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Dealing with Conflict about Long Term Care

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Family conflict is at the heart of the world's great literature, from the Bible to the present. Think of King Lear. How much better off he would have been had he discussed his plans for long-term care with his daughters instead of royally announcing his decision. Few families today have a kingdom at stake, but sometimes high drama can come from very small stakes.

Mediators and counselors

If, after all your preparations and forethought, conflict cannot be forestalled, it may be time to call in a mediator or counselor. This person can be a professional; clergy, social workers, psychologists, family therapists all have training on how to handle conflict. It is important that the person be, and be seen by all, as an objective advisor, not someone hired to convince the others to agree to a plan.

Some mediation techniques are the same as I have discussed for holding a family meeting. They include setting ground rules for discussion (no negative personal comments, no interrupting, and time limits). Talk about feelings is allowed, but only in the “I” format. That is, “I felt left out of the discussion,” not “You left me out of the discussion.”

Sometimes individual counseling can help someone deal with the situation itself and the conflict it has engendered. Often these conflicts have roots in childhood or adolescence. Although you may feel that you have moved on and no longer feel these old hurts, they sustain surprising power over time.

Consensus and compromise

When a family is totally at odds over some aspect of long-term care, whatever the ultimate decision, there should be no winners and losers. If the process has further alienated some family members and made it less likely that there will be a meeting of minds — much less a meeting in person — then everyone loses.

And witnessing family fights can be detrimental to younger family members, even to children, who may not understand just what all the unpleasantness is about.

When conflict erupts, as it often does, try to keep the animosity level low. Everyone will have to live with the decision, often for years, as well as their behavior during the conflict. It is about long-term care, after all, and that may mean a very long time. The goal should be consensus and compromise, not victory.

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