Conflict is an inevitable reality in every relationship. Managed correctly it can help people learn more about themselves and eventually grow closer. But too often long periods go by in which feelings are not shared, and smaller resentments tend to accumulate.
“By the time we have a family coming in for our services, small issues have built up then bubble up into a larger issue,” says Kristin Koberstein, MA, licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) with Strong Behavioral Health and Family Therapy Services at University of Rochester Medical Center. She offers four guidelines to help families resolve conflicts with their loved ones.
First you must identify how you feel and express yourself when you are upset with someone. Koberstein advises people to get in the habit of checking in with their body and feelings. At some point each day, pause and observe your feelings. Are you frustrated? Do you have a physical symptom such as a headache or stomachache due to a conflict?
Next, ask yourself what specifically made you frustrated. Koberstein emphasizes the importance of getting your thoughts in order before you have a discussion or risk feeling defensive and reactive. You need this clarity to stick to the issue at hand.
“Frustration usually stems from two themes: not being in control or feeling you don’t matter or are unloved,” Koberstein says. “This knowledge softens the conversation and helps others meet your needs.”
Self-care plays a critical role when it comes to unburdening yourself from the anxiety and stress that accompanies chronic grudges. For starters, research has shown that holding a grudge has physical implications — raising blood pressure and cortisol levels, suppressing the immune system, and impacting sleep and chronic pain.
“It becomes toxic to you individually as well as the family,” Koberstein says. “You have to ask yourself, do I want to continue to feel horrible?”
There is another way to help yourself let go. Ask yourself the story you have been telling yourself repeatedly in your head. This is your version of how you were wronged. Now challenge yourself to change that story.
“It’s often not one truth but rather, many possibilities in a story,” Koberstein says. “This is where family conversations get helpful. Or good friends. You want help to shift your view on the situation.”
Koberstein says research has revealed specific patterns of kindness and appreciation within healthy, long-term relationships. For every negative interaction you need five positive ones to offset it. Start thanking loved ones for things they do that make you happy or feel good. Not only do these positive affirmations provide a buffer of kindness to soften the difficult moments but they provide excellent role modeling to children.
When conflict arises, it’s natural to adjust your dialogue with a young child versus an adult partner. But older teens and young adults often still lack the capacity to have the insight into a situation that we think they should. Their frontal lobes are not fully developed and as a result they are still irrational and compulsive.
Conflict is a natural part of life. Recognizing what you can do to ease the burden and work through the frustrations will help you and your family both physically and mentally. And that is good health for all.