Family Conflict Resolution

Families and friends of seniors with dementia face plenty of emotional and practical difficulties even without other complicating conditions. Very often, however, the stress of caregiving is accompanied and exacerbated by conflict among family members.

Such a situation can take many different paths. In the best of worlds, a family may be able to minimize conflict by employing an action plan that was drawn up and mutually agreed to prior to any point of crisis. At the opposite extreme, some families end up in court when members feel their interests and those of the senior they care for cannot be protected any other way.

In cases of litigation, parties frequently start out believing they stand to gain, but after tearing at each other in and out of court for a lengthy period of time, spending many thousands of dollars in fees and often being surprised by the result, far too many realize that there are no substantial winners in this paradigm.

Happily, there is another way. According to the American Arbitration Association, 80% of participants in mediation feel satisfied with their outcome. Contrasted with the theoretical 50% possible in litigation, let alone the actual much lower rate (given factors of cost, loss of control over the outcome, etc.), this statistic obviously illustrates a stark advantage for mediation.

In mediation, the parties themselves set the agenda, and the mediator helps them to achieve it. A mediator’s job is to listen to all perspectives, holding the space between them for real communication and discerning the core concerns expressed by the parties underneath whatever challenging dynamics and painful emotions might be present, so that they can be considered objectively.

Often family dynamics from many years in the past will re-emerge powerfully as those involved interact in the painful context of aging and loss. This is natural, and it can be very helpful to have an experienced third party present, who is both neutral and compassionate, for such interactions.

Some may hesitate to try mediation if they feel strongly that their conflicts cannot be worked out without the intervention of a court. In reality, parties who mediate without reaching agreement can always resort to court afterward, knowing that nothing divulged during mediation is admissible in court. Compared to the cost of litigating, parties have very little to lose in trying mediation.

Conflict occurs in many situations arising from elder care. It does not have to lead to a bitter struggle, and it does not have to be faced alone.