As Joe pointed out in his post “Bipolar Disorder and Family Dynamics,” bipolar disorder typically affects and is affected by everyone in a family. While no family member is to blame for having or causing the disorder, all family members can and should work together to try to avoid conflict and keep the tone of unavoidable disagreements to a dull roar. Strong emotions tend to fuel conflicts, which isn’t good for anyone involved.

While every family is different, here are some basic strategies that are often helpful in reducing the level of conflict at home:

  • Take a time out. Anger comes in waves. Waiting out the worst of it away from the person or people you’re arguing with allows time for the strongest emotions to settle so you can return to the discussion in a more even state of mind. We often get really angry when someone tries to walk away during an argument, but disengaging from the conflict and/or allowing others to disengage can be very helpful in preventing further escalation
  • Lower the tone. Big emotions fuel more big emotions – in ourselves and the people around us. If we get angry and distressed, it charges up the other person’s anger and distress. It’s basic biology. If someone in the arguing circle can take their level way down – quiet voice, calm posture and actions – it will do a lot to shorten the episode.
  • Remind one another of your affection for each other. Reminders of affection make a big difference. In the middle of the battle remind your loved ones that you still love them, you still care. Part of the escalation in conflicts is fear – fear of someone hurting us or leaving us. Reassuring the people you’re arguing with that you haven’t stopped loving them keeps this from becoming part of the mix, and it just feels better. It can take us out of our angry head for a moment and sometimes redirect the discussion to a more problem-solving approach.
  • Share some humor. Humor can be a great de-fuser, but be careful – it’s only funny if everyone laughs. Dismissing someone else’s concerns by laughing at them is likely to trigger more conflict. But shared humor as a reminder of affection, as a reminder that these things blow over, can be great. Sometimes it helps to remember something that you fought over before, but in retrospect you laughed at it because it was really silly or because you figured out what the miscommunication was, or a time when you struggled together over something and then laughed about it later.
  • Take a walk. Mediator William Ury, in his video “The walk from ‘no’ to ‘yes’“recommends taking a walk. As he explains, when you walk with someone, you’re side-by-side going in the same direction. Face-to-face is a more confrontational pose that’s more likely to make people feel threatened.

You may have every right to be angry and frustrated with someone’s behavior, but just because you have the right to be enraged doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. It will usually just make things worse rather than solving the problem.

These strategies aren’t a magic cure for disagreements, but they can often help to contain conflict, prevent it from escalating, and reduce its duration. Every family argues. You will have disagreements. But finding ways to maintain our composure and compassion can keep the conflict from becoming toxic.