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Finding peace in your own home: family conflicts and how to solve them

04.04.2019 Author: psiholog pavel horoshutin

A loving relationship is not always as peaceful as we wish it to be. Every couple has their conflicts, as our moods and desires do not match all the time. Even though, it is perfectly possible to maintain a happy long-term relationship despite occasional fervor. The most important thing here is to learn how to resolve all the disagreements in time

Let’s see the main causes for couples’ conflicts and learn the ways to maintain peace in your family, overcoming all the crises together without turning your life into a battlefield.

Contents:

  1. Features of family conflicts
  2. Causes of family conflicts
  3. Critical periods of married relationship
  4. Ideal couples: dream or reality
  5. Recognizing counterproductive conflicts
  6. Conflicts between newlyweds
  7. Efficient ways to solve family conflicts
  8. Inefficient ways to solve family conflicts
  9. Asking a psychologist for help
  10. Solving the problems in relationship

Features of family conflicts

Family conflicts appear when family members (spouses, usually), disagree about their views and motivations regarding a certain issue. [1] Such a concise description cannot fully convey the range of emotions each couple experiences while solving their relationship problems. When two people fight, it’s anger, grudge, sharp sense of guilt and irritation that get the best of both of them.

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Psychologists classify conflicts based on causes and sources of conflicts as well as partners’ behavior. One of such classifications, that perfectly shows the eagerness of both partners to solve the issues together, is classifying conflicts and productive and counterproductive. [2] Their main features are whether both partners reach the same page, are ready to work on their relationship, and whether the problem gets solved.

Productive conflicts

From psychological point of view, family conflicts can be extremely helpful and even necessary to strengthen a relationship. Such conflicts are not a problem, but rather a way to learn more about the partner, solve any pending issues and show your honest feelings. Even the most serious conflicts can be soothing in the long run.

There can be various causes of productive conflicts, but on the way of solving them both partners reach a compromise. As the result, no one feels offended and slighted. Such conflicts can help in solving relationship issues and stabilizing the marriage.

Counterproductive conflicts

Unfortunately, some passionate arguments do not end peacefully and result in compromise. Counterproductive conflicts are especially dangerous. Neither of the partners gets satisfied with the result.

Basically, such conflicts are a simple shouting match of two people who do not want to listen to each other, compromise and solve their actual problems. Both partners are left with a bad taste in their mouth after such conflicts, which affects their happiness in the relationship.

Counterproductive conflicts can last for years and can lead to a divorce

Causes of family conflicts

conflicts in the family what to do

There is a brilliant saying by Leo Tolstoy: “Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. We can hardly argue with it, as family conflicts may happen for any reason. Psychologists note the most prominent ones:

  • deviant behavior of one of the partners (addiction to drugs, alcohol, gambling etc.);
  • acts of infidelity;
  • strict and authoritarian family system, which the other partner cannot accept;
  • opposite views on life, goals and interests;
  • unsolvable financial challenges;
  • sexual inadequacy;
  • unfulfilled need of positive emotions in one or both partners due to lack of understanding;
  • constant interference from the outside (friends, relatives). [1]
Multiple social surveys confirm these findings. According to statistics, the following issues are common causes for a divorce:
  • rash decision to marry—40%;
  • partner’s infidelity—19%;
  • sexual inadequacy—15%;
  • mismatch of common interests and views—12%;
  • alcohol addiction of a spouse—7%. [3]

Critical periods of married relationship

Aside from main causes of family conflicts, psychologists also note certain factors that can lead to matrimonial discord. Those are crises of married relationship. There are generally four of such critical periods. [1]

The first critical period

It usually happens during the first year of marriage. Partners get used to each other, establish important behavior rules, learn to handle family budget and may even challenge each other in order to hold the place of the head of their family. All these can lead to inevitable conflicts.

The second critical period

Birth of children is another important step in developing a relationship. Many couples struggle with raising a child. Both spouses get new responsibilities, so in return they lack time for intimacy. Also, they both have less possibilities for personal and professional growth. Spouses can disagree about their parenting methods. Husband’s negligence, or, on the contrary, increased sexual desire while a new mother is exhausted and goes through physical changes can lead to problems with their sexual relationship. All these can be the cause of serious arguments

The third critical period

“Experienced” couples that survived 10-15 years of marriage can also have a relationship crisis. Quite often partners get “sated” with each other after years of living together and sense a lack of new emotions. Some spouses can become reserved or get consumed with a new hobby. Other spouses start searching for “new emotions” elsewhere. 

The fourth critical period

After 18-24 years of married life spouses can encounter another critical period. Some psychologists think that it is caused by wife’s emotional dependence on her husband and worries about possible infidelity. On one hand, a husband has lower libido at that age and cannot fulfill his wife’s sexual needs. On the other hand, a wife senses her own aging and fears that her husband will find a young and beautiful lover.

Critical periods happen at specific times in every couple’s married life. The causes may be different, but the signs are always the same: mistrust, reservations and frequent arguments. If both partners manage to “survive” this crisis without breaking up, their relationship goes to a new level. However, it can only happen if both of them are willing to make it happen.

Ideal couples: dream or reality

resolution of family conflicts
Spouses spend a lot of time together. They constantly have to deal with everyday issues and raising their children, they spend their leisure time together. It is inevitable for them to have disagreement in any of these matters: both partners have different upbringing, different habits and different behavior patterns. There are hardly any ideal families that are constantly peaceful and have no conflicts whatsoever.

US researchers V. Mathews and C. Mihanovich split all married couples in two groups, happy and unhappy ones, regardless of their “track record”. [4] According to them, spouses in unhappy families:

  • have different views on many problems and specific situations;
  • cannot or have no desire to understand their partner’s feelings;
  • speak in a manner that irritates their partner;
  • feel unloved;
  • never speak about their problems and desires, agree with everything even if they are dissatisfied with it;
  • never spend time with each other;
  • do not trust each other;
  • submit to their partner’s desires regardless of their own wishes;
  • barely compliment their partner.
For a certainty, every person has their own opinion on the shape of an ideal family. The most important part here is to find a common ground, listen to a partner and respect their opinion and principles. In order to describe a happy family, we just need to take the same list of features and turn each point into its positive opposite. A happy family is based on trust, the desire and eagerness of both spouses to find a solution to any problem.

A Public Opinion Foundation in Russia  conducted a survey in 2013 in order to find out the opinion of Russians about a happy family. Only 12% of Russians called their relationship ideal. The respondents were also asked about the most important things in a married relationship. Here are the answers to that question:

  • love—55%;
  • respect—55%;
  • care—37%;
  • patience—26%.

Recognizing counterproductive conflicts

Counterproductive argument is a conflict for the sake of conflict. It is hard to reach any sort of a compromise if both parties get so heated they end up on opposite ends of the issue.

There are few relationships without arguments. The important part here is whether the conflict helps to solve the issue at hand. In the heat of an argument we can lose the sight of its original cause when the emotions get the best of us. Here are the signs of a counterproductive conflict, detrimental to a relationship:

  • Partners cannot or have no desire to solve a problem.
  • An argument takes a form of finger-pointing and abuse exchange rather than a meaningful conversation. Both partners aim to offend the other.
  • Partners bring up past misdeeds instead of dealing with the problem at hand..
  • Neither of the partners admit their guilt. They always blame other people.
  • One or both spouses become aggressive. Overwhelmed with anger, a person may even hit their relationship partner.
  • One or both spouses become passive-aggressive. As the result, they keep silent, leave the room ostentatiously, give short answers that do not move the conversation forwards.

Even severely counterproductive conflicts may result in reconciliation. However, this will be the calm before the storm. If the spouses did not come up with a solution that would satisfy both of them, after some time the same issue will be raised in the same manner.

Constant arguments in a relationship are a critical situation that requires both partners to solve it. Increased psychological lack of comfort is meant to push the person to look for the ways to resolve the issue.

Consequences of counterproductive conflicts

What can a prolonged and counterproductive conflict result in? The severity of consequences greatly depends on a specifics of the situation and the solutions that the spouses apply.

Counterproductive conflicts affect both physical and mental state of everyone involved in them, willingly or not.

  1. Spouses begin to mistrust each other, they build up the grudge and dissatisfaction with their current relationship.
  2. One of the partners may even develop depression or neurosis as the result of constant stress. Other physical and mental disorders can also take hold.
  3. Children are the ones most affected by the neverending conflicts. They suffer from their parents’ confrontations and consider themselves to be the cause. It impacts everything a child does and will do in the future.

Conflicts between newlyweds

Many psychologists agree that newlywed couples have harder time solving conflicts compared to the rest. Partners who lived together for only 1-3 years file for a divorce due to unresolved conflicts much more often than more experienced couples.

Up to 30% of new marriages fall apart due to this. [1]

Here are the most common causes of conflicts in new families:

  • jealousy and cheating;
  • any flaws and negative qualities that the other partner cannot accept;
  • lack of proper house and financial resources to support a family;
  • expectation of a child;
  • lack of emotional attachment and mutual respect. [3]

If both spouses are ready for a meaningful conversation, they can solve any conflicts appearing in their married life.

Efficient ways to solve family conflicts

Psychologists propose the following pattern of solving marital conflicts in a “proper” manner: [1]

resolution of family conflicts

These stages of seamless conflict solving can be really useful for a couple’s relationship. However, many people are unable to control their emotions when they want to prove their point and win an argument. It becomes hard to follow a “script”.

Search for a solution should not turn into a battlefield. There are no winners or losers in a productive conflict. Ideally, both parties should aim for a “win-win” situation. This is the middle ground, the compromise that will satisfy all family members.

A psychologist V. A. Sysenko spoke about the following tactic to avoid serious conflicts in marriage:

  • solve any imminent conflict without neglecting it;
  • respect each other;
  • aim to become a better person for the sake of your relationship;
  • learn to understand a partner;
  • do not make an argument worse by directly offending the other person;
  • do not bring up their past mistakes;
  • keep your anger in check during an argument;
  • do not bring up your unfounded suspicions about their infidelity. [5]

A family therapist D. Delis offers a rather interesting approach to conflict solving. [4] He suggests that issues in relationship caused by “imbalance of objective circumstances” are the easiest to solve. That includes any changes affecting the stability of relationship: moving houses, birth of a child, change in occupational status of one of the spouses, child’s rebellious behavior during teenage years etc. The therapist offers the following tactics to solve such conflicts in marriage:

  • Blame the situation, not each other.
  • Support each other.
  • Search for a solution together, draft detailed short-term and long-term plans to escape a critical situation.

According to D. Delis, there is always a way to restore balance in a married relationship and stop arguing about trifles. Partners that follow the tactic of meaningful communication without mutual blaming and responsibly search for a solution have easier time preventing serious conflicts.

Inefficient ways to solve family conflicts

family conflicts psychologist

A heedless approach to solving family conflicts can only make the situation worse. Endless quarrels and mutual blaming can eventually lead to a divorce.

According to a psychologist D Gutmann, who spent years observing the relationships in married couples with various “track record”, there are 4 counterproductive and inefficient ways of communication between partners: [6]

  • Criticism. Phrases like “you never…” or “you always…” do not help the situation. Those are just labels that trample down your partner and that do not facilitate a solution to the problem. As the result, both spouses start to discuss each other’s weak points, forgetting about the issue at hands.
  • Humiliation. Partners start attacking and trying to offend each other severely. Yelling, aggressive gestures, name calling and sarcasm do not contribute to solving the problem, they are simply humiliating.
  • Inferiority complex. When one partner (or both) start to consider themselves the victim of the whole situation, the conflict becomes almost impossible to solve. A productive conversation has no victims and no righteous.
  • Ignoring. It is a passive-aggressive behavior that is as damaging as active aggression. It often looks like this: “I’ve already said everything”, “We have nothing to talk about”. Silence is the end of a dialog. And a dialog is necessary to find a solution.

Another serious mistake that many married couples make is involving other people in their conflict. Consulting a family psychologist is one thing, but asking friends and relatives for advice, allowing them to interfere in the couple’s private life only makes the situation worse. The more participants you have, the lower are your chances to solve even the smallest conflict.

Asking a psychologist for help

How can we solve the conflict? Accepting the existence of a problem is the first step. However, many couples fail to reach the compromise even if they know the cause of their conflict and know the ways to solve it.

Quite often, both parties see the situation only from their own perspective and are not ready or willing to see the other person’s view. In such case they need an impartial person’s involvement to look at the situation and both opinions objectively and convey that to both partners. That should not be a relative or a friend, but a qualified psychologist.

Once you realize that some problems in your relationship cannot be solved without external help, it is a good idea to consult a specialist.

Solving the problems in relationship

There are various types of family therapy techniques. The most common of them are sociometric, structural and behavioral. [6]

Sociometric techniques allow the psychologist to gather required information about family functioning. Several methods. like “family sculpting”, “family choreography” or “straw tower”, can help the couple in simulating past, present and future events, finding new ways of interacting with each other and restore trust after a quarrel.

Spouses get the chance to have a calm conversation about their reasons for dissatisfaction in marriage, discuss the possible ways to solve the problems. A specialist is always impartial, they provide coherent explanation for objective and subjective causes of the most common conflicts, helping the partners to fix their relationship.

Family therapy has 4 stages: diagnosis, conflict elimination, reconstruction and support. [1]

After discussing their problems with a psychologist and following their advice, both partners start to perceive their relationship differently. They start to prioritize productive conversations and mutual respect.

Structural techniques of family therapy, like “Memories” and “Family photo” help with discovering hidden problems in the family and creating room for personal change for both partners.

Behavior psychology is aimed at changing behavior patterns of its patients. Modern methods help each family member to establish productive ways to interact with others by employing remote techniques. You don’t have to visit a psychologist. You simply have to follow the course schedule. This method can help you solve the problems without diving deep into your past grudges and escalating the conflict.

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One of these new behavioral methods is  7Spsy behavior modification technique. It is a registered and scientifically approved method that presents wonderful results. This method is based on the works in traditional behavior psychology by I. P. Pavlov, B.F. Skinner etc. The course lasts 2-6 weeks. This technique lets you change your pathologic mode of behavior to a healthier pattern, develop a productive approach to conflicts and learn to get the relationship back on track after a quarrel. This will bring love and harmony back to your family.

References:

  1. «Praktikum po konfliktologii» (3-e izdanie), 2017 g, S. M. Emelyanov
  2. «Konfliktologiya» (2-e izdanie), 2018 g, kollektiv avtorov
  3. Statistika razvodov, nauchnaya statya, 2015 g, kollektiv avtorov «Konfliktologiya», 2008 g, N. A. Loban
  4. «Supruzheskie konflikty», 1989 g, V. A. Sysenko, Elli Lisits, Vvedenie v metod terapii otnoshenij d-ra Gutmana  (https://www.gottman.com/blog/an-introduction-to-the-gottman-method-of-relationship-therapy/)
  5. «Strukturirovannye tekhniki semejnoj i supruzheskoj terapii», 1997, G. Sherman