Note to readers: I'm on sabbatical for another month and have provided here another favorite article from the past.
It happens too often in many families - tired arguments, hurt feelings, screaming, slammed doors, verbal assaults, people who love each other wounding one another over and over again.All families fall along a continuum, with those at one end whose members live in relative peace with each other to those on the other end whose members typically live with heated arguments, anger and even violence. In these latter embattled families, members must constantly be on alert to protect themselves - any interaction with another member is a potentially dangerous event.
No family has to live in an embroiled, tension-filled environment. Peace is possible, although in the case of many families, it may take a concerted effort to change negative personal and family habits. If you'd like a more serene and peaceful feeling in your home, consider implementing these suggestions:
- Opt for peace. Decide that family fighting is a thing of the past. If you have a two-partner family, have an executive meeting and agree to take whatever action necessary to cut out the fighting that occurs in your home. Then have a family meeting and make the same announcement. Talk about ways of cutting out the wounding of family members.
If you and your partner fight constantly - and can't seem to get out of that mode - consider seeking professional help. Your children are going to model whatever they see you do and they will use the same tactics you use in resolving their disputes. (Some children come out of childhood with such negative styles of engaging other people that they're programmed for a divorce before they ever marry.)
- If you're one of the family fighters, make a personal decision to change yourself. Don't wait for your spouse or children to change. Work to discover your negative communication styles that play into the fights. And take responsibility for the words that come out of your mouth, the volume of your voice and your voice tones.
If you assassinate the character of others or insult them, if you yell or scream, if the tones that come out of your mouth are contemptuous, sarcastic or impudent, you are contributing to the family fighting.
- Remember that it takes two people to argue. Never in recorded history has an argument occurred without the cooperation of two people. So use what is called the skill of disengaging.
You have, for example, the option at any moment to quit arguing by saying something like: "I don't like what I'm doing. I'm starting to say things that are going to wound you. I don't want to do that so I'm going to take a few minutes out so I don't say and do things I'll regret later."
One couple who were picking at each other during a long, hot drive changed the direction of their communications when the wife suddenly said: "You know - we don't get much time together. I'd like to enjoy the time we have now so why don't we regroup and start over?" "Thanks," said the husband. "We needed that."
- In families that fight, interactional patterns settle in so that each person knows his "part." The patterns take over the people, so it doesn't matter what the people talk about. The same old fights occur.
To interrupt fighting patterns, make a habit of doing the unexpected. Be understanding, try to problem-solve, apologize for your part in a confrontation, tell people what they're doing right, or state your wish to get beyond the fighting and about the business of loving again.
- To help kids change their fighting habits, explain to each one in a quiet and private moment what you want him or her to change. (You may want to tell your kids what you're trying to change, too!) Then, whenever you see them using any appropriate behaviors to cooperate or solve problems, describe the behavior, say thanks, and talk about the positive impact of the behavior of themselves and others.
- Follow these rules for clear communications developed by Dr. Kent Griffiths, directer of the Alta View Center for Counseling:
1. No profanity, vulgarity or degrading name-calling.
2. No screaming, raised voices or yelling.
3. No bringing in third parties - this is between you and me.
4. No killer language (sarcasm, criticism, threats, orders, etc.).
5. No arguing over past history. Talk about events that are happening in the present.
6. No marital arguments in front of the kids. Also deal with issues with children in private.
7. No using the kids as pawns, getting them to take sides with one or the other of you.
8. No controlling or overpowering any member of the family verbally or non-verbally through intellect, use of voice, forcefulness, body language or physical threats.
9. Negotiate, compromise - commit to solving the problem, not intensifying it.
10. Apologize openly when you've wounded someone.
11. Assume personal responsibility for your own actions and don't blame others for your part in problems.
12. Be open, honest, clear, kind and direct in your communications.
13. State your needs and offer possible solutions. Be willing to listen to the solutions of others.
14. If you can't resolve your issues, call a truce - for days, if necessary. At least maintain an attitude of good will in your home.