written by home doctor brisbane

The relationships we have with our family members can be some of the most nourishing. They can make us feel part of a community and give us a sense of belonging.

But like any relationship they are often not perfect and when families fight the fallout can be devastating. If you’ve got brothers or sisters who aren’t talking to each other, a parent that has picked a side or generally feel like Christmas would be better spent riding solo, it might be time to take some advice from the experts.


Look in from the outside

Like most tense situations, if you’re caught in a family dispute it is probably best to take a step back, get some perspective and to try and understand what is really going on.

Sure, your brother’s wife might be asking your sister to drive across town for an event and your sister might have found that request offensive but is a car journey what we’re all really fighting about? No. No it’s not.

Mediator and researcher on family systems Candida Abrahamson told the Wall Street Journal arguments might start over something small, but they’re often about something much bigger. She said childhood issues like jealousy, competition and favouritism were often at play.

“If someone’s reaction is way bigger than the actual harm done to them, it’s old stuff,” she said.

In a family feud, different members will often take on different roles. The Wall Street Journal writes about them, including:

  • The trigger
  • The prosecutor
  • The peacemaker
  • The enabler
  • The deserter.

The hard truth is, someone will have to be the voice of reason. That might mean leading the family down the path of negotiation or mediation. It might not be a fun job, but you might save Christmas.

Try to agree on something

Better Health Victoria has some advice and says the key is to get everyone to agree that the dispute needs to end.

“Finding a peaceful resolution can be difficult, if not impossible, when both parties stubbornly stick to their guns,” its advice reads.

“It helps if everyone decides as a family to try listening to each other and negotiating instead.”

How exactly? In the heated moment, try these suggestions for yourself and encourage your family to do the same:

  • Work out if the issue is worth fighting over
  • Try to separate the problem from the person
  • Try to cool off first if you feel too angry to talk calmly
  • Keep in mind that the idea is to resolve the conflict, not win the argument
  • Remember that the other party isn’t obliged to always agree with you on everything
  • Define the problem and stick to the topic
  • Respect the other person’s point of view by paying attention and listening
  • Talk clearly and reasonably
  • Try to find points of common ground
  • Agree to disagree.

Family mediation is an option and one more and more people are turning to. If you think you and your family would benefit you should start by seeking out a registered mediator.

Remember, family disputes are very common. Most families will experience some kind of tension but it’s how they deal with it that is significant.