Resolving Family Caregiver Conflicts – You Can Disagree and Still Care

Family conflict? Never!

Let’s face it, we all don’t agree every minute.

Family members and caregivers have a multitude of different details and issues to discuss so that actions can be taken to care for the person for whom they all love. These issues are often emotional and trigger disagreements and arguments.

Unfortunately, sometimes disagreements can cause rifts in the family that take years to overcome. And that is a tragedy because no one benefits, especially the senior loved one.

We can use techniques to better come to an agreement over serious or even simple issues or just learn to agree to disagree. How do we do that?

Conflict Resolution Strategies

Disagreements are not uncommon especially between people who have close relationships like family members. Agreeing and disagreeing are both normal parts of a healthy relationship.

Here are some tips to handle conflict within your family unit that we hope will help you all come and stay together.

  • The first step may seem obvious but state the problem clearly. What are you getting together to discuss? “Today we need to talk about mom driving.” Once everyone is clear about the topic, begin brainstorming solutions to the problem. “I think mom is unsafe because she had two fender benders this month and she hid them from us so let’s help her be safe by taking away the keys and getting her alternate transportation.” “Let’s take turns taking her to appointments, let’s get her food delivered from the grocery, and let’s have the senior center pick her up in the bus.” Everyone should offer their thoughts and solutions. Pitch in to make it successful, don’t expect everyone else to make it happen without your involvement even if you don’t agree with it all.
  • Speak to each other with respect. When you talk about a topic, whether big or small depending on your personal perspective, it is important to show respect. The person with whom you are discussing an issue is not a bad person or stupid because they don’t share your viewpoint. Treating them disrespectfully by not listening or raising your voice will only impede your finding a solution together.
  • Be an active listener. Pay attention when others are talking without interrupting them. They should listen to you as intently as you listen to them. While you are discussing the topic at hand, take time to restate what has been said to be sure everyone is clear and then summarize all aspects of the discussion and agreement at the end to again be sure that everyone is on the same page.
  • Gather the facts about whatever the situation might be. Learn as much as you can before you meet with family members. Stick to the facts at hand. Don’t use hearsay or misinformation when talking among family members about what care is best for your senior loved one. How much does something really cost – don’t guess!
  • Avoid bringing up old disagreements or hurt feelings but instead deal with the specific topic. If the topic is when the time is right to take away the car keys, discuss that not whether you spend more time helping mom with the household chores. That is a separate topic to discuss. The focus should be on mom’s safety driving and if she is a danger to others by driving. Discuss that and an action plan to implement whatever decision you make together not old hurts and grudges.
  • Be aware of your personal emotions. How do you feel about the topic? Why does this irritate you? What happened in the past to cause so much hurt at this time? Understanding yourself will help you dealing with others. If you can see your trigger on this topic, you may be able to ask better questions, learn from others and contribute thoughtfully to the decision making process. Think before your speak especially when your emotions start to peak.
  • Involve your senior loved one so that both sides can understand what they truly want. Does mom feel safe behind the wheel or would she prefer others take her where she needs to go. Your senior’s voice should be heard if possible as part of the decision making process.
  • Discuss the problem at hand when you are all in control of your emotions. If the particular issue brings up deep emotion in you, it will be important for you to handle your emotions so that you can be a good listener and present facts not emotions.
  • Pick your battles. When family members have many details to iron out, you should ask yourself if this is the one that you want to fight or is this one that can be let go. Not every disagreement is important enough to argue about. Why argue about getting new carpet when your senior loved one may need home care help. Which is more important to you in the budget – a caregiver for her safety or a new carpet? That is a simple example but is important to consider.
  • Try not to react with anger or frustration. It may take some work on your part to understand the topic from the other person’s perspective, listen to their viewpoint so that you can respond calmly. If you listen, you may hear points that you did not consider before that may change your point of view. If your family member relates points that you can give a factual response to clarify your perspective, they may change their opinion. Many times we create our opinions based on history or emotions so that once provided with facts we can see the light and be persuaded toward another decision. When voices are raised, listening gets impaired and we have difficulty expressing our real ideas to achieve a solution.
  • Remember to control your body language. Nonverbal communication is strong and can be misinterpreted or offensive to the person with whom you are resolving a conflict. Are you sending signals of anger, disgust, sadness, or some other emotion? Try to read the other person’s nonverbal communication so that you can reply to keep the situation calm. If they get loud you should try to use a calm, soothing voice to de-escalate them. Use a friendly, reassuring and interested facial expression to help the conversation stay on track when someone is agitated.
  • Once you reach a decision, whether it was your opinion or someone else’s, it is important to find a way to put that decision to rest. Find forgiveness for family members and don’t hold a grudge. There will certainly be another issue that requires discussion and agreement in the future and you should be building relationships of trust with each conflict. Just because the decision this time wasn’t what you wanted, it might end up being the right thing for your senior loved one. You don’t want to alienate yourself from your family and senior loved one over a disagreement. Don’t punish yourself, your senior or other family members if you don’t agree with this decision. Agree to disagree.
  • Remember that the topic at hand being resolved for the benefit of your senior loved one is the goal, not who ‘won’ the argument or who ‘lost’.  The only winner should be your senior loved one.

Keep Discussions Healthy

It is healthier to deal openly and honestly with family members, especially over the care of your senior loved one, rather than avoid discussing important topics out of fear of arguing. Avoidance doesn’t settle anything; it only allows the disagreement to grow and even to aggravate all involved.

We all disagree sometimes, but in the interest of our senior loved ones we need to be able to handle our family conflicts calmly and factually so that we can provide the best care for our seniors.

It is good to have dialogue in families about care issues so that we can all be involved and have our opinions heard. We need to be able to deal with the issues and be able to move on so that our family unit remains cohesive.

If we take a good look at our senior loved one, we will remember what we are fighting for and about and decide to do what is best for them – agree or disagree but keep the love and concern flowing to your senior.