Be honest —if today was the last day of your life, would you regret an unresolved fight or issue with a family member?
It’s easy to let anger overtake you and cause you to do something you regret, like treating a family member poorly or cutting them off entirely. But this is something you will likely regret in the future, just like the participants in the study. There are steps you can take now to solve these problems to keep your family close and rid yourself of any regrets.
How to Solve Family Problems
1. Repeat the old adage
You know the one. “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” We’ve all heard this saying before. You can choose whichever friends you like, and if a friend wrongs you, then you can think about whether they’re healthy for you, and remove them from your life if you decide they’re not.
However, you can’t choose your family. Just because you swear them off doesn’t mean they’re not related to you. You will still share a bond stronger than anything else: blood. This means that you do have to deal with their faults, just like they have to deal with yours. But if family is important to you, then this is something you’ll remember, no matter how deep the rift is.
Related: How to Argue in a Relationship
2. Let go of your pride
Pride can take many forms. “I’m not going to call them first, because they should call me first.” “I would have never done that to them, so I’m not going to bother anymore.” Or maybe, your family member has tried to contact you, but you’ve ignored them completely. Pride is important sometimes so that you don’t get the doormat treatment, but there’s such a thing as too much. If you want to make things better, you have to let go of that.
In addition, no one Wins in a family disagreement (this going with #3 as well). The only winner is a settled feud. Putting pride aside to come to agreement requires compromise of both parties usually. The happiest relationships are the ones that are built on trust and compromise.
3. Make your aim to reconcile—not to win
You might think you want resolve the issue, but really, you want your family member to come to you and apologize (or, if you were the one to wrong them, just forget the issue without a discussion). This means your objective isn’t to make things better—your objective is to win.
Stop thinking of the issue as two-sided and make your main objective to reconcile and remedy the situation. This is your family, not some twisted competition.
Related: The Benefits of Friendship
4. Figure out what exactly the issue is
This sounds obvious, but sometimes, especially when the issue started years ago, it’s hard to even remember what the problem was in the first place. Figure out the root of the problem and why it bothered you so much—or, if you were the perpetrator, why you haven’t been able to right your wrong. This will make it easier to clearly explain how you feel without getting frustrated and defensive.
This also includes explaining emotions tied with the problem or issue . Usually with an argument or disagreement, it can be difficult to come to terms after the fight ends due to hurt feelings, bruised pride or fatigue from the emotions associated with the disagreement. Take some time to talk with everyone about the problem and emotions tied around the issue and any consequential emotions and feelings as well. The old adage of “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is not true. Words do hurt and it’s important not to have lingering feelings after the problem or issue is long-solved.
5. Talk to the rest of the family…
Explain to other trusted family members what your intentions are. If you’ve followed the rest of the steps and changed your perspective on the situation, let them know.
Tell them that your only goal is to make things better. This is especially important if your family can be gossipy and tends to take sides. If you communicate your intentions genuinely, this may help them stop from being a bit vindictive and make them adopt your peaceful goal as well.
Related: 4 Easy Steps to Happiness
6. …but don’t invite them to the discussion
It can be tempting to bring the entire family into it to have some back-up, but it’s best to just face this on your own. Make sure the family member you’ve been feuding with does the same. When the rest of the family is present, it’s easier for the discussion to become two-sided—and it’s likely to just make matters worse and create more issues.
This also includes talk about “what other people think” of the situation or a “he-said, she-said” feud. Just because someone agrees with you or your side of the argument, does not mean you should bring this into the disagreement. All that matters in the end is that everyone is at peace with each other.
7. Be honest, but respectful
Explain exactly how you feel—why you’re upset and how the situation made you feel. However, be very conscious of your tone and make sure not to sound accusatory. After all, even if your family member “started it,” you likely did some things wrong as well. Try acknowledging their feelings at the same time, i.e. “I understand that you were hurt by my comment, and I should never have said something like that—but it hurt me when you talked so badly of me to Aunt Sue instead of telling me.”
No matter how defensive the other person gets, stay calm and remember your goal: to reconcile. Make this clear to the other person, and tell them that you love them and want to move past this.
What can you do to prevent this from happening in the future? If you communicated well, you made it clear what upset you, so hopefully this will not happen again. But remember that you family members are human. Remember what their faults are, but don’t hold them against them—just know they’re a part of their character.
And remember what upset them, so you can avoid it in the future.
Family issues can be devastating, and it can be hard to know how to deal with them at the time…so it can be tempting to just not deal with them. However, studies show that many people regret taking that path when they’re older. Take the high road. Love your family, and live your life with no regrets. Families that can overcome issues are stronger together and able to deal with new problems that come along the way.
Photo by Travis Isaacs
Originally posted 12/13 and updated (edited) 9/19.