Family Counseling: How To Resolve Conflict

By Marie Miguel|Updated May 9, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

“Remember, as far as anybody knows, we are a nice, normal family!”

Quotes like this often make people smile when we see them decorating someone’s home in the form of wall-art or throw pillows with funny messages. These one-liners resonate with us because most families can relate to the desire to present themselves as polite and normal. But, of course, most people know from experience that chaos lurks beneath our hopeful presentation of our best selves.

That chaos isn’t necessarily bad; for many people, it’s found in the little things. Maybe your home is messy all the time; maybe you and your kids are forgetful and rarely have everything together. Maybe your kids squabble with each other on occasion or make a bad choice here and there. Although these things can detract from the “nice, normal” image people often want to present to the world, none of these things are significant problems.

But most families also know that, sometimes, family problems can be a little more complicated. Conflict is a natural part of life for any family; no matter how much you love them, it’s normal to have the occasional argument where you don’t see eye to eye with the members of your family. Everyone experiences conflict on occasion but if your family life is primarily characterised by arguments and tension, it may be a sign of a deeper, more disruptive problem. So, in this article, we’ll take a closer look at conflict in the family and learn how family counseling can help you resolve this common problem.

Why Do Families Experience Conflict?

The family is an amazing and very diverse thing. You can be born into a family and you can also choose a family, whether or not you’re related by blood. No matter who your family is, one of the best things about families is that they don’t have to look a certain way. A family can be two dads and their daughter; it can be a single mom and her kids; it can be a couple and their dog. It doesn’t matter if your family adheres to conventional ideas of what a family should look like; it also doesn’t matter if you look like any of the other people in your family.

In fact, at the end of the day, it’s this diversity that makes a family special. Because, no matter what type of family you have, all families are about blending. Families are created when people (and sometimes animals!) come together to create something beautiful by choosing each other— and that’s an incredible thing! But, because all families involve different people coming together, it naturally follows that you may experience some clashes between different personality types and priorities. No two people are going to agree about everything all the time; even if you and your partner or best friend are very similar, it’s likely that you will occasionally experience differences and disagreements, even if it’s about something small like what to have for dinner. And that reality is just magnified when you add more people!

In a household where parents and kids are blended, you may often find a lot of different opinions, personality types, and priorities, and it makes sense that people will clash as a result. For example, let’s imagine a typical morning: both moms are focused on rushing to work and getting the kids out the door to school. On the surface, everyone should have the same goal: getting out the door and going where they need to be. But, in practice, each member of the family may differ in their approaches to these goals. For example, one of the kids might not want to go to school. Another may struggle with time management and prioritisation; even if they want to go to school, they may be late or have difficulty prioritising the necessary tasks for getting out the door.

In practice, this may look like excessive daydreaming and forgetfulness. So, it’s understandable if both moms are frustrated by the fact that one child doesn’t have her shoes and the other is refusing to get dressed. As a result, it’s easy to imagine that a family argument might ensue as the moms try to motivate their kids to get on the same page and go along with the family’s schedule for the morning. Many parents can probably relate to this scenario and have likely experienced a similar version themselves!

The same is true of another, similar scenario. For example, let’s imagine another family with a teenager. The teen in this family may be testing a lot of boundaries with their fashion sense, music taste, and personal choices. Maybe they appear to be generally rebelling against everything by staying out late, skipping school, or doing other things their parents have specifically designated as out of bounds. In this scenario, both the parents and their child may be frustrated. The teenager may feel as though they are desperately attempting to explore their identity and develop their sense of individuality while the parents may feel concerned and disappointed because they want their child to make safe and responsible choices.

Both of these hypothetical scenarios involve frustrated families who are likely to experience regular conflict if their underlying issues are not resolved. But what does conflict resolution look like for these families? How can everyone arrive at a mutually agreeable solution? Let’s take a closer look at family counseling and learn more about how this resource can help.

How Family Counseling Can Help

Family counsellor Danielle Wade asserts that, put simply, “family counseling, or family therapy, aims to address psychological, behavioral, and emotional issues that cause family problems. Family members will work with a therapist to develop and maintain a healthy relationship.” A family therapist’s goal is to help families work through any of the psychological, behavioral, or emotional problems that are causing conflict in a family. After helping the family identify these issues, the counsellor will then provide positive coping mechanisms and therapeutic tools that the family can use to solve these problems and make happier, healthier decisions.

What Are the Benefits of Family Counseling?

There are many benefits to family counseling and the most significant benefits can vary from family to family. Just as each individual is different, the same is true for families; no family unit is exactly the same as another, so the issues each family experiences will be different. But common benefits of family counseling includes:

  • Learning to develop and negotiate healthy boundaries within the family
  • Developing a sense of mutual respect for all family members
  • Learning positive skills for conflict resolution
  • Identifying sources of conflict within the family and learning how to defuse or work through them
  • Improving communication within the family

These are just some of the common benefits of family counseling and most families find that, whether they consider their family to be in crisis or not, everyone can benefit from better communication, more respect, and positive conflict resolution strategies!

What Can Family Counseling Help With?

Many families seek counseling to get support for a specific problem. So, if you’re wondering what issues family therapy can help with, studies show that family counseling can be especially effective for resolving many of the following problems:

  • Mental health conditions (whether a child or a parent is affected or both)
  • Behavioral conditions
  • Disordered eating
  • Support if your child has experienced abuse, bullying, or neglect

Family counseling can help with a wide range of problems but these are just a few of the common problems that often motivate families to seek help. Studies show that family counseling has been proven to be very effective in treating all of the issues described above, in addition to many other common sources of conflict that families can experience. The strategies your family counsellor will use to help you will depend on your family and the individualised treatment plan that your family therapist develops for you, but there are some common things you can expect in a family counseling session.

What to Expect in a Family Counseling Session

The goal of every therapy session— whether it’s for an individual or for a family— is to provide you with a safe space in which to unpack your feelings and solve your problems. So, this core goal will remain the same in your family counseling session as well and this will allow you and the other members of your family to talk through any of the difficulties and differences you may be experiencing.

It’s also important to remember that family counseling does not always involve the entire family. Although a family counseling session certainly can be tailored to include every member of the family, it’s not an automatic, inherent requirement. Ultimately, whoever is or is not included in your counseling session, the goal of family therapy is to provide an environment that will be safe, helpful, and constructive for you and your family.

Your family counsellor will also help you and your family resist the urge to take sides or blame other members of the family. If you find another family member’s actions hurtful or frustrating, it can be easy to feel that the other person is the problem. As a result, you may feel angry with that other family member or feel that the conflict is their fault. But a family counsellor is not going to take sides and they will help you resist the urge to do the same. Instead, your counsellor will work with both of you to help both of you process your feelings. When you can communicate with each other in a safe and open environment, your family may uncover some new revelations about each other, including the reasons why people do what they do.

For example, if we think back to the hypothetical scenarios about the two different families mentioned earlier in this piece, we can imagine how family counseling might help each family. For the family who struggles to get out the door in the mornings, a family counsellor might work with them to identify the internal conflicts that each family member is experiencing and learn how this conflict is impacting their behavior. In the course of a therapy session, it may be revealed that the child who doesn’t want to go to school is being bullied Likewise, the child who struggles with time management may be living with undiagnosed ADHD.

Understanding these struggles can help the parents to empathise with their children and realise that, instead of being lazy or inconsiderate, each child is struggling with different things that impact their ability to get on board with the family’s goals in the morning. Understanding these struggles can, in turn, reduce the frustration and anxiety each member of the family is experiencing and this may reduce the daily tension and arguments that occur as a result.

Likewise, if we consider the example of the teen who is pushing boundaries, family counseling can help the teenager and their parents to improve communication, understand each other better, and arrive at a mutually agreeable solution. On the surface, it might appear that the teen is simply rebelling for rebellion’s sake and this can leave their parents feeling disappointed, frustrated, and hurt. But if the family has a safe space in which to speak openly and honestly, they may discover that their child feels conflicted and misunderstood and is primarily attempting to discover their own identity, even if those efforts are occasionally in opposition to the boundaries their parents have set.

The teen may also learn that their parents support their desire to express themselves and that their parents want them to have their own unique sense of identity. Rather than trying to control their child or place arbitrary restrictions on their freedom, it may simply be that the parents are concerned for their child’s safety and trying to enforce reasonable boundaries that will help their teenager be responsible and safe. If the family works through these feelings in a family counseling session, they will likely develop a new sense of mutual understanding and respect. Their counsellor will also be able to provide them with some positive conflict resolution strategies to ensure that they can achieve a compromise which is mutually agreeable for all parties.

These are just a few examples of how family counseling can help but this is by no means the extent of the benefits that family therapy can offer. Whether you want to improve your relationship with your family or you feel like you’re at the end of your rope, family counseling can help. So, if you feel ready to reach out and seek hope and healing through therapy, you may want to consider BetterHelp! BetterHelp is an online mental health provider run by licensed counselors and therapists who are passionate about making mental health care accessible to all. With the advances in modern technology, many people have gravitated toward online therapy because this format is more convenient in our hectic, fast-paced world. Rather than needing to amend your schedule to attend an in-person therapy appointment, online therapy is literally right at your fingertips; you can chat with your therapist from the comfort of your own phone any time you want!

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