A nasty mother, a legacy to share or a strange message on social media. It can just be the cause of a family fight. Is dinner a good time to finish a fight like this? And talk it out, how do you actually do that?
Figures from the Family Monitor of Network Notaries show that more than half of Dutch people no longer have contact with one or more family members.
And arguing or not, as a family you are forever connected. Family psychologist Dave Niks has to deal with this every day in his practice.
The poll shows that disputes about an inheritance or loan are important reasons for breaking contact. Nothing in his practice also sees the 'typical' family-in-law quarrels pass by: a mother interferes - probably with the best intentions - too much with the life of her adult son. If her daughter-in-law says something about this, the bomb bursts.
According to Niks, the 'unwritten' family rules often applied until that time. "The son thinks: I keep the peace, I know what my mother is like. But his wife disagrees. She is not so much the cause of a fight, but she dares to name the problem."
Talk out during a dinner
As a presenter, Bert van Leeuwen helps broken families to re-settle their arguments in the TV program The Family Dinner. The intention is for both parties, at the invitation of a neutral family member, to come together for dinner at the end of the program.
Van Leeuwen has also seen quite a few quarrels in twenty years of his program. "I notice that social media play a greater role nowadays. An aunt does not show up at a party and does not cancel, but does post on Facebook that she 'just didn't feel like it'."
"You can break a friendship, but a family bond remains forever" Dave Niks, psychologist
According to psychologist Niks, it is not strange that things sometimes get out of hand after such a message. "It is sometimes difficult enough to say and receive something 'live', but if you do that online, you immediately involve the rest of the world. Naturally, something like that is counterproductive."
If you have a fight with a friend and you can't solve it, you can choose to break the friendship. With family, that is a lot more complicated, says Niks. "Someone is your father or sister forever. You remain family to each other, regardless of how you fill that bond."
Talk out during 'real' conversation
Before something totally escalates, it is important for both the psychologist and the presenter to finish a fight as quickly as possible. No matter how small the problem is. And so not via social media or letters, where you can misinterpret things, but in a 'real' conversation.
According to Van Leeuwen, the dinner in his program works more often than not. "The people in question need a little push in the right direction; they would not take that first step. By joining them, they show that they - sometimes sagging deeply - have the will to get out."
"A dinner is not a good idea for talking about a long-term conflict" Dave Niks, psychologist
A dinner is not a good idea when it comes to a major or long-term conflict. "Once the contact between family members is really broken, there is often much more going on. Just putting them at one table is not wise. Not at all if alcohol is also served."
According to Van Leeuwen, the dinner in his program does not have the immediate objective of ending a fight to the bottom. "It is a first step towards reconciliation. Heavy subjects are not tackled until after the recordings during the mediation interview that we offer, without cameras."
Niks also advises to call in professional help in the event of a major conflict. "Think of a coach, psychologist, but also a pastor or pastor can be an option in some families. They are independent and often have experience with group dynamics and mediation."
Agree on neutral ground
If you choose to speak out a family quarrel yourself, then Niks recommends that you meet on neutral ground and even appoint an objective discussion leader. "Preferably someone who is not part of the family system and who has sufficient authority to lead the conversation."
The psychologist further advises to start the conversation well prepared. "Write down where you think it went wrong, what your goal is and write down questions in advance. During the conversation you may state that other family members, such as the (grand) children, are the victims of an argument that they cannot do anything about . It may be an additional reason to come to a solution. "
Step-by-step plan for speaking out a family argument:
- Ensure proper preparation; write down which questions you want to ask
- Agree on neutral ground where there is also room for privacy
- Have an objective discussion leader, preferably not a family member
- Leave people who have nothing to do with it at home, especially children
- Avoid alcohol and let each other finish talking