There's a new reality for families today characterized by a dramatic increase in adult family conflict. Many adult siblings are having a difficult time as they face their parents' aging and related decisions regarding caregiving, health care, property distribution, estate planning and more.
It is now common for us to live at a distance from our aging parents and siblings. This can lead to a breakdown in family communication and increased conflict over important, often critical, family decisions.
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While, in the abstract, the challenges of sharing family homes and assets seem like nice problems to have, these dilemmas account for some of the most vicious family feuds and court battles in our society. Sibling wealth disparity and the division of family assets is one of the leading causes of strife in families today. Rivalries, jealousies and the quest for fairness play out in living rooms and dining rooms in our neighborhoods.
Being in conflict with someone, especially with a family member, is disorienting. When we are impacted by ongoing conflict, it can seem very dark out there. When we're in a dispute, we feel lost — we're on a journey we do not control. Navigating from where we are to where we think we want to go is almost impossible because others keep putting up roadblocks. Plus, everyone is coming from different places, and there is no consensus on the final destination.
Simply declaring that everyone should hold hands and begin singing "Kumbaya" won't miraculously change your family into a group of cooperative souls. We need some guidance before the dispute hijacks our family relationships taking us to some desolate place and landing us in a ditch.
The odds of success in an important conversation improve considerably with preparation. Think of a difficult conversation as a negotiation; you wouldn't go into a business negotiation without preparing for it, and you shouldn't go into a family conversation unprepared either.
Figure out what is important to you and what you hope to achieve. Think about what the others want. Can you find any common ground? What potential options exist to meet your interests as well as theirs? By practicing the techniques that we lay out for you, you can learn skills used by trained professionals.
You can empower yourself to think like a mediator in order to become a better decision-maker, a more mindful negotiator, and a more effective communicator.
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Permission to publish granted by Arline Kardasis, Rikk Larsen, Crystal Thorpe and Blair Trippe.