For the next miniseries of the podcast, I will be exploring family relationships. Marriage can create family relationships, but I thought it important to focus on marriage and romance separately from family.
There are many different types of family relationships, both biological and non-biological. We may not always choose our family members and their behavior, but we can choose our responses and ways of reacting to them.
Why Do We Care about Family Relationships
Our first family is one that none of us chooses at birth. However, our family has an impact on us throughout our lives, particularly on our well-being, which includes mental and physical health, happiness, and life satisfaction. As you’ve heard in previous episodes of the podcast, parental relationships can create the blueprint that we start to apply later in life (attachment theory).
Our family relationships can be protective or a source of strain and stress. The protective elements of family include:
- social support and connection (advice, care, and love which helps us feel self-worth, and which correlate with better mental health, optimism, self-confidence)
- social influence (we mind ourselves and consider the needs of people we care about in selecting our behaviors. This usually means behaving in healthier ways, for example, a spouse could encourage you to go for regular medical checkups).
On the other hand, strain and stress result from criticism, unrealistic expectations, and demands. Like all negative stress, this can increase depression, impair immune function, and negatively impact cardiovascular health.
And of course, our families take on many different shapes as we go through life.
Types of Family Relationships
The different types of family relationships:
- sibling ties
- blended families
The ways those different types of groupings intersect with each other also matter and can affect the quality and diversity of family relationships. That’s very important since the behavior of just one person can affect the health of our family relationships.
Functional and Dysfunctional Family Relationships
Family relationships can be functional or dysfunctional. You can think of these two options as opposite sides of a continuum. Relationships may move back and forth along this continuum.
If a relationship is functional, members feel safe, respected, and supported. If members feel ashamed, unsupported, disrespected, or abused physically or mentally, this is a dysfunctional relationship.
Building Strong Families
According to researchers, strong families have six qualities in common: appreciation and affection, commitment, positive communication, enjoyable times together, spiritual well-being, and the ability to manage stress and crisis effectively.
There are certain behaviors that help build those qualities:
- good communication
- showing appreciation for each other and gratitude
- supporting and encouraging each other
- spending time together having fun and doing things that you both enjoy
- showing up when each needs help and doing what you say you’ll do
- hugging, touching, and otherwise showing affection for each other (appropriately)
- respecting each other’s religious beliefs and activities
- share thoughts with each other and listen actively
- work with each other, even more closely, in times of conflict
- act as a buffer for each other against challenges where possible.
The invitation this week is for you to show affection and appreciation for the family members that mean the most to you. Start with one, the person who first comes to mind.
We’ll be going more in-depth on the topic with some experts in the upcoming episode.
Where Family Matters
In 17 countries surveyed, adults in Europe and North America (top 13 countries) depend on family more than anything else to give their lives meaning than adults in Asia (bottom 4 countries). Visit the link below for more details and this extended analysis. Middle-aged people find more meaning in family, and overall women do so more than men. On the other hand, younger people mentioned friends and community more than family. Interestingly, a greater percentage of adults overall mentioned friends than family as providing purpose in life, in all locales.