"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
July 11, 2013
Stop Fighting!
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Question:

Last summer, I had a spat with my younger brother at my parents' house about the discipline of my ten- year-old son, but that flared into other issues that had been boiling for the past year. Days later, my father wrote a letter to both of us about our behavior and acting like "the spoiled brats" that we are.

I wrote a letter of apology to my brother and apologized to my parents over the phone. They live far away. It's been a strained relationship since then. 

How can I fix it?

Answer:

You have a ten year old, so I estimate you to be at least in your early thirties. Your brother is in his twenties or thirties? And your parents must be in their fifties or sixties?

And yet you had a spat over a personal issue (strike one) that flared into a full-blown argument (strike two) about issues that have been festering between you for a year (strike three).

Most adults do not behave this way -- especially not toward their families. This is the way children act, until they learn to control themselves, mind their own business, and see things from another person's point of view.

Then, to make things worse, your father decides to upbraid you both (strike four) in a letter in which he calls you "spoiled brats" (strike five). Name-calling is pretty low, especially when it is deliberately written into a letter by an adult and not blurted out in a moment of temper by a child.

You should not treat each other this way! Stop it!

Angry words cannot be un-said, and they can rankle for years. But if you have sincerely apologized and not repeated the offending behavior, it is entirely up to your family to forgive you or not. All you can do is show them that you love them and want to be part of their lives.

What you really need to do is keep this from happening again. That is entirely within your power. The key is self-control.

First, no more fighting with your brother. Even when you disagree with him or are upset or offended by his behavior, you must absolutely refuse to fight with him. If he starts it, you end it, no matter how many "issues" are "boiling."

You don't have to be a doormat or completely avoid discussing your disagreements. But you do have to resolve issues like adults, and that means no name-calling, no yelling, no insults, no wild accusations, and no deliberately hurting feelings. Instead, you will listen, take him seriously, compromise, take turns getting your way, and mind your own business.

For example, if your brother insults or interferes in your child-rearing, you say, firmly, "Jeff, I'll handle it." Or, "Jeff, there is more to this situation than you know. I will deal with it." Or, "I'm sorry my son did that, but please do not interfere." Avoid long discussions or justifications, especially when tempers are hot.

On the flip side, when you are tempted to start an argument, offer unsolicited advice, criticize or nag him, stop yourself. Say something pleasant instead. Or keep your mouth shut. Or ask him sincerely about his point of view without pushing your own.

Never argue about facts. If you disagree about an actual fact, such as who first sang The Sweater Song, just look it up.

When you feel a conversation going south, just end it. Nicely. If you are on the phone you say, "Well, I've got to run. It was nice talking to you." Or, "Okay then. I guess I'll talk to you soon."

If you are together, you might excuse yourself and visit the bathroom or get a glass of water. Or say, "Huh. That's interesting," or "I don't think that's true," or, "I don't feel that way at all," and then change the subject. Before you spend time with him next, prepare and practice some graceful exits from contentious conversations.

You should also evaluate whether your disagreements are anything that really need to be discussed and resolved. Political disagreements, for example, do not need to be resolved among adults. They just don't. It doesn't matter if family members have different political opinions.

You should also avoid discussions that are not productive. For example, let's say your brother always complains about money, but also buys an expensive new car every year. And let's say you have explained to him the connection between these two things extensively in the past, with no change in his behavior.

He is clearly not going to change his mind about buying expensive new cars every year. So don't bring it up again. When he complains about money, put a sympathetic look on your face and either say nothing or something like, "That's hard."

Second, act like an adult around your parents. Pretend they are adults from your ward or neighborhood and behave accordingly. I doubt you would have rowed with your brother in a neighbor's home.

You should also treat your brother like an adult. Consciously decide to see him as your equal. Respect his opinions and his ability to make his own decisions.

And think of yourself as an adult. You are not a child, and you are not helpless. If your brother is consistently unkind to you or your parents frequently belittle you, you can pull back from the relationship.

Third, mind your own business. Don't get wrapped up in your brother's affairs, and don't let him or your parents become overly involved in yours.

That might mean you keep more distance between you. If it drives you crazy to read your brother's Facebook posts, don't do it. If you hate it when your mom asks for progress reports on your diet, don't tell her you are on one.

Finally, a question: Are you sure your relationship is strained? Sometimes, long-distance relationships are merely distant. You do not see or interact with your parents or brother frequently enough to know what is going on in their lives. It is possible that what you perceive as a strained relationship is stress related to things that have nothing to do with you.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!


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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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