While family relationships can bring joy, support, and other benefits into our lives, they can also bring stress, particularly when there’s unresolved conflict.
Conflict in any relationship is virtually inevitable. In itself, conflict needn’t be a problem, but the way in which it’s handled will affect whether it brings people together or tears them apart.
No matter how loving, most families go through conflict which can be made more difficult because: family members are already emotionally attached and so feelings are often intensified; family members are involved in long-term relationships and often are required to interact with each other daily; families often obey their own rules and resist outside interference; and difficulties between some family members almost always have a knock-on, ripple effect to others in the family.
These characteristics can lead to long, complex and painful conflicts, which may be extremely damaging.
Sometimes conflict can begin with a specific event, like a divorce or death, but the trouble may also be caused by many little things simply piling up and not being addressed.
Rifts occur over a wide range of issues, such as: the living and care arrangements for family members who may be older, incapacitated, or need support; arrangements set out in wills, and over succession and inheritance, both about how things are left for the future, and who takes decisions or has influence over these; present or past differences between adult siblings that disrupt family relations and cause damage; difficulties within or between step-families. With one-third of all Irish families no longer fitting the ‘traditional model’, and a quarter of all children under 21 in such families, it is important to recognise the complexities that exist, and the possibilities for additional stresses and strains; farm and/or land-related disputes that may be about ownership, how the land is used, or who makes decisions; negotiating how to maintain relationships between grandparents and grandchildren in the event of parental separation or divorce.
The risk of conflict is often greater where families work together in a family business where the day-to-day challenges of family relationships are added to the stresses of the working environment. In today’s fragile economic climate, family businesses are immensely important. They make up more than 75 per cent of all enterprises in Ireland, and account for 50 per cent of all jobs. However, data shows that fewer than one in three will successfully make the transition to second generation, as this is often a time of additional very complex challenges. The future of the business will depend on how these disputes are handled.
Families and their circumstances are all different. However, there are ways of addressing the difficulties they face. Families need to think carefully about what option they choose as in many cases such as long-running feuds, breaks in communication or legal action may worsen the situation.
Mediation has a high success rate in resolving family disputes. It provides the opportunity to find creative approaches that work in the unique situation of the family concerned, and addresses issues in a confidential, private, and safe environment.
Certified mediators are neutral and trained in conflict resolution skills. They have the expertise needed to give family members the best possible opportunity to resolve their disputes and, where appropriate, to maintain an ongoing relationship. The experience often also assists family members with communication skills that help prevent disputes arising, and gives them the confidence to know that conflicts can be resolved, and can even be opportunities for positive change. Mediation offers the chance to re-establish communications and allows you to develop solutions that work and build the basis for a better future.
Harriet Emerson and Rachel O’Sullivan are Certified Mediators at adjust. For more information call 087 650 8664, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.adjust.ie
(This article does not mention separating couples, but these situations are commonly handled successfully through mediation, which is particularly appropriate for agreeing arrangements for children.)