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Family Fighting: Navigating Conflict

Family fighting is common, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s part of being human and in relationships. Whether family conflict happens between siblings, parents, or parents and children, Jacob Gibson, a licensed marriage and family therapist at New Haven Residential Treatment Center, said it’s important to deal with it in a way that allows everyone to feel heard, seen, honored, and respected. They can then move toward a resolution, even if they don’t completely agree with each other’s point of view or actions. 

“A great majority of our differences will continue to be differences,” Gibson said. “It’s our job to find a way to work around them.” 

Why Do Families Fight?

Family fighting can happen for multiple reasons, such as differences in opinions or beliefs, misunderstandings, or not having the full story before speaking or making a decision. Triggers or topics that can lead to family conflict include: 

  • Stress.  
  • Mental health challenges.  
  • Differences in political or religious views.  
  • Family issues.  
  • Finances.  
  • Substance use.  
  • Caregiving.  
  • Adopted or new family member.  
  • Hormonal changes.  
  • Moving.  
  • Travel.  
  • Divorce or relationship issues.

Following is a closer look at why some family members argue with each other. 

Young adult siblings fighting

For brothers and sisters who are young adults, family fighting can be the result of sibling rivalry or childhood events that were not addressed, leading to resentment. Expectations, labels, and favoritism placed on them by parents when they were younger are a few more reasons why young adult siblings continue family arguing into adulthood.  

Parents fighting  

There can be multiple reasons for parents fighting. They may disagree about finances, how to raise their children, or politics, among other issues. Some parents may try to hide their arguments, while others will have them in full view of all family members.  

Teenagers fighting with parents

It can be normal for teenagers to fight with their parents as they find their own identities and push back on parental authority. They may want a later curfew, for example. Arguments could be about larger issues as well, such as who a teen wants to live with when parents divorce.  

Destructive Conflict vs. Constructive Conflict

Understanding the difference between destructive and constructive conflict can change how family members approach arguments. Gibson explained it’s about how the conflict gets resolved.  

How do the people involved feel after everything is said and done and a solution is identified? If they feel seen, heard, understood, and respected, the argument was a constructive conflict. If they leave with a solution but feel put down, belittled, or misunderstood, it was a destructive conflict that could lead to prolonged arguing and resentment, creating a gap in relationships and significant family problems. 

Mental Health Effects of Family Fighting

Teens can experience multiple mental health effects from family fighting. The effects will be different for everyone, but they can lead to long-term issues and could affect overall family mental health, especially if conflict is not addressed properly.  

Mental health issues

Mental health issues caused by family fighting can include: 

  • Anxiety.  
  • Depression. 
  • Self-harm.  
  • Suicidal ideation.  
  • Eating disorders.  

Relationship issues

Teens could experience family relationship issues if they don’t feel heard or understood by siblings or their parents. These issues could include growing distant from one another. As they get older, they may have difficulty trusting others, making it difficult to have healthy romantic relationships.  

Behavior problems

Family conflict can lead to behavior issues, as teens could express physical or verbal aggression or even the opposite, becoming withdrawn. Either situation could lead to social problems with their peers at school or in other settings.  

Substance use

Family arguing can lead to a stressful home environment. Some teens may turn to substance use as a coping mechanism for their difficult family situation. This could result in serious issues, such as binge drinking

Negative outlook on life

Continuous family conflict can cause teens and young adults to have a negative outlook on life because what should be their safe place doesn’t feel safe. If they can’t openly express themselves or bring conflict to their parents without expecting backlash or judgment, they may expect interactions with other people to function the same way.  

How To Resolve Family Conflicts

Teen and family resolve conflict through empathy and communication.

Whether the issue is parents fighting or teens or young adults arguing with parents or each other, resolving family conflict will take time and effort from everyone involved. The tips below can help by encouraging vulnerability while making it possible for your family members to be seen, heard, validated, and honored. 

1. Practice empathy

“Practicing empathy can look like pausing before saying anything and considering the other person’s experiences, mindset, and perspective, which helps you avoid jumping to conclusions based on your own perceptions,” Gibson said. “Really seek to understand what they’re communicating, and give them space to process and find a solution.” 

2. Communicate effectively

Effective communication allows a conversation to move back and forth smoothly, without tension, as people understand and restate the issue, influence each other, and work toward a solution, according to Gibson. Active listening is essential to this process, as is helping to negotiate a solution. 

Practice active listening

Talking about conflict can be challenging, especially if family members don’t quite know how to or don’t want to communicate what they’re feeling or experiencing. Active listening is a great way for your family to show they understand the conflict and want to move toward a resolution. Tips include using curiosity to encourage conversation, empathetically addressing the emotional experience everyone is having, and resisting the urge to pry information out of each other. 

Help negotiate a solution

Part of helping to negotiate a solution is making sure all pieces of the conflict are out there for everyone to know and understand, according to Gibson. Once that happens, family members can move forward with finding a solution, even if they don’t completely agree with each other’s point of view.  

3. Stay calm, and don’t take sides

When addressing family fighting, it’s important that everyone stay calm so the conversation doesn’t get tense or sidetracked. It’s also helpful to avoid taking sides, as picking a side can cause more conflict, creating more disconnect. 

4. Create safe spaces for communication

To create a safe space for communication, Gibson recommended being approachable. See, hear, validate, and honor the other side’s position so family members know they’re safe coming to you about the conflict.  

5. Get at the root of the conflict

By adopting a nonjudgmental, nonreactive stance, Gibson noted, you invite effective communication. This allows you to identify the root of the conflict and address the issue. Curiosity is also key here, as it invites more discussion, which can help family members understand situations they may not have the answer to just yet. 

“Curiosity, openness, and nonjudgmental approaches to conflict invite the space for self-discovery,” Gibson said. 

6. Emphasize the positive

By encouraging communication in a positive way, you can place more attention on how to solve the conflict instead of the conflict itself. This can help reduce arguments and misunderstandings and avoid creating a bigger disconnect among family members.  

7. Seek out professional help

Gibson said families need therapy when they’ve tried multiple ways to resolve conflict and it’s caused more disconnect. He suggested interviewing potential therapists and ensuring they’re a good fit for everyone, as family involvement in the therapeutic process is critical. By doing this, you can maximize your family’s conflict resolution — and growth. 

Family Fighting Wrapup

Although family conflict is common, it should be thoughtfully addressed to avoid long-term effects on how parents, teens, and young adults relate to each other — and others — and how young people view themselves. By making sure your family members feel heard, honored, and understood, you can find healthy resolutions to family fighting. 

“If both sides will do their own work to be calm, empathetic, and understanding, and then come together from that perspective, there’s an opportunity for healing in the relationship and a chance to move forward in creating a close, enjoyable connection among family members,” Gibson said.  

Embark is the most trusted name in teen and young adult mental health treatment. We’re driven to find the help your family needs. If you’re looking for support, contact us today!

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Embark Behavioral Health

Embark Behavioral Health is a leading network of outpatient centers and residential programs offering premier mental health treatment for preteens, teens, and young adults. Dedicated to its big mission of reversing the trends of teen and young adult anxiety, depression, and suicide by 2028, Embark offers a robust continuum of care with different levels of service and programming; has a deep legacy of over 25 years serving youths; works with families to adjust treatment in real time to improve results; treats the entire family using an evidence-supported approach; and offers the highest levels of quality care and safety standards. For more information about Embark or its treatment programs, including virtual services, intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), therapeutic day treatment programs, also known as partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), residential treatment, and outdoor therapy, visit embarkbh.com.