Family feuds: when and how do we reconnect?

It's tragic when family relationships break down, even more so when the reasons may not be known or well understood. We may have family stories about a conflict or dispute that has resulted in huge divides within an extended family group - participants positioning themselves based on loyalty, principle or simply as the result of giving in to pressure from others.  Often when couples or families come for counselling, a wider family feud may be contributing in hidden and confusing ways to difficulties that they are experiencing. For example - my mother doesn't like my new partner; I feel torn between supporting one or the other, so I 'sit on the fence'. My partner and I have tried discussing it, got nowhere, so it remains unresolved. After a while communication more generally starts to feel more difficult, it's less easy to resolve other differences. It's like the issue with Mum has started to affect our capacity to work through conflict more generally. After a while, we've forgotten about the original issue - after all, we haven't discussed it for years, and other issues seem more current and easier to identify as problems. Of course, it may well be that these other issues are important and need to be worked through to a resolution in their own right. But if we don't address the issue in the background, it's like other conflicts seem to emerge rather like weeds in the garden that we're not able to pull out by the root. Just as we've pulled out one weed, or source of disagreement, another one appears seemingly out of nowhere. If we don't deal with the root of the problem, conflict, communication issues and so on can seem intractable and never ending. We might even be tempted to blame character flaws in ourselves, partners or family members. Although in the process we might become quite expert in conflict resolution and assertive communication strategies, there's no alternative but to identify and work with the underlying problem, unless we prefer a life of endless weeding! Luckily, current research about what cultivates healthy relationships says that even if problems are unresolvable (e.g. my Mum is never going to accept my partner, no matter what solutions s/he and I attempt  with her), the capacity to identify and continue to talk about the problem means it can become less painful, provoke less conflict and allow space for acceptance and tolerance of difference.  

 

Till next post, Vivienne     

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