Family Feuds: What To Do If You're Stuck In The Middle

Top tip: Avoid being the family carrier pigeon.

16/05/2016 10:53 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:52 PM AEST
Just scream it out, folks.

If you've ever had to ask Family Member A to pass Family Member B the salt shaker, then you are well aware of the difficulties associated with family feuds.

While they might not always be that dramatic, no family is immune to the occasional quarrel. After all, a shared gene pool plus family history plus Uncle Barry having one too many beers at Christmas does not always a neutral territory make.

Where things get tricky, however, is if two people (or groups of people) are having a disagreement and you find yourself somehow stuck in the middle.

"Generally it's the middle child or the youngest that plays the role of the peacemaker or the go-between," Matt Garrett from Relationships Australia told The Huffington Post Australia.

"If you are looked upon as the neutral party in the family, then by all means take the role, but you need to be very careful about how you relate to both sides."


According to Garrett, the worst thing you can do is to start acting as a go-between between feuding parties, no matter how badly you want to help.

"Do not become the conduit of communication from one to the other," Garrett said. "Or you will absolutely get 'triangled' into something that turns against you."

While avoiding any kind of involvement may prove impossible, Garrett says it's important to lay down rules for yourself (and for others) about what you will and will not do.

"If you are able to be the peacemaker of the family, and let's face it, most families have at least one, then set some rules for yourself -- the first being you will listen but you won't intervene," Garrett said.

"And you won't carry a message from one to the other and back again. You are a family member and not a counsellor, or a carrier pigeon for that matter."

Jason Verschoor
Ahh... family gatherings in the holidays...

Garrett maintains this approach allows the peacemaker to remain neutral.

"So when the dust settles, you will still be on side with both parties," he said. "Alternatively, if for some reason they don't patch things up, you are still able to have a positive relationship with both."

Something else to consider is the benefits of keeping things contained, wherever possible. Or as Garrett puts it:

"Don't go and seek the advice or input of other members of the family. It just builds the complexity and intricacy of what is a very specific thing.

"Failing that, you could encourage the idea of group therapy, in order to involve a neutral third party."

"The best thing you can do is to encourage them to deal with each other. If you find yourself repeating yourself about it, then there might be something else going on there."

Garrett also advises putting a stop to any trash-talk about other members of the family.

"You are a family member after all, so what either says about the other is going to be hurtful or painful for you, because you have a relationship with them," he said. "You never know, it could set things off for yourself.

"My advice would be to limit the amount you want to be involved, and make a rule for yourself not to carry messages.

"If they aren't satisfied with that, or perhaps are pissed off with you for not taking their side, you just need to tell them, 'That's because I still want to be your sister or mother at the end of this. I am willing to listen but don't ask me to act on your behalf'.

"The best thing you can do is to encourage them to deal with each other. If you find yourself repeating yourself about it, then there might be something else going on there."

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