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How to fight fair in a family feud

There are some sound rules of engagement to follow when it comes to family disputes.

Every family can benefit from learning the rules of fighting fair. One of our panel members used to refer her family to a summary of these rules on a handy fridge magnet. Now her children are adults, she hopes they remember the rules.  

Constructively managing conflict in relationships is a skill. Respectfully expressing differences of opinion and being able to clearly communicate feelings in a calm manner is important.

Key rules to practice include: No name calling or personal attacks, keep on the subject. Restrain from sarcasm, using smart remarks will only serve to inflame. Don’t make threats or ultimatums, don’t yell and scream, don’t physically intimidate. Try hard not to interrupt. Listening, really listening to the other person’s viewpoint is the goal, then clarify what you understood they said and consider what their needs are of you. Think before you speak, “Is what you are about to say going to help the situation?”. Stay on the topic/issue you are trying to resolve, try not to bring up previous grievances. Restrain from blame. Rather than “you make me feel like…” statements, it’s best to own your feelings: “I feel sad when…”.

Don’t try to resolve issues following the consumption of alcohol, because alcohol reduces inhibitions and stimulates emotional responses. It is therefore obviously not a good time to have difficult discussions. Regulating you own emotions is important.

Words are powerful and hurtful words can’t be taken back. If you realise that you have not been fair, immediately apologise. If you find that matters are getting too heated, it is useful to have some rehearsed lines that will assist you to exit the situation, such as “I think the discussion we are having is really important but I am feeling too upset at the moment to continue talking. I need to take some time out to calm down so let’s arrange another time to talk”. It’s important to calm yourself down and return, not to use this as a way to avoid the issue.

It is a good idea to sit down to have difficult discussions. Pick a time when you are not tired and there is time available, but not when you are driving in the car!

If you are finding that you are not able to manage conflict constructively and issues are not getting resolved through discussion, it may be beneficial to seek professional counselling.

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Relationships Australia SA appoints panels of general practitioners, medical specialists, lawyers, therapeutic and financial counsellors to discuss each letter before the appropriate professional answers it.

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