Types of Family Conflict: Why Do Families Fight?
Updated: May 3
Conflict exists in all families. There will inevitably be occasional disagreement or argument between family members. Families fight over all kinds of issues, with most resolved internally. However, if there is a high amount and/or intensity of conflict, it can become hard to navigate. Other times, it can be a long-term on-going issue that has not been sufficiently addressed. In these situations, it may help to work with a therapist who specializes in working with families.
What are some types of common family conflicts?
One of the most common types of conflict within families revolves around finances. Financial instability can create a tremendous amount of stress on the family. A common example is when there is a loss of employment or in instances of long-term illness or disability.
Even when finances are sufficient, conflict can emerge regarding spending, saving and investing money. As well. one or both parents may work a very demanding job with long hours and consequently spend less time with the family. Finding a work-life balance can be difficult for many people. However, making an effort to spend quality time and connect can be beneficial for the entire family. This is especially true for younger children, where having parental presence and strong familial bonds create an optimal environment for them to thrive.
Parents can have different parenting styles. One parent may be the disciplinary one, while the other fills the more comforting role. Collaboration between parents is key. Parents who do not collaboratively work together may send mixed messages to their children. Children can become confused with different rules and expectations.
Between Parent and Child(ren)
Next, there are the conflicts that occur between a parent and their kids. It is not unusual for children will have disagreements with their parents throughout their whole life. With young children, parents are often setting rules and expectations to protect and nurture their children. As a child grows up, there is an increased need for independence. Parents who can balance discipline with affection have strong, healthy relationships with their children.
Co-Parents and Step-Parents
Parents who are separated and/or co-parenting may disagree over custody arrangements and what they think is best for their child. Sometimes, past unresolved conflict from their prior relationship will resurface. Furthermore, if either parent were to introduce a new partner, they may get some disapproval from their children. The relationship between step-parent and step-child can be challenging to navigate.
It is not unusual for siblings to argue occasionally, especially those close in age. Siblings can fight for an endless amount of reasons. Most of the time, bickering may be harmless, but sometimes it can indicate a more serious issue. Siblings who feel like they have to consistently compete with each other can have a strained relationship. One sibling may be jealous of something the other sibling has. In childhood, children will seek their parent’s attention and approval. If children can perceive that their parents treat their sibling(s) differently or favour one over another - this can intensify sibling conflict. Even well into adulthood, siblings can still hold negative sentiments towards one another.
In-laws and Extended Family
When there are inappropriate boundaries, there is a higher potential for arguments. It can be difficult for you to get along with your partner’s parents and family members. As well, it can be equally as challenging being the partner who is stuck in between their partner and their own family members. These conflicts may occur as there are clashes in personalities, values and beliefs. While input from extended family members can be welcomed, unsolicited advice or opinion may create tension within the family dynamic.
What are some tips on resolving family conflict?
It is being aware of your feelings, how they affect you, and how you express them. Our emotions can be an initiator and a reaction to conflict. Emotions can be intense and being able to regulate these emotions is essential to express them in a healthy manner. It can be difficult to express certain emotions and at the same time, emotions can overwhelm us. During conflicts, we can become flooded with many emotions that may impact our ability to resolve conflict in a constructive way. The ability needed to self-regulate emotions is usually much harder for children and adolescents. Even for adults, there are situations and circumstances where it can present as a challenge. It is helpful for other family members to engage in a way that decreases distress. Some examples include: engaging in deep breathing, gentle eye contact, neutralizing tone of voice and body language, physical touch (holding hand, hugging), words of reassurance and understanding.
Communication is essential in both preventing and resolving conflict. Talking about a recent conflict can feel uncomfortable for everyone involved at first. Reflecting on a past argument or problem as a family can lead to a better understanding of what each person needs when it comes to resolving and preventing conflicts. Approaching the discussion with empathy and allowing everyone to communicate their perspective of the situation is a great place to start. Be honest with how you feel, and hold space for others to do the same. Listen to each other’s thoughts and feelings. Do your best to avoid placing judgment or blame. Overall, talking it through can help identify how conflict initiates and what solutions would be the most feasible for everyone.
Healthy boundaries are essential in every relationship. Boundaries are limits in space that we identify between us and another person. In simple terms, it is what is okay and what is not okay. Setting boundaries is an act of self-care and serves to establish our identity and individuality. Therefore, it can help indicate what is and is not your responsibility. There are many different types of boundaries, such as emotional, physical, and relational ones.
When it comes to family conflict, emotional and relational boundaries are especially important. What rules do you have for your children? How much independence do you have from your parents? How involved do you want your extended family to be? Healthy boundaries are essential to respectful and strong relationships.
A family can resolve many disagreements on their own. However, some issues are so persistent or intense that they can be challenging to resolve without additional resources and support. In these cases, consider consulting with a therapist who specializes in counselling families. Counselling can provide a safe, neutral environment for challenging subjects to be discussed. The ultimate goal of family counselling is for every family member to understand and support one another. A therapist facilitates conversations to help family members express their thoughts and feelings in a safe environment. As a result, clarity around the expectations and needs of each family member can be brought forward. Family members can also learn how their words and actions can affect others. Family counselling can be a necessary step in being able to have healthier relationships within your family.