Wait – What? Surprisingly Common Areas Of Family Conflict That Can Catch You Off Guard
When you got married your future together stretched out in front of you full of positive possibilities. You certainly knew there’d be tough times here and there, right? That’s a given. But if over the years you’ve been surprised by problems you didn’t anticipate and the difficulty of resolving them, you’re not alone.
No one has a crystal ball, but most of us are logical enough to know that life can throw curve balls. So, we accept there will be certain things that are impossible to anticipate and just must be dealt with as they come.
There are some conflicts, however, that can surprise you because you either figured they would never apply to you, or they simply never occurred to you. When these crop up they’re not only confusing and disruptive, but they can be extremely isolating.
Problems That Can Surprise You
Certain problems cause couples to make assumptions about the uniqueness of their situation. They might believe no one else has experienced what they’re experiencing, or at least not the way they’re experiencing it.
That’s almost never true.
Although everyone’s lives differ, there are a lot of commonalities when it comes to family and marital conflicts. More than most people realize.
For many, however, the situations may feel too embarrassing to discuss and the isolation that can cause can make things worse.
So, what type of problems are we talking about? Consider the following:
1. Discipline of children
When it comes to having kids, many couples think ahead and discuss some of the big things – religion, education, even bedtimes and diet. What routinely gets overlooked, however, is discipline.
It may seem simple, but determining what deserves punishment, the type, and degree can cause huge problems between parents. Especially if one parent is an advocate of something like spanking and the other isn’t.
Almost all parents face this conflict at some point and resolving it requires an evolving conversation. What’s good for a 2-year-old is different than what works for a 7-year-old. So, discussing discipline strategy needs to be done routinely and as much as possible, prior to the need to use said strategy. Parents should be aware as well that children are savvy and will recognize disagreement if it’s there. This can lead to hiding things from one parent or playing one parent against the other – more room for conflict.
Not jealousy of people outside your marriage or concern over affairs. This is jealousy of your children, or the relationship one partner has with the children vs. the other. Most parents don’t anticipate ever feeling this way, but it’s actually quite common.
When you get married you focus on one another. When kids come along the focus shifts and some portion of the attention once given to your spouse is now given to the child. This can inspire jealousy in the other parent. Most parents don’t want to admit this because it feels contrary to being a good parent, but it really needs to be discussed in order to be resolved.
3. Disinterest in parenting
It’s not uncommon once children enter the picture to find that one parent is more zealous than the other when it comes to parental duties. Generally, this works itself out and parents find their groove.
Sometimes, however, one parent finds themselves disinterested in parenting altogether. This doesn’t mean they don’t love their children and family, just that the work of parenting is more than they want to do, or perhaps feel capable of doing. The reasons for this can vary widely and this feeling often comes as a surprise to the parent who feels this way as much as it does to their spouse.
Clearly, this can cause huge problems for a family and within the marriage. Working through this is crucial, however, and may require the assistance of a family counselor.
4. Lack of opportunity for intimacy
Loss of intimacy in a marriage can happen for a variety of reasons over time. In this case we’re not talking about a disinterest in intimacy on the part of one partner or the other, but rather a change in the opportunity for intimacy to occur at all.
This often comes back to the presence of children or other family within the home. I worked with one couple who had gone for months without the intimacy that they both desired because the husband felt the children would hear them. The wife didn’t agree. Their different perspectives on this topic led to frustration and resentment that started to bleed into other areas of their marriage.
5. Losing faith in each other
In a relationship partners learn to rely on one another for certain things. “He’s my rock,” or “She keeps me grounded” are often sentiments expressed. But as time goes on the rock might crumble a bit or the ground may shift. This can be anything from becoming unsure the bills are paid on time, to health issues that change the dynamic, to wondering if your spouse is dealing with something troubling they haven’t shared.
Losing faith in your partner or just having that faith shaken can be very upsetting. And it can cause unforeseen conflict between the two of you as well as within the family.
Most of you reading this will say, “Duh, this one’s a no brainer.” It’s generally accepted that teens can be taxing. But the degree to which can vary, and the way you and your spouse respond can differ. This difference in response can be the source of conflict in a marriage and be divisive within the family.
You may have conflicting opinions on what level of responsibility and autonomy a teen is ready for, the teen’s foray into romantic relationships, what type of financial responsibility should be expected, or how to handle the rebellious behavior teens are so famous for.
Whatever it is, most parents aren’t quite as ready as they think they are for dealing with teen-aged children and the strain it can put on a marriage.
These are certainly not all the areas of conflict that can take a relationship by surprise, but they are some of the most common.
Any of this sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone and you’ve probably wondered what can be done to keep the peace within your marriage and family.
Start Managing Conflict In Your Family
There have been volumes written on handling conflict within a marriage and family. What’s important to remember is that conflict is normal and can be managed.
When you’re caught off-guard by conflict consider the following three steps to begin the resolution process:
- Acknowledge and name the problem.
- Get together with your spouse for an open and honest conversation.
- Determine if it’s something that can be handled on your own or whether you’ll need outside help, like counseling.
These steps will help you move from having a problem to dealing with a problem. Through it all remember that there’s nothing you’re experiencing others haven’t as well and resolved.
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Author: Dr. Kurt Smith
Dr. Kurt Smith is the Clinical Director of Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching, a Northern California counseling practice that specializes in helping men and the women who love them. His expertise is in understanding men, their partners, and the unique relationship challenges couples face today. Dr. Kurt is a lover of dogs, sarcasm, everything outdoors, and helping those seeking to make their relationships better.