Conflict between a wife and daughter can be a source of great frustration for fathers because of the obvious loss of peace and the dilemma of being pushed to take sides. Men are motivated and empowered when they feel needed, says John Gray in his book, "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus." Pop culture tells men not to try to "fix" women's dilemmas but rather to listen -- and that is good advice. Fathers, however, don't have to deny all their manly instincts. It's still possible to be strategic regarding mother-daughter conflicts.
Dig for Roots
Conflict is the result of a perceived threat, according to Craig E. Runde and Tim Flanagan in their book "Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader." They note, "Another person’s actions are perceived as a threat to our values, position, prestige, territory or well-being." A father should first help his wife and daughter recognize that conflict is natural. The daughter, especially if she is a teen, is yearning for greater independence, and her self-perception is now much more influenced by exposure to media and peer influences. Addressing the trigger -- whatever caused the eruption -- may be less important than identifying the threat perception, be it loss of control by the mother or loss of self-determination by the daughter.
Fathers in intact homes must remember that the marriage is the foundation of the family. Even if you don't agree with the position your wife is taking, try not to argue with her or take your daughter's side in front of the child. If the conversation becomes too heated, encourage a time-out and discuss your concerns with your wife privately. In situations of divorce, it's still important to uphold the parent-child relationship of your daughter and ex-wife. Respect for parents not only is an old-fashioned value, it's essential to harmony in the family.
It is important for healthy communication to express how someone's actions make you feel rather than accusing her motives or assaulting her character. Coach your wife and daughter not to use phrases such as "You always ..." or "You did that because ..." Remind them that people are not mind readers and that, as soon as they assume or assign motives or insult each other's character, they put each other on the defensive. At that point, communication becomes less about finding solutions and more about defending their position. Instead, challenge them to phrase statements this way: "When you would not let me go out, it made me feel ..." as opposed to, "You don't care about my social life." Coach them to listen to understand, not to form a response.
Bring a Legal Pad
A dad may find it useful to write down things that his daughter and wife say to one another and recite those items back to them, asking for clarification. Very often, hearing words recited can cause people to reflect on how things sound. Keeping notes also can help you clarify and sort through what is being said. Underline important statements and find commonalities, as well. Ask your wife and daughter questions about the things that stand out to you. Sometimes it's hard to keep up when a mother and daughter begin to argue. It can help if you have them sit down and you jot down notes along the way. You will not interrupt, but, at the same time, you won't lose track of important points to revisit.
- Becoming a Conflit Competent Leader; Craig E. Runde, et al.; 2006
- Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus; John W. Gray; 2004
- Crosswalk.com; Break Free from a Cycle of Mother-Daughter Conflict; Nicole Whitacre
- PsychCentral; 15 Insights on Improving Mother-Daughter Relationships; Margarita Tartakovsky