How to Handle Unresolved Conflict in Your Family

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Conflict between family members is common and can help individuals grow through negotiation and behavioral changes. Unresolved conflict, in contrast, can erode the foundation of a family by causing anger, animosity and distance. While it may appear that ignoring an unresolved conflict will make it lose its impact over time, people are adept at remembering slights of emotion and hurtful words. Handling unresolved conflict requires a commitment to frank discussion and a willingness to change. The ability to listen and respond more objectively is also necessary, to diffuse heightened emotions and facilitate effective communication.

Step 1

Suggest to the other individuals involved that you all work towards resolving the conflict. According to Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Melinda Smith, M.A. writing for, skills that facilitate conflict resolution include willingness to forgive, assertiveness, negotiation and using humor. In addition, it's important to be aware of your nonverbal communication style. Nonverbal communication is perhaps the most common type of communication between people. Despite this, we are often not aware that folding our arms can infer that we feel a sense of discomfort with what is being said. Improving your awareness of the point of view and feelings of other family members can help resolve conflict.

Step 2

Distance yourself from the sources of conflict, if resolution isn't possible. Even though the unresolved conflict is between members of the same family, not every person may be willing to work to resolve the problem. In this case, reducing interactions with individuals with whom you have a conflict can avoid making an unfortunate situation worse. If you have no choice but to be in the presence of the other family member occasionally, do your best to be cordial but brief. If necessary, explain your reasons for distance to other family members.

Step 3

Request a mediator to help the individuals involved in the conflict to communicate and negotiate a resolution. A mediator is typically an objective party who can act as a referee in a disagreement. Mediation should be agreed upon by all of the individuals involved in the conflict and in cases of particularly severe conflict, it may be necessary to hire a professional. Professional mediators can be found for free or for a fee and are typically available from local bar association offices, counseling clinics and organizations that specialize in conflict resolution.

Step 4

Avoid triangulating. Triangulation is the act of involving other people in your conflicts with someone. In the case of unresolved family conflict, triangulation can create factions and alliances, creating additional animosity and emotional volatility. Although it may seem at first glance that bringing someone into your conflict with another family member will help, it can have the opposite effect. Individuals who are the victim of triangulation can become future sources of conflict. This is particularly true if someone agrees to engage in the conflict because they feel obligated to do so.