Caregiving & Conflict with Family Members

Changing Family Relationships Blog Series

Written by: Mary Brintnall-Peterson, Ph.D., MBP Consulting, LLC, Professor Emeritus, UW-Extension & Caregiver to her son Will.

family debate

Strategies to Improve Conflicts between Family & Individual Family Members

This is the third article in a series of four on how family relationships change and experience conflict when a family member needs care. Every family member is affected when a family member needs additional care, including those who aren’t doing the care or who live a distance from the care receiver. The two previous articles identified  factors that impact family relationships and reasons for family conflict. Articles three and four focus on strategies that help individuals understand and potentially resolve family conflicts. This article  discusses ways to address conflict in the family and conflict between family members.  Article four focuses on strategies family members can use to improve relationsips with the care receiver and ways the primary caregiver can work with other family members. The fourth artilce provides suggestions on how the primary caregiver can care for themselves when there is conflilct or ways to avoid family conflict.

To begin the process of improving family relationships review the previous two articles on the factors which influence family relationships and reasons for family conflict and identify which factors and reasons are impacting your family.  As you read this article and the fourth article, select and write down the strategies you could use to improve your family relationships. In fact, you might want to create a plan of action listing which influences and conflict reasons your family has and which strategies would address them.

Conflict & Caregiving

All families experience conflict around caregiving but there are some strategies or ways to work together as a family to prevent conflict or make it easier to work through the conflict. They include:

  • Trust and respect is key for family members if they are going to work together to address caregiving concerns.
  • Agreement on caregiving responsibilites among and between family members is essential. The family, along with the care receiver need to agree on the care receivers needs and have a good understanding of how the care receiver’s condition dictates the type of care needed currently and in the future. Lastly, all family members, including the care receiver, ought to be involved in any decisions regarding the care receiver’s care. This ensures that every family member is aware of what needs to be done and by whom.
  • Communication is critical to ensure everyone is familiar with what is happening. Determine ways family members will communicate with each other. It could be through a website, phone tree,  or email.
  • Seek professional help to guide family members and the whole family through issues and concerns that create difficulties between family members or the total family.
  • Acknowledge and resolve negative feelings between or among family members. As part of the resolution process family members can identify how they contribute to negative feelings.
  • Power struggles and control interfere with a family being successful in providing care. Identifying the power struggles or contol issues and who is involved is the first step in resolving them. Some of these behaviors may relate back to past family histories and roles family members have had in the past and currently.

Strategies for Families

Some of the strategies needed for families to be successful or helpful when individual family members are in conflict with each other include:

  • Attempt to understand the family member you’re in conflict with.  Put yourself in the family member’s shoes and think about why they are feeling or doing what is creating the conflict. It’s impossible to change a family member so learning to accept family members for who they are is essential.  Try to avoid treating them as you have in the past.
  • Determine what it is that you really need or want or why you are in conflict. This will require you to think carefully about the conflict and what you need and want. Describe in detail your needs and wants and why.  This process will help you to have a better understanding of your needs and wants and will enable you to help other family members understand your needs and wants too.
  • Keep yesterday’s battles or past histories out of current discussions and interactions. Recognize that family histories and old patterns of coping can surface as family members deal with caregiving situations. Included in these histories are old patterns or roles of how each individual reacted or coped with stressful situations. An example of old patterns is the oldest sister has always been in charge yet the younger sister has assumed caregiving responsibilities for their parents. In the past the oldest sister was the one making decisions and telling others what to do. That old pattern of functioning won’t work now that the younger sister is the caregiver. The younger sister is the one who communicates her parent’s needs with other family members and creates a new pattern of interaction between family members, especially with her older sister.  This new patter of interaction requires all family members to change how they view the younger sister but especially the older sister.
  • Some family members may not be emotionally capable of dealing with a particular caregiving issue or concern. Some family members may not be able to come to terms with what is happening to the care receiver for lots of reasons. Sometimes past conflicts, sibling rivalries, or estranged relationships play a role in the person’s ability to copy emotionally. Sometimes instead of coping with the situation they withdraw and appear as if they don’t care.

We have discussed numerous strategies family members can use to address family conflict but also conflict between family members. Keep in mind that if one strategy doesn’t work you can always try a different one. The most important fact to keep in mind is the family will be most successful when they work together to care for the care receiver and have a united plan of action.  Continue to explore ways to resolve family conflict in article four as it describes ways the caregiver can reduce conflict with family members and the care receiver plus suggestions on ways the caregiver can take care of themselves.

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