Finding peace in your own home: family conflicts and how to solve them

Apr 04, 2019

A loving relationship is not always as peaceful as we wish it to be. Every couple has their conflicts. Our moods and desires do not match all the time. Even though, it is perfectly possible to maintain a happy long-term relationship despite occasional fervor. The most important thing here is to learn how to resolve all the disagreements in a timely manner.

Let’s see the main causes for couples’ conflicts and learn the ways to maintain peace in your family and overcome all the crises together, without turning your life into a battlefield.

Features of family conflicts

Family conflicts appear when family members (spouses, usually), disagree about their views and motivations regarding a certain issue. [1] Such a concise description cannot fully convey the range of emotions each couple experiences while solving their relationship problems. When two people fight, it can be anger, grudge, a sharp sense of guilt or irritation that gets the better of both of them.

Psychologists classify conflicts based on causes and sources of conflicts as well as partners’ behavior. One of such classifications, that perfectly shows the eagerness of both partners to solve the issues together, is classifying conflicts as either productive or counterproductive. [2] Their main features are whether both partners reach the same page, are ready to work on their relationship, and whether the problem gets solved.

Productive conflicts

From the psychological point of view, family conflicts can be extremely helpful and even necessary to strengthen a relationship. Such conflicts are not a problem, but rather a way to learn more about the partner, solve any pending issues and show your honest feelings. Even the most serious conflicts can be soothing in the long run.

There can be various causes of productive conflicts, but in the way of solving them both partners reach a compromise. As a result, no one feels offended or slighted. Such conflicts can help in solving relationship issues and stabilizing a marriage.

Counterproductive conflicts

Unfortunately, some passionate arguments do not end peacefully and result in compromise. Counterproductive conflicts are especially dangerous. Neither of the partners is satisfied with the result.

Basically, such conflicts become a simple shouting match of two people who do not want to listen to each other or compromise and solve their actual problems. Both partners are left with bad tastes in their mouths after such conflicts, and this affects their happiness in the relationship.

Counterproductive conflicts can last for years and can lead to a divorce.

Causes of family conflicts

There is a brilliant saying by Leo Tolstoy: “Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. We can hardly argue with that, as family conflicts may happen for any reason. Psychologists note the most prominent ones:

  • deviant behavior of one of the partners (addiction to drugs, alcohol, gambling etc.);
  • acts of infidelity;
  • a strict and authoritarian family system, which the other partner cannot accept;
  • opposite views on life, goals and interests;
  • unsolvable financial challenges;
  • sexual inadequacy;
  • unfulfilled needs for positive emotions in one or both partners due to lack of understanding;
  • constant interference from outside (friends, relatives). [1]

Multiple social surveys confirm these findings. According to statistics, the following issues are common causes for a divorce:

  • rash decision to marry—40%;
  • partner’s infidelity—19%;
  • sexual inadequacy—15%;
  • mismatch of common interests and views—12%;
  • alcohol addiction of a spouse—7%. [3]

Critical periods of a married relationship

Aside from the main causes of family conflicts, psychologists also note certain factors that can lead to matrimonial discord. These are the crises of a married relationship. There are generally four such critical periods. [1]

The first critical period

This usually happens during the first year of marriage. Partners get used to each other, establish important behavior rules, learn to handle the family budget and may even challenge each other in order to hold the place as the head of the family. All these can inevitably lead to conflicts.

The second critical period

The birth of children is another important step in developing a relationship. Many couples struggle with raising a child. Both spouses get new responsibilities, and in return they lack time for intimacy. Also, they both have fewer possibilities for personal and professional growth. Spouses can disagree about their parenting methods. The husband’s negligence, or, on the contrary, increased sexual desire towards his wife can be problematic. Also a new mother is often exhausted and goes through physical changes that can lead to problems with sexual relations. All these can be the cause of serious arguments.

The third critical period                                       

“Experienced” couples that survived 10-15 years of marriage can also have a relationship crisis. Quite often partners get “sated” with each other after years of living together, and they become conscious of a lack of new emotions. Some spouses can become reserved or become consumed with a new hobby. Other spouses start searching for “new emotions” elsewhere.

The fourth critical period

After 18-24 years of married life spouses can encounter another critical period. Some psychologists think that this is caused by the wife’s emotional dependence on her husband and worries about his possible infidelity. On the one hand, a husband has a lower libido at that age and may not be able to fulfill his wife’s sexual needs. On the other, a wife senses her own aging and fears that her husband will find a younger and more beautiful lover.

Critical periods happen at specific times in every couple’s married life. The causes may be different, but the signs are always the same: mistrust, reservations and frequent arguments. If both partners manage to “survive” this crisis without breaking up, their relationship goes to a new level. However, it can only happen if both of them are willing to make it happen.

Ideal couples: dream or reality

Spouses spend a lot of time together. They constantly have to deal with everyday issues and the raising of their children. They also spend much of their leisure time together. It is inevitable for them to have disagreements in any of these matters for both partners have different upbringings, different habits and different behavior patterns. There are hardly any ideal families that are constantly peaceful and have no conflicts whatsoever.

US researchers V. Mathews and C. Mihanovich split all married couples in two groups, happy and unhappy ones, regardless of their “track record”. [4] According to them, spouses in unhappy families:

  • have different views on many problems and specific situations;
  • cannot or have no desire to understand their partner’s feelings;
  • speak in a manner that irritates their partner;
  • feel unloved;
  • never speak about their problems and desires, agree with everything even if they are dissatisfied with it;
  • never spend time with each other;
  • do not trust each other;
  • submit to their partner’s desires regardless of their own wishes;
  • barely compliment their partner.

For a certainty, every person has their own opinion about the shape of an ideal family. The most important concepts here are to find common ground, listen to a partner and respect their opinion and principles. In order to describe a happy family, we just need to take the same list of features and turn each point into its positive opposite. A happy family is based on trust and the desire and eagerness of both spouses to find a solution to any problem.

A Public Opinion Foundation in Russia conducted a survey in 2013 in order to find out the opinion of Russians about a happy family. Only 12% of Russians called their relationship ideal. The respondents were also asked about the most important things in a married relationship. Here are the answers to that question:

  • trust—64%;
  • love—55%;
  • respect—55%;
  • care—37%;
  • patience—26%.

Recognizing counterproductive conflicts

Counterproductive argument is a conflict for the sake of conflict. It is hard to reach any sort of a compromise if both parties get so heated that they end up on opposite ends of the issue.

There are few relationships without arguments. The important part here is whether the conflict helps to solve the issue at hand. In the heat of an argument we can lose the sight of its original cause when the emotions get the best of us. Here are the signs of a counterproductive conflict, detrimental to a relationship:

  • Partners cannot or have no desire to solve a problem.
  • An argument takes the form of finger-pointing and abuse exchange rather than a meaningful conversation. Both partners aim to offend the other.
  • Partners bring up past misdeeds instead of dealing with the problem at hand.
  • Neither of the partners admit their guilt. They always blame other people.
  • One or both spouses become aggressive. Overwhelmed with anger, a person may even be physically violent to their relationship partner.
  • One or both spouses become passive-aggressive. As a result, they keep silent, leave the room ostentatiously or give short answers that do not move the conversation forwards.

Even severely counterproductive conflicts may result in reconciliation. However, this will be the calm before the storm. If the spouses did not come up with a solution that would satisfy both of them, after some time the same issue will be raised in the same manner.

Constant arguments in a relationship create a critical situation that requires both partners to solve. Increased psychological lack of comfort is meant to push the person to look for ways to resolve the issue.

Consequences of counterproductive conflicts

What can be the result of a prolonged and counterproductive conflict? The severity of consequences greatly depends on the specifics of the situation and the solutions that the spouses apply.

Counterproductive conflicts affect both the physical and mental state of everyone involved, willingly or not.

  1. Spouses begin to mistrust each other, they build up a grudge and a sense of dissatisfaction with their current relationship.
  2. One of the partners may even develop depression or neurosis as the result of constant stress. Other physical and mental disorders can also take hold.
  3. Children are the most affected by the neverending conflicts. They suffer from their parents’ confrontations and may consider themselves to be the cause. This impacts everything a child does and will do in the future.

Conflicts between newlyweds

Many psychologists agree that newlywed couples have a harder time solving conflicts compared to others. Partners who have lived together for only 1-3 years file for a divorce due to unresolved conflicts much more often than more experienced couples.

Up to 30% of new marriages fall apart due to this. [1]

Here are the most common causes of conflicts in new families:

  • jealousy and cheating;
  • any flaws and negative qualities that the other partner cannot accept;
  • lack of a proper house and financial resources to support a family;
  • expectations of childbirth;
  • lack of emotional attachment and mutual respect. [3]

If both spouses are ready for a meaningful conversation, they can solve any conflicts which appear in their married life.

Efficient ways to solve family conflicts

Psychologists propose the following pattern of solving marital conflicts in a “proper” manner: [1]

emergence of a conflict

realization of a conflict by both partners

open confrontation

development of open confrontation

conflict solution

These stages of seamless conflict solving can be really useful for a couple’s relationship. However, many people are unable to control their emotions when they want to prove their point and win an argument. It becomes hard to follow a “script”.

The search for a solution should not turn into a battlefield. There are no winners or losers in a productive conflict. Ideally, both parties should aim for a “win-win” situation. This is the middle ground, the compromise that will satisfy all family members.

The psychologist V. A. Sysenko spoke about the following tactics to avoid serious conflicts in marriage:

  • solve any imminent conflict without neglecting it;
  • respect each other;
  • aim to become a better person for the sake of your relationship;
  • learn to understand a partner;
  • do not make an argument worse by directly offending the other person;
  • do not bring up their past mistakes;
  • keep your anger in check during an argument;
  • do not bring up your unfounded suspicions about their infidelity. [5]

The family therapist D. Delis offers a rather interesting approach to conflict solving. [4] He suggests that issues in a relationship caused by “imbalance of objective circumstances” are the easiest to solve. These include any changes affecting the stability of relationship: moving house, the birth of a child, change in occupational status of one of the spouses, a child’s rebellious behavior during teenage years etc. The therapist offers the following tactics to solve such conflicts in marriage:

  • Blame the situation, not each other.
  • Support each other.
  • Search for a solution together, draft detailed short-term and long-term plans to escape a critical situation.

According to D. Delis, there is always a way to restore balance in a married relationship and stop arguing about trifles. Partners that follow the tactic of meaningful communication without mutual blaming, and responsibly search for a solution have an easier time preventing serious conflicts.

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Inefficient ways to solve family conflicts

A heedless approach to solving family conflicts can only make the situation worse. Endless quarrels and mutual blaming can eventually lead to a divorce.

According to the psychologist D Gutmann, who spent years observing the relationships in married couples with various “track records”, there are 4 counterproductive and inefficient ways of communication between partners: [6]

  • Criticism. Phrases like “you never…” or “you always…” do not help the situation. Those are just labels that trample down your partner and they do not facilitate a solution to the problem. As a result, both spouses start to discuss each other’s weak points, forgetting about the issue at hand.
  • Humiliation. Partners start attacking and trying to offend each other severely. Yelling, aggressive gestures, name calling and sarcasm do not contribute to solving the problem, they are simply humiliating.
  • Inferiority complex. When one partner (or both) start to consider themselves the victim of the whole situation, the conflict becomes almost impossible to solve. A productive conversation has no victims and no righteous element.
  • Ignoring. It is a passive-aggressive behavior that is as damaging as active aggression. It often looks like this: “I’ve already said everything”, “We have nothing to talk about”. Silence is the end of a dialog, but a dialog is necessary to find a solution.

Another serious mistake that many married couples make is involving other people in their conflict. Consulting a family psychologist is one thing, but asking friends and relatives for advice, allowing them to interfere in the couple’s private life only makes the situation worse. The more participants you have, the lower are your chances to solve even the smallest conflict.

Asking a psychologist for help

How can we solve the conflict? Accepting the existence of a problem is the first step. However, many couples fail to reach a compromise even if they know the cause of their conflict and know the ways to solve it.

Quite often, both parties see the situation only from their own perspective and are not ready or willing to see the other person’s point of view. In such cases they need an impartial person’s involvement to look at the situation and both opinions objectively and convey that to both partners. That should not be a relative or a friend, but a qualified psychologist.

Once you realize that some problems in your relationship cannot be solved without external help, it is a good idea to consult a specialist.

Solving the problems in a relationship

There are various types of family therapy techniques. The most common of them are sociometric, structural and behavioral. [6]

Sociometric techniques allow the psychologist to gather required information about family functioning. Several methods. like “family sculpting”, “family choreography” or “straw tower”, can help the couple  to simulate past, present and future events, and find new ways of interacting with each other and restoring trust after a quarrel.

Spouses get the chance to have a calm conversation about their reasons for dissatisfaction in their marriage and to discuss the possible ways to solve the problems. A specialist is always impartial, they provide coherent explanations for objective and subjective causes of the most common conflicts, helping the partners to fix their relationship.

Family therapy has 4 stages: diagnosis, conflict elimination, reconstruction and support. [1]

After discussing their problems with a psychologist and following their advice, both partners start to perceive their relationship differently. They start to prioritize productive conversations and mutual respect.

Structural techniques of family therapy, like “Memories” and “Family photo” help with discovering hidden problems in the family and creating room for personal change for both partners.

Behavior psychology is aimed at changing behavior patterns of its patients. Modern methods help each family member to establish productive ways to interact with others by employing remote techniques. You don’t have to visit a psychologist. You simply have to follow the course schedule. This method can help you solve the problems without diving deep into your past grudges and escalating the conflict.

One of these new behavioral methods is the 7Spsy behavior modification technique. It is a registered and scientifically approved method that produces wonderful results. This method is based on the works in traditional behavior psychology by I. P. Pavlov, B.F. Skinner etc. The course lasts 2-6 weeks. This technique lets you change your pathologic mode of behavior to a healthier pattern, develop a productive approach to conflicts and learn to get the relationship back on track after a quarrel. This will bring love and harmony back to your family.


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