Three Windows of Opportunity in Family Mental Health Conflicts

How do you identify windows of opportunity for agreements in families addressing mental health?

Here are three:



People are fighting without disagreeing

Often there can be a conflict without a disagreement.  A common issue, in mental health conflicts, is not whether there is instability but rather what must be done to address the instability.  For instance, in a conflict between a college student (Nancy) and her parents (Bill and Marge), everyone might agree that there is a lot of stress and pain at the moment.  Nancy may suggest that Bill and Marge stop doing things to upset her, such as asking her to help around the house or telling others in the family about her problems.  Meanwhile Bill and Marge might ask Nancy to stop having intense reactions, such as yelling very loudly or slamming doors.  

These two positions are not mutually exclusive.  Often in these kinds of cases, both sides see the other side’s perspective as valid but they are afraid to say it.  Nancy knows she is reacting intensely and would feel better if she found ways to cope, but she is scared that admitting this to Bill and Marge will mean they’ll always blame her for any problems.  On the other hand, Bill and Marge realize they have done things to upset Nancy but they worry admitting it will mean walking on egg shells their entire lives.

This is a window of opportunity because there is not actually a disagreement here – everyone agrees that Nancy’s reactions are intense, and that Bill and Marge did something to trigger them.  If they feel safe to share their full stories, they might be able to work together to reach a better solution.



There’s an external deadline forcing a decision

Sometimes people might disagree, but there is something external putting pressure on reaching a decision.  Maybe it’s the pressures from a job – too many absences means you’re forced onto medical leave, and too long of a leave means you lose the job.  Maybe it’s the academic calendar, and there is only so much time before needing to take time off from school.  Perhaps it is the end of a hospitalization and now it’s time for discharge, or there’s a big project with a strict deadline at work, or the family has to move because their lease is up or they can’t afford their home.  Sometimes it can be an arrest and court dates.

Whatever it is, these pressure situations – while not ideal – are opportunities to make a decision.  Often the time pressure facilitates a faster agreement, and that impetus to reach a decision can lead to good outcomes if handled carefully.




There has been an attitude shift

One party in conflict may change their minds.  In the world of mental health, this may mean that someone has come to a new understanding of their mental health problem and now are more amenable to discussing it.  Maybe this is due to a new clinician, or just to maturation and becoming more comfortable with the stigma and symptoms of the situation.  It can also be that supporters reach a new understanding of mental health and are more open to discuss it, or that everyone has decided they want to prioritize family togetherness more than they have been.

These attitude shifts are a chance to revisit mental health conflicts and reach a new agreement.


Conflict resolution professionals can help make the most of these windows of opportunity.  E-mail for more information