How to encourage better family relationships

Jun 25, 2019

If your family relationships are causing stress and frustration rather than providing love, support and other positive benefits, you’re probably experiencing some level of conflict at home. It’s natural and normal for families to fall out and argue every now and then. But learning how to deal with and resolve family clashes can lead to a more harmonious household and a happier life – for the youngest members of your family right up to the oldest.

In the first article in our family relationships series, What causes conflict in your home? we focused on the issues that can often lead to family conflict. In this article we’re going to look at the steps you can take to help foster better relationships with your nearest and dearest – including a few you can practice right now:

Pick your battles

Whenever a problem arises at home, ask yourself if it’s really worth having an argument about. Try to decide which issues are worth fighting for, and which you should let go of. Sometimes it’s worth letting others have their way, especially where minor matters are concerned, as it means you can concentrate on more important concerns.

Listen carefully

Misunderstandings often happen when people don’t listen to each other properly, and usually make arguments worse. If the source of a family conflict makes you angry, you may be so eager to put your point across and win the argument without considering exactly what the other person’s saying. And when both parties in an argument fail to listen to each other, it’s unlikely they’ll find a peaceful resolution.

Instead of refusing to budge from your point of view, try to stay calm and not let your emotions get the better of you. Allow the other person to speak without distractions and without interrupting them, and try to listen carefully to what they’re saying. If you’re not sure what they mean, ask questions before putting your point across. If you take the trouble to really listen and understand what the other person is saying, there’s a good chance they’ll do the same for you.

Work on your communication

Good family communication is essential if you want to survive everything that life throws at you. Becoming good listeners is the first step. Here’s what else you can do:

Think before you speak

Think before you speak when a problem arises and try to avoid language that blames the other person. Instead of saying ‘You’re never at home’, try putting yourself into the statement by saying ‘I feel lonely when you’re not at home’.

Make time to talk

Make more time to talk together. Even the busiest families need to engage in meaningful conversation as not talking can lead to misunderstandings. Try to have a regular weekly get-together with each member of the family present, where each person can voice their concerns in a calm and supportive environment.

Show an interest

Be genuinely interested in what other family members are doing and saying. Try to give your loved ones your undivided attention whenever they need it, and your family relationships may be healthier as a result.

Avoid arguments before they start

Evidence suggests couples who argue more than 20% of the time end up separating or divorcing. Some family arguments may be inevitable. But talking about issues long before they get out of hand can help you resolve things more peacefully. If everyone concerned understands how the others feel, you may not even get to the point of having an argument in the first place. Also resist being goaded into an argument – if a member of your family is trying to get you worked up, stay calm and try to avoid getting sucked in.

Get money matters out into the open

Since finances are among the leading causes of family discord, it’s worth getting into the habit of talking about issues surrounding money sooner rather than later. This means you can nip any potential problems in the bud before things get out of control. Try not to bottle up worries about money – the sooner you air your concerns, the better your chances of avoiding a heated argument later on. It’s also a good idea to work out a family budget and agree spending limits, especially if you’re a family where one parent is a spender and the other a saver.

Respect family personalities

Understanding what makes each member of your family tick may help encourage better relationships too. Clashing personalities are often a factor in family conflict – just as they are elsewhere. So improving your awareness of the different personality types in your family may help you become more accepting of each other.

Arguably the best-known guide to personality types is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This uses the theory of psychological types described by psychotherapist Carl Jung and author/researcher Isabel Briggs Meyers.

According to the MBTI, personalities are characterised as extroverted or introverted, sensing or intuitive, thinking or feeling and judging or perceiving. So, for instance, one member of your family may be type ESFJ (extroverted, sensing, feeling, judging), while another may be type INTP (introverted, intuitive, thinking, perceiving).

Try the test yourself, then have each family member discover their personality type too.

Speak to an expert

Alternatively, if you feel that none of these steps will work for you and your family, have you considered family counselling? Family counselling has helped countless people deal with conflict at home and can provide support for many families going through a difficult time, such as during a divorce or separation. Family counselling can help you to build stronger relationships between every member of the family and help you to work together as a team.

Article reproduced with the kind permission of CABA, the organisation providing lifelong support to ICAEW members, ACA students and their close family around the world.