How well do you know your family members? Most of us would answer “really well”. After all, these are the people that we spend the majority of each day with. They’re the people we share DNA with, the people we’ve been socially conditioned to get along with the most. We’ve watched them grow and change over time, and they’ve seen us throughout many changes.
But anyone who’s endured a family crisis knows that there’s more to family connection than that. Sometimes the people that we rub shoulders with on a daily basis are the people we have the hardest time connecting with. Sometimes someone living under the same roof is a stranger to us. Some family members are holding private sorrows and challenges that we have no idea about.
Consider These Questions Regarding Your Family
- How well do you think your family would be able to communicate about a difficult challenge like addiction, grief, or love?
- Do your family’s connections make its members resilient against harmful behaviors caused by shame, depression, and isolation?
- Are children learning communication skills that will helps them overcome relationship challenges with co-workers, roommates, and significant others in the future?
What’s Your Family’s Communication Style?
The most common model used to study family dynamics is the Family Communication Patterns Theory. Consider two axes. One side is Conformity Orientation (how much family members fall into line with each other). The other side is Conversation Orientation (how well a family communicates). Where a family is on each axis determines which of the four patterns it follows.
- Consensual: high communication, high conformity–Families discuss rules and realities together, and there’s high pressure to conform with the family hierarchy.
- Pluralistic: high communication, low conformity–Families discuss realities together, emphasis is placed on promoting independent thinkers and communicators.
- Protective: low communication, high conformity–Rules and realities are determined by one or two alphas and the rest of the family adapts to hierarchy.
- Laissez-faire: low communication, low conformity–Family members don’t put emphasis on communication or cooperation. Everyone just kind of does their own thing.
Now, these are simply models used to study family dynamics and see the effects of variables in each one. There are benefits and impediments to each style. However, when you look at all the patterns, which do you think best meet the needs prompted by the questions earlier in this article? It’s easy to see that families with high communication focus will see benefits in personal and family lives.
Follow These Essentials for Better Communication Within the Family
- Show up and be present: The biggest impediment to family connection is if one or more parties are disengaged. Spend time together. Dr. Gottman, a relationship psychologist, identified stonewalling and contempt as two of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” when it comes to relationships. Once these attributes are present, it’s only a matter of time before a relationship breaks down. Disengagement can also trigger harmful teen behavior; specifically attention-seeking and/or perfectionism.
- Forgive, and Judge Intent over Actions: Every relationship requires a certain amount of compassion and forgiveness. Even more than what people say, we need to understand the motivation behind each word and action. At times, all of us miscommunicate. At that point, there needs to be a certain amount of resilience in the family, fueled by an underlying understanding of each other’s values and love.
- Do what you say: This is especially important in relationships between children and parents. Children need to know what the real rules and borders are. Unenforced rules, and rules that only apply to a select few will send mixed messages. This consistency, learned as a child, will have major applications in personal and professional relationships throughout a person’s life.
- Have hard conversations: This goes hand-in-hand with #1: show up, and be present. Sometimes we avoid the hard conversations out of a misguided intention to keep the peace. However, as sociological researcher Brene Brown discusses, we need to love those important to us enough to confront problems and set boundaries. Otherwise, the pressure can cause criticism, gossipping, and passive-aggressive behaviors. Without these hard conversations, we can’t have genuine connections, which are essential to mental and physical wellbeing.
- Give Regular Positive Affirmation: Going back to Dr. Gottman and his research, it’s been found that the proportion of positive and negative interactions between people can determine relationship success. Apparently, the magic number for couples is 5:1, or 5 positive interactions to every negative one. Once we dip below that number, a relationship is in danger. Every relationship contains some difficult things–spats, bad days, and disagreements. Negative things usually happen unplanned, and even unnoticed by one party. Make a conscious decision to build your stockpile of genuine positive interactions to counter the inevitable hard times. The best way to do this is to remember daily courtesy, something we often forget with the people that we see most.
by Christine Hill