Lesson 5 of 7 - evolve a high-nurturance family


Worksheet: How We Handle
Loyalty Conflicts Now

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/fam/lc_wks.htm

Updated  03-16-2015

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      This is one of a series of articles on evolving and enjoying high-nurturance families (Lesson 5). The series exists because the wide range of current U.S. social problems suggests that most families don't fill the primary needs of (nurture) their members very well. That suggests the epidemic effects of the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle proposed in this nonprofit, ad-free site .

      This YouTube video provides perspective on this worksheet. The video mentions eight self-improvement lessons in this site. I've reduced that to seven.

      This worksheet assumes you're familiar with:

  • the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it  

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 - 4

  • this overview of three related family stressors; and..  

  • Options for resolving family loyalty conflicts


       How Do You Handle Loyalty Conflicts Now?  

       A loyalty conflict occurs when someone feels caught between two or more other people who each want attention or priority now (e.g. "Support me now, not her or him!"). Such conflicts occur in all human groups. They're specially common and complex in troubled, divorcing, and step families. No one is wrong or bad if they happen! 

      Family loyalty conflicts can erupt over almost anything: clothes, money, pets, chores, language, child discipline, friends, privacy, worship, vacations, meals, space, attitudes, holidays, rules, objects, grooming, etc.

       This worksheet aims to (a) help you learn something about such conflicts in your family, (b) suggest some choices, and (c) to promote discussion and awareness among your family members about them. This worksheet is not about blaming - it's about learning!

      Print the worksheet, find an undistracted place, and check to see if your true Self is guiding you  If not, your results below may be skewed. Fill out the worksheet thoughtfully, and ask others in your family to do the same. 

      Then discuss your findings - as fellow explorers and teammates, vs. opponents or competitors. If you can't do that yet, you have some other relationship issues...

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Name three things that cause repeated loyalty conflicts between three or more members of your family now:




Pick one of these problems. Name the person who feels stuck "in the middle" between two or more other family members:

In this conflict, what does this "middle" person really need?  


What do (you think) each of the other people involved really needs here? They may need several things. Possibilities: love, attention, respect, listening, to feel valued, reassurance, safety, strokes, validation, affirmation, information, advice, companionship,...

_________________ needs...

_________________ needs...

and _________________ needs...

How do these people usually try to resolve their loyalty conflict? Check one or more:

_ They hold a group meeting and discuss the problem as _ equals or _ unequals;

_ One or more people can't or won't say clearly what they want;

_ Some people (who?___________________________) don't _ care or _ understand what the others want;

_ Someone ( who? ________________________ ) orders or demands that the other/s to do it their way;

_ The group cooperatively brainstorms different solutions, _ tries one or more, and   _ the conflict usually gets lastingly resolved;

_ The original problem gets tangled up with others, and gets lost after a while with no lasting solution or decision);

_ Other people are called in ( who? _____________________ ) to help, fight, or decide;

_ Someone ( who? __________________________ ) changes the subject;

_ People bargain and compromise successfully: "I'll do this if you do that...";

_ Some people _ blame, _ argue, _ plead, _ yell, _ leave, _ whine, _ cry, _ collapse,

   _ threaten, _ rage, _ get even, _ numb out, _ pout, and/or …

   _  __________________________, and _ _________________________

   Who? does these?

   _ Other typical outcomes:



   _ Everyone, _ no one, or _____________________ usually gets what s/he needs here;

When the conflict ends, the "middle" person here probably feels

_______________, and the others probably feel...


The next time this (or a similar) loyalty conflict occurs, the outcome would improve if (who does what differently - be specific):



 Thoughts / feelings / awarenesses...

Option: use this worksheet periodically with all family members to track and affirm your group progress in mastering your loyalty conflicts over time.

 A Loyalty-conflict Exercise

      Describing a loyalty conflict is one thing. Actually experiencing one brings home the concept more vividly than words do. Here's a safe way to experience and learn from them in families or groups. You need at least three adults and/or kids, and plenty of space.

      One person explain to the others: "a 'loyalty conflict' occurs when two people each want a third person to choose and support them over the other. These conflicts can create a lot of stress, unless all three people know how to manage them. Let's do a brief role play, and then see what we learn."

      Everyone stand up. Ask who wants to be in the middle ("M"), or appoint someone. Have the other two people stand facing each other on either side of "M," and each firmly grasp "M"s closest hand in both of theirs. Pause, and ask "How does this feel?"

      Now have each person pull on M's hand, and say something like "Choose ME! / Be with ME!" / "Don't choose (the other person)!" / "You have to side with me!" Gradually pull harder and get louder and faster. "M" can be silent or say whatever occurs to her or him. Do this for about a minute, and then stop. Tho this may seem silly, it's not - so avoid any giggling or laughing.

      Debrief each other by asking and discussing...

  • "What did that (exercise) feel like to you?"

  • "What thoughts came to you?"

  • "What did you want to do, as this tug-of-war escalated?"

  • Did this remind you of anything?

  • "What should the person in the middle do about this situation?"

      When you're done debriefing, try one last step: ask each other "What would a solution to this struggle look like? (The answer - form a circle by holding each others' hands, and stop pulling (fighting)!  For more detail, re/read and discuss this.


      You can extend this exercise by:

  • having each person take a turn in the middle - even young kids;

  • have three or more people. all talking and pulling on the person in the middle; and...

  • if you're in a stepfamily, role-play different family members - specially ex mates, stepparents, kids, and co-grandparents.

  • role-play and discuss relationship triangles. Loyalty conflicts often generate them!

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      Pause, breathe, and recall why you used this worksheet. Did you get what you needed? If so, what do you need now? If not - what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your wise resident true Self, or ''someone else''?  

  This worksheet is very helpful  somewhat helpful  not helpful     

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