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Dynamics of Family Conflict

Dynamics of Family Conflict

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand that family can be defined in many ways. 

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Video Transcription

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We all experience conflict, and sometimes our conflicts are at home within our families. I'm Marlene, and today I'd like to talk with you about the dynamics of family conflict.

So what is family? It might seem like an odd question to ask. What is family? We all come from families. We all have families.

And yet it is an interesting question, in today's world, to think about, because the traditional assumption of what family is is changing. Historically, family has been thought of as two parents, a mom and dad-- traditionally mom and dad-- and kids. That's family. And any other kind of family structure was thought of as alternative or deviant.

And today that's changing. We have a variety of different kinds of family structures. There are a number of single parent families. We have grandparents raising children. We have aunts and uncles raising children. We have gay people raising children.

Now, some of these ways, these new family structures-- we call them new-- aren't really new. They are subcultural family relationships that have always existed and are just now being recognized and accepted. So what's important to know is that family is how we define it.

And this is particularly important for a conflict intervener. If you're doing conflict resolution with a family, it's up to the family to tell you who the family members are.

So if you're in a session and someone says, we should have so-and-so here, and they say that person is family, even if they aren't a blood relationship, that person is family according to the way this family is defining family.

So family really is a group of people that are related by blood, there is the blood ties, but it's also comprised of anybody else that that group of people decides and accepts into their family, even if there isn't a genetic relationship.

So the definition of family has really broadened. Now, no matter how you define your family or a family, all families are systems. And I'm going to write that word down here.

Families are systems. Now, we've talked about systems before, and we know that a system is made up of separate components. And the components act in certain ways affecting each other and the outcome of whatever system we're talking about. Well, the same thing is true in a family.

If you think about the people in the family as components whose behavior affects the other components, or people in the family, you can see what I mean. There can be a ripple effect in terms of the way people behave. And we talked about that ripple effect.

Let me give you an example here. Let's say we do have mom and dad here, and they're fighting. Mom and dad are fighting with one another. And so the fight is between the two of them, but you have kids over here. And they're affected by that behavior.

So what mom and dad are doing is affecting the children in the family. And in some cases, those children who aren't direct parties to this conflict, to this fighting, may be feeling the effects of it even more than mom or dad.

So that's one example of what I mean by a system here and how behavior within a system has a ripple effect. And we can see that within families as well.

Now, our family, our family system, is a group. And this group is, of course, defined in many ways by cultural norms. We've talked about cultural norms being the way any particular culture sees behavior as being right, true, proper. Sort of this is the way we do things in this culture.

Well, within families we also have these norms. They're sort of beliefs or assumptions about how a family should be. So I'm going to write this word down here.

The family is a group here, and we have norms. These norms come from our culture, and they also come from the way our particular family defines what's normal in this particular family. And families might differ a bit in that.

For example, you might be part of a family where it's very important that everybody have dinner together at night. You want to gather the family together, and unless there's some particular reason why this can't happen, this is a family norm.

We eat together. We're family. You don't sit and eat in front of the TV.

Now, somebody else, that may not be their family norm. Everybody grabs their food, and people watch television in different rooms when they eat. And that's just the way they do it in their family. So it's a different way of what is considered "normal" within a family structure.

And there's many examples of this kind of norm. Every family has their little traditions and their norms.

Now, what happens when families-- here-- go into conflict-- if there's a conflict in a family-- it tends to be particularly intense. And more intense, perhaps, than other kinds of conflicts.

And this is because our family bonds are strong, and we've had many shared experiences. And so we tend to be more intense about the conflicts in our own families, because these are the people that can hurt us the most.

You know, you might be having a conflict with your neighbor. And you're upset with your neighbor, but it's not quite as important to you what happens with this neighbor in terms of your relationship with the neighbor as it is what happens with your daughter.

If you're in conflict with your daughter, and you feel like I might lose this relationship unless we resolve the conflict, that's going to be more important to you. That's more intense. And in a sense, it's even a stronger motivator to go for conflict resolution because the threat of losing someone in the family can motivate people who otherwise might not seek a conflict resolution process to enter that process because they don't want to lose a relationship with a family member.

So families are defined in many different ways. And we have strong bonds, shared experiences, with our families. Conflicts within a family, because it's a system, can ripple out and affect others within this family system.

And as a group-- this is the first group we belong to. We're born into families, this is our very first group. As a group, not only are our families influenced by cultural norms, but we have our own individual norms within the family, what we consider proper for how a family should behave.

If someone in the family violates one of those norms, it can lead to conflict. And those conflicts typically are intense. And they can be real motivations to seek conflict resolution.

So thank you for joining me, and I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know

In relationship to family, cultural norms and culturally- influenced individual beliefs about what are "right, correct, or proper" relationships, feelings, and behaviors between family members.

Cultural Norm

The variety of behaviors and perceptions considered "right", "true" or "proper" by a culture.


A group of people related by blood; or consisting of members accepted by the group without a genetic relationship.