For some families where personalities clash and opinions are strong, arguments are a part of everyday life. There are pros and cons to arguing. On the plus side, you can develop a talent for debate which improves logical reasoning skills and hones communication.
In fact, some would say that arguments are healthy, but fights cause stress and dysfunction. If you are experiencing the latter, then it’s time to reassess your arguing style and explore ways members of your family can express themselves more fully and positively.
What makes an argument a fight?
Personal attacks. Let’s say, for example, you and your partner don’t agree on whether to open the windows or turn the air conditioner on. This is one of the many small differences of opinion that typically crops up for anyone living under the same roof as other human beings.
Asking your spouse, “Are you insane? Who turns on the A/C in October?” is definitely not the ideal way to get your point across. Even worse if you’re bellowing, shouting, scowling and storming about.
Name-calling. Try to avoid insulting the person with whom you do not agree. Instead, keep calm and put the problem in perspective. Perhaps one person who feels overheated can retreat to a room with an air conditioner.
Another option would be to run the A/C for a half hour just to cool things off, then let some fresh air in. Problem-solving does not have to be ugly business. In fact, it feels nice when each side gives a little in the name of happiness for all.
The blame game. Even if you accuse rather than insult i.e. “Well I guess the house is hot because you were too busy taking a nap to turn the A/C on,” blaming and shaming will quickly escalate the argument into something that has nothing to do with actually solving the problem of cooling the house off.
Bringing up issues from the past. The best way to keep peace in the family is to let the past be the past. Saying something like “Last year the electric bills were huge thanks to you leaving the A/C on all the time,” may in fact be true. Or, maybe not.
Does anyone really know just how high the electric bills are with A/C on compared to off? “Every time I open the windows, you go around shutting them!” is another generalization that can result in high peeve factor and building resentment.
How to avoid
fights in the first place?
Seek a compromise for clashing priorities. Running air conditioners when it’s hot out does not break the bank for most people. The disagreement comes in when one person prioritizes something that the other does not think is important.
Perhaps it’s worth having a frank discussion to know where other parties are coming from, and coming to a compromise about what’s important.
Don’t say things that you wouldn’t want said to you. The golden rule is so important to remember when dealing with family members. If you don’t care to be called an idiot, lazy, foolish, mean, or crazy, then don’t say it to your loved ones.
Also, people become what we say they are. If you tell your wife she’s crazy every day, it may well drive her mad, which will drive you crazy. Now you live in a family of nutcases. That doesn’t feel so good!
Be flexible. Inflexible personalities tend to clash with each other. Ask yourself if you’re good at compromise. This is a high level skill that, once developed, will increase your emotional intelligence which will help you navigate through tough life situations more effectively.
Don’t have a separate “at home” and “with outsiders” personality. Instead, treat everyone with equal respect and fairness. If you tend to be driven by emotional impulses, find out what’s causing that and fix it.
Maybe you’re not asserting yourself as well as you could be, then becoming angry when it seems like people are passing over your opinion or ignoring your wishes.
Figure out what’s really stuck in your craw. Maybe you eat poorly and don’t exercise enough. Everyone carries around a certain amount of tension. Tension builds inside of our bodies as we deal with the challenges of daily life.
If we don’t release this tension, it can make us sick and unhappy. So make it a priority to release your inner tension by exercising regularly. Exercise improves mood. People who are in good moods argue less about dumb things.
Timing is everything. Bedtime is a lousy time to pick a fight. So is a car trip when everyone is trapped in a small space with no place to escape. There probably is no ideal time to fight, and no one really enjoys it (or do they?) but it’s worth choosing when and where to hash out disagreements.
The times when people are supposed to be having the most fun are, ironically, often the place when family members choose to duke out their disagreements.
Ask yourself, is being right worth making everyone else around you upset? You can always turn to a friend to privately express frustration with family members or living companions.
Find ways to express yourself pleasantly, without raising your voice. Take other people’s opinions seriously, and listen when they speak.
Know when to let it go. You‘ve probably heard of the book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” This advice works so well when applied to getting along with family members. Even if you were freezing and your boyfriend turned up the A/C, will this matter in the grand scheme of things?
The best way to stop fights is to find the humor in everyday situations, disagreements included. Sometimes, all it takes to stop fighting is to just… stop… fighting.
What to Do When Family Members
Talk Behind Your Back
Personal issues abound in family relationships. This includes blood relatives and in-laws. Did it come through the grapevine that someone said something negative about you?
Sometimes passing remarks get blown out of proportion, or even misquoted. Other times, people have grievances they want to air but don’t have the self confidence for a direct confrontation.
It can really bother you to know, or even suspect, that someone close to you may be spreading false information or unflattering stories around about you. Below, a few ideas on how to handle the situation.
Address the person who was talking about you. However, when you do this, take the high and not the low road. Here’s an example. You heard that your sister in law thinks you don’t spend enough on Christmas presents for her kids.
The word “cheap” was used about you. If you tell her, “I heard that you said I was cheap,” she will immediately know that someone broke her confidence. She’ll probably know who it was, too. This is how to keep the family conflict going round and round.
Address the issue itself, not what was said. If you heard that your sister in law thinks you’re cheap, who cares? You know you’re not cheap. If you go back and tell her you’re offended by her words, she may feel embarrassed and apologize.
But in the end, she will probably still think you’re cheap. So if you feel like your generosity is being overlooked, you can directly address the topic of holiday presents with her. Initiate a conversation. “How much do you want to spend on Christmas this year?”
Consider the source. Suppose someone criticized your social skills. “My (mom, sister, wife) is socially backward,” or some such statement was made. Hearing something like this may make you angry.
Or, you may feel like hiding from everyone. It may help to consider the whole situation. Did these words come from the family alcoholic? Someone who makes crude jokes around the Thanksgiving table?
Know yourself. Sometimes when people sense that we won’t play along with their games, they try to turn it around on us. If this happens to you, remember who you are.
Do you have great friends and healthy relationships in general? Then you know you aren’t socially backward, and you have nothing to prove to anyone else.
Let it go. In the example where we talked about a family member who thinks you’re cheap, it may be worth hashing out some details. But in the socially awkward example, this isn’t worth thinking about. So just take a deep breath and let it go.
If someone’s thoughtless remark leaves you feeling low, you can always prove to yourself who you are. Set a lunch date with a good friend. Go to a work function where you know you’ll be engaging in lively conversation with positive people.
Keep up appearances but nothing more. You don’t have to be best friends with people in your family. Maybe your brother was a jerk to you growing up, and still is. Maybe people have addiction problems that are outside your realm of support.
Family drama can be kept to a minimum simply by fulfilling your family obligations but holding people at arm’s length. Get together for the holidays. Send birthday cards. Engage in pleasant conversation but steer away from personal discussions.
In the end, if you do “the right things,” address issues directly and with a positive, problem-solving attitude… you can strike the perfect balance to avoid family drama.