Conflict is part of being human. And because this is the case, it is also part of being in a family. Do not be surprised when family conflict occurs. It is inevitable. Just know that how family conflicts are resolved sets the stage for the long-term relationship between members.
As for why family conflict occurs, it’s actually not a mystery. Conflict is a basic part of human nature attributable to the way our brains are wired. Through our training and experience in individual, adolescent, and couple’s counseling, we’ve observed four key things that seem to be at the root of most conflicts.
1. Differing Viewpoints, Goals, and Agendas
If we had to choose the most common cause of family conflict, it would probably be the differences between how people view the world. These differences are manifested in different viewpoints, goals, and agendas. In many family conflicts, the disagreement starts around one of these three things.
In one case, a husband and wife might have different goals for their financial future. In another case, different viewpoints may lead to conflict between children and their stepparents. In still other cases, one member of a family may intentionally stir up conflict in order to pursue a particular agenda.
2. An Over Emphasis on Individual Needs
We live in a culture that is very inward focused. More than ever before, people are very aware of their own needs – almost to the point of obsession. Unfortunately, an over emphasis on individual needs often leads to family conflict.
It is not that legitimate needs don’t exist. Rather, it’s often a matter of one or more family members being so focused on their own needs that they discount those of the rest of the family. This can lead to a ‘me first’ attitude that sows the seeds of conflict. Individual counseling can help family members understand their role in conflict and how to handle conflict with healthy communication.
3. Clashing Personalities Between Family Members
It’s not at all unusual for multiple family members to have different personalities. When those personalities clash, tension is often the result. Family conflict can arise when family members do not know how to deal with that tension in a productive way. Unfortunately, clashing personalities are exceedingly difficult to tame. After all, we are who we are. But with help from a trained therapist, the fallout can be managed.
4. A Breach of Trust
Family members naturally want to trust one another. They want to be able to depend on one another under any circumstances. When trust is breached, even by the most insignificant infraction, conflict is inevitable. In some cases, the conflict is open and visible. In other cases, it is quiet and under the surface. But it’s there, nonetheless.
Note that a breach of trust doesn’t necessarily have to be a direct betrayal. It can occur as a result of thoughtless or irresponsible behavior. For example, mom and dad might instruct Junior to get all his chores done before he goes out for the evening. In his irresponsibility, he puts things off until it’s too late to do the work. He leaves home with chores undone.
This is a case in which mom and dad trusted their son to be responsible. He betrayed that trust by being irresponsible. There is going to be conflict when Junior walks in the door later that evening.
Family conflict is inevitable. The most important thing is dealing with it in a productive way. If you are in the midst of a family conflict situation and you need help, consider coming in for individual, adolescent, or couple’s counseling. We are more than happy to do what we can for you and your family.