Conflict Theory & the Family

Parents and son talking on back porch

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Conflict theory addresses the way in which people within a unit struggle for power, how they disagree and what actions they take to compete for resources. Prestige and wealth often form the basis for the most intense competitions. Instead of buying into the myth that all families are harmonious entities, conflict theory challenges those assumptions to examine the ways in which family members struggle, according to California State University.


The theory of conflict within families starts with the premise that family members undergo conflicts and disharmony. The study includes family dynamics and the roles played by various family members. The source of the power and the causes of the conflict must be identified. Included in the conflict theory as it applies to the family is the uncovering of how the family deals with changes and adversity.


When the family is dissected and sources of conflict and power identified, the family then can find better and more effective ways to communicate. Understanding can lead to a desire for change and motivate family members to participate to develop more positive relationships. Through the study of the family dynamics, members may become more empathic and understanding of the underlying causes of their conflict.


According to California State University, it is not possible to interact with other human beings without eventual conflict. Growth takes place within the context of conflict. Change and the ensuing conflicts it brings are normal and necessary for human growth and development. The primary goal should be for family members to learn how to manage the conflict so that it doesn't escalate and alienate others and lead to estranged relationships.


Among the resources that present conflicts in families are time and money. Family members concerned with self-interest alone see a scarcity of both and present conflicting ideas of how each should be spent to make sure they receive their due. Love, affection, power to make decisions and knowledge also are commodities seen as scarce resources. Conflict negotiations highlight these needs and agree they exist.


Once the family understands the complexities of their motivations and intent, it can find resolutions, according to the University of Akron. Families can learn to express their feelings in a safe environment where each member receives a certain amount of uninterrupted time to talk. Ground rules may be set that discourage raised voices or physical acts. Discussion remains focused on each issue and does not turn to personal attacks. Each family member must believe that a solution is possible and then participate in finding it. Hindsight then can be used to settle future conflicts.