather have said to you?
A. “You need to help out more. I’ve been doing all the work around here lately.”
B. “I feel overwhelmed lately by all of the work I’ve been doing around here. Can we talk about that?”
If given a choice, most of us prefer B.
When you start sentences with “I,” you are less likely to seem critical and put your child or partner into a defensive position. Effective “I statements” focus on how you’re feeling, not on accusing your child or partner. If you stick to “I” and avoid “you statements,” your family will likely feel that you are hearing and understanding each other more. To learn more about using “I statements”, check out this post.
Summary – Transforming Family Conflict
In conclusion, conflict, arguments, and disagreements are a natural for families, but they do not need to lead to division. Follow the three steps, (1) Build a Foundation with the 5 to 1 Ratio, (2) Use Complaints Instead of Criticism, and (3) Start Tough Conversations With “I” Instead of “You” to navigate tough conversations. This will leave you and your family more connected and teach your kids skills to improve their relationships too.
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