Any group of individuals in any sort of setting who are attempting to cooperate in some fashion are sure to run into conflict from time to time. And family members, of course, are no exception. In fact, some of the most heated, emotional, long-standing, and painful disputes arise from family conflict. That’s probably because families share or have some impact on deeply personal, intimate elements of each other’s lives. That’s why just about every family could, at some point, benefit from learning better family conflict resolution strategies.

What Do Families Fight About?

In my work as a coach and conflict resolution consultant for families, I have seen all variety and extremities of conflict between family members, from minute passive-aggressive words at a child’s birthday to major fraud cases between siblings. I have worked with individuals carrying quiet though subtle resentment as well as family members on the verge of a nervous breakdown or illegal retribution.

Money is One of the Most Common Family Conflicts

One of the most common types of family conflict is, you guessed it, Money.

People get into all sorts of arguments and family disagreements over money. In my time as a family conflict consultant, I have run into families arguing about who will pay for their elderly parents’ care, divorcees disagreeing over who will pay for their grown child’s college-related expenses or other major events like weddings, family members fighting about bad debts borrowed from one another, and, of course, families arguing over inherited estates, with issues such as how an inherited business will be run or broken up, when an inherited house will be sold and who is entitled to what, whose children should receive what from their grandparents’ estate, and so on.

One common issue tends to revolve around sibling partnerships. I have met several pairs of brothers who are in business together, for instance. This situation only seems to work out for so long. It’s curious as to why sibling partnerships regularly go south; perhaps there is something to the notion of sibling rivalry. Nonetheless, I have consulted with quite a few individuals who are either attempting to amicably part ways from their brother and business partner or who are engaged in an all-out legal battle with their now-estranged brother and former partner. I have even seen a couple of situations where one party actually committed fraud and stole millions of dollars from his own brother–at least, that’s the story I received from the “victim’s” side of the family. This boggles my mind.

Witnessing families split apart over money matters is extremely sad and yet all too common. I have found myself continuously asking: Why do families fight over inheritance or why do adult siblings fight over who gets the ring? Isn’t the love of family paramount?

Unfortunately, when money is at stake—especially when it is perceived as a lot of money by the parties involved—people get lost in their pain and anger. When the money gets threatened, they feel attacked on a very deep level, as though their very survival is being threatened; they feel enraged and driven to retaliation and war. This fight-or-flight reaction seemingly supersedes any memory of their relationship, and they simply cannot talk themselves back to a rational space. Now in some cases, perhaps it is true that the financial hit to one or more of the parties could be extremely impactful (i.e. the loss of a house or a sole source of income). However, this is seldom the case. The money at stake is, very typically, simply gravy; that is, it would only be supplemental and extra and thus not a need but a nicety.

Family Conflict Resolution Strategies

What is the Best Way to Deal with a Family Fighting Over Money?

The best family conflict resolution strategies are not necessarily turnkey; the most effective methods for dealing with family conflict will usually depend very much on the particular circumstances. For the most part, though, each of the family members who are interested in getting out of conflict and back to a peaceful relationship with the others must ask themselves the following questions:

  • If I lose the money currently in dispute, will my current, normal life be significantly negatively affected (i.e. will I be unable to go on living in the manner to which I am accustomed without the money or property)?
  • Is the money at stake more important to me than my family relationships at stake?
  • If the money disappeared tomorrow and no one got it, and the entire matter of the money was completely erased from my memory, would I still have bones to pick with the same family members?
  • If I give in and let the other side have what they want, will I almost certainly resent them for years to come?

If the answers to these questions are all “No,” then we have a good starting place. The money is not more important than the family, it will not threaten your current lifestyle, and it seems to be the only real thing worth fighting over at the moment. This warrants a family meeting. At the meeting, you can lead the format implementing the following family conflict resolution strategies:

    1. Apologize: That’s right. It will be your job to begin the meeting with an apology. Admit the negative ways you have been behaving and own them. Make this part all about you, not attempting to make the others bad or wrong in any way. I know, you may have to swallow your pride, but if your goal is to get back to peace, it will be worth it. And your apology and ownership of your part are likely to help drop the other family members’ defenses so they can actually converse in a calm, logical way. Even if they don’t reciprocally apologize, they will more likely be in a space of hearing you out.
    2. Care: Now, tell them how you miss them. Come from your heart. Tell them how this feud is negatively affecting you, mentally and emotionally. And let them know you want them back in your life, regardless of what happens with the money. Remember, they are more important than the money. Again, this lets them know where your priorities are and reaffirms your priorities for yourself. This will help set the stage for a much more generous negotiation on both your parts.
    3. Reasons: Next, tell the others what the money is for: give them your WHY. What will you do with it? How will it significantly add to your life? This better be important, if you’re going to all this trouble… So explain why it’s so important. Then ask each of the others what they will do with theirs. Now, remember, this is not a judging contest to determine whose cause is most worthy of the money. Rather, this is a way for all of you to level the playing field and get back to being human in each other’s eyes. Really listen to their reasons. Try to empathize with them to understand WHY they want the money, WHY it is important to them, WHY they believe it will change their lives for the better.
    4. Proposal: Based on what you heard, make a sound proposal, with an open heart. Make sure you are being fair, or perhaps more than fair: generous. And if after all of this, you still feel the other side is being truly unfair or unreasonable…then give in. Take less. Take nothing. Just be done. Yes, you may be forfeiting the money, but you’ll begin the process of rebuilding the family. Remember your answers to the questions above: the cost of losing the money is not worth the cost of losing your family.

If, on the other hand, one or more of the answers to the questions above were YES, we have a more complicated matter on our hands. In this case, you are probably deeply, emotionally attached to the outcome of this situation, as are the other family members. You would, at this point, be best advised to introduce an external, neutral third-party into the situation, preferably an expert in family conflict resolution strategies. With deeply invested attachments to the outcome of a family dispute, those involved will typically have a lot of trouble resolving family arguments and dealing with family conflict on their own. Family conflict counseling is in order.

Need Help Implementing Family Conflict Resolution Strategies?

If you’re currently in the middle of a family fight over money, I hope the above advice was at least somewhat useful. If you don’t feel you can successfully negotiate the terms of this family financial conflict or repair your family relationships on your own, it may be time to get help from the family conflict resolution experts. Contact us at Pollack Peacebuilding Systems. We are passionate about helping families find win-win solutions to difficult challenges and ultimately to get back to a state of peace.

Family Conflict Resolution Strategies

Jeremy Pollack

Jeremy Pollack is the Founder and CEO of Pollack Peacebuilding Systems.

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