Tips for Resolving Family Disputes

Whether a couple is divorced or still together, issues can arise that are difficult to resolve. These can be short or long term issues, and they might be about finances, parenting, or any number of other things. A short term financial issue could be around the purchase of a new car, while a long term financial issue could have more to do with working out different attitudes about spending in general.

Let’s say for instance that a couple is having trouble agreeing on where to go on their next vacation. We’ll call our couple Mickey and Minnie. Minnie is an outdoors sort, and would really like to go hiking and camping in Colorado. Mickey just wants to relax, and to him that means days on the beach in Hawaii doing absolutely nothing.

Conflict resolution puzzle

Tip 1 -Approach the issue as a joint problem to be jointly solved.

Problems arise quickly when each partner has a fixed idea that clashes with the other partner’s fixed idea. When that happens, you end up just butting heads, which makes it very difficult to move forward to agreement. It might be that one partner gives in and concedes to what the other wants to do, but that is not actually a mutually satisfactory solution and will tend to create more bad feelings for the future.

To get to a solution that actually works for both partners, we need to stop seeing the partner as the problem, and instead to mutually see the problem as the problem. Then both partners can work together to find a solution to that problem that works for both.

The first step is defining the problem. In our example situation, Mickey and Minnie realize that neither of their vacation ideas are working for the other. Defining the problem as the other person’s reluctance to do what they want is not going to be very productive. They need a problem they can work on together, so they define the problem to be solved as figuring out a vacation both will enjoy.

Tip 2 – Explore what is important to each person.

The second step is for each person to let the other know what is most important to them. Both parties need to let the other know what needs to be included for them to enjoy the vacation.

Minnie says she sits too much at her job, and sitting around makes her antsy, so to enjoy a vacation she needs to be active. Furthermore, she wants to get away from the urban environment and spend time in nature.

Mickey says he needs to de-stress from his job, and for him that means spending time just being – no demands, no stress, not doing anything.

Tip 3 – Focus on solutions that work for both parties.

Bullying does not solve problems, it exacerbates them. Sure, one partner might be able to get the other to give in, but doing so creates resentment that is going to hurt the relationship going forward. If you want to continue to have a good relationship, then it is important to respect the other partner’s desires as much as one’s own.

The third step is developing a range of options. Mickey and Minnie started making a list of different vacation ideas. Knowing that to come up with a good plan, any idea should be one the other might like, each proposed things that sounded fun to them that they also thought the other might like.

The list they came up with looked like:

    1. Spend a week in Colorado and a week in Hawaii
    2. Take separate vacations
    3. Go to Hawaii, on an island where there is some great hiking, and spend part of the time at an eco resort
    4. Take a Caribbean cruise where there would be both beach and more active excursion options
    5. Find a resort in the Colorado mountains

The fourth step is refine the list down to the best fit. One way we sometimes do that is to have each party rank all the options as A, B, or C. An A means they like the idea, B means they could live with it but is not a favorite, and C means they really do not like it. Once both parties have done that, they cross of an items that either marked as C, and look to see if there are any where both marked as A. If not, at least they should have the list narrowed down to some A/B items and can discuss further from there. If all ideas are marked as C by at least one person, then they need to go back to the previous steps – discuss what each needs in more detail and generate a new list of ideas designed to meet the interests of both (or they could move on to Tip 4 below).

Mickey and Minnie ranked their list this way:

  • B 1 B
  • C 2 C
  • A 3 A
  • A 4 A
  • A 5 B

This left them looking at either a Caribbean cruise or a trip to Hawaii with opportunities for hiking and some time at an eco resort. In the end, after looking at some websites for the different options, they talked it over and decided on the cruise – and had a great time!

Tip 4 – Get outside help when needed.

If Minnie and Mickey had found themselves getting stuck trying to work through this, and in real life that is not uncommon, they could have sought outside help. That extra help could have been a mediator to help guide the conversation, keep it on track, and suggest other tools to help them get unstuck. If they were arguing over the costs involved, they could have met with a financial specialist to help them look at their what they could reasonably afford, and help them find ways to reduce the costs if necessary. The outside help could even be a couples therapist, to help then unpack any baggage that was getting in the way of reaching agreements, such as Minnie’s long held resentment about that duck that Mickey likes to hang out with.

At Seattle Divorce Services we help couples develop divorce solutions. We have dispute resolution methods such as Mediation and Collaboration that use many of the techniques described above. If you would like to divorce or separate while reducing conflict, come talk to us. You can call us for an appointment at 206-784-3049 or use the contact form on our website.