Every Family is Dysfunctional
Do you wish your family were different?
There are no perfect families
No matter who we are, we are part of a family. We each were born to a father and mother. We have grandparents, and most likely aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings. Whether they are living or not, or whether we are close to them or far away, these relationships have affected our lives in a significant way.
Oftentimes, we look at other families and wish we were more like them. We compare what we don't have to what others do, and end up on the short end of the comparison. This is unfortunate, as there is value in all circumstances and relationships, no matter how difficult they may seem.
Every family experiences pain, frustration, and conflict. To think that one can avoid these is to have unrealistic expectations. In order to deal with them, we need to communicate with one another, work towards common goals, and keep our family high on our priority list.
"...it seems that in every family, if not in every person, some physical conditions exist that require special care."
"We are inclined to view our own personal misfortunes through the distorted prism of pessimism."
Every family has pain
Every family experiences pain in some way or another. The thing we need to remember is that pain is not always visible. It can be physical, caused by "disease, injury, or something that hurts the body." Pain can also be "mental or emotional suffering: sadness caused by some emotional or mental problem" or even "someone or something that causes trouble or makes you feel annoyed or angry" (online dictionary).
Pain is not determined by our socioeconomic status, our level of spirituality, or our ability to solve problems. It is a natural part of our human existence. It is something that we all have in common. Some people are very vocal in how they deal with their pain, others are very private. No matter who we are, we can find someone in more pain than ourselves.
When we start to feel sorry for ourselves and think that we have it tough, we would do well to find others who are in pain, and do what we can to alleviate their suffering. As we do so, we come away with a new appreciation of our own pain. We realize that we would rather have our pain than theirs. In fact, if all the pain in the world were put in a pile, and divided equally among everyone living, we would each have about the same as what we have now.
Every family experiences frustration
Frustration happens when we experience unresolved problems. Some of these problems come as a result of our various circumstances. Others come from things that happen that are the choices of those around us, and still others come as a result of the choices that we make.
We may see our family as incomplete, perhaps due to a divorce, death, disability, single parenting, infidelity, or the inability to have children. We look at others with seemingly complete families and think that if only we had what they do, our problems would be solved.
The reality of the matter is simply that all families experience problems, no matter what their circumstances. Thinking that if our circumstances were different, our problems would be solved is an unrealistic expectation. If our circumstances were different, our problems would simply be different. We would still have them! All families experience issues with finances, health, employment, children, education, and transportation.
Every family has conflict
There is no such thing as a family that does not have issues with conflict. When two people marry, they bring with them the habits and practices of their past life in their family of origin. This includes the way that we communicate and deal with conflict.
In his book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, John Gottman speaks of the communication styles that couples develop that allow them to deal with conflict. He indicates that in order for marriages to succeed, a style must be developed that both spouses use. The same is true in any family situation.
Just like mechanical parts that rub against each other until they are worn down and fit tightly together, people rub against each other as they learn patterns of communication, giving and taking, learning, and adjusting, until they find what works in their particular relationship.
As families gather for special occasions, those who haven't gone through this process are often thrown into a mix. It is necessary to overlook some things that are just not that important to keep the event meaningful and enjoyable for all gathered together. Sometimes, it is necessary to gear up for the encounters that we know we will have with those that we don't have the best of relationships with. As we do so, we allow a buffer zone that keeps us from getting hurt or offended when others show their raw edges and bump up against ours.
"In our day civil governments have a vested interest in protecting marriage because strong families constitute the best way of providing for the health, education, welfare, and prosperity of rising generations."
Russell M. Nelson (ibid)
As imperfect as families are, they are still necessary
Families are the fundamental unit of society. Although popular opinion sways in other directions, no other substitute has been found to socialize human beings. Those societies that abandon the family fall to ruin. In order to preserve and strengthen our families, we all need to engage in quality communication, pursue common goals, and put our family on our priority list.
Communication is the way that we send messages to each other. We often think of words when we think of communication, but non-verbal communication is actually more powerful than verbal. When we understand this concept, we take care to make sure that our actions speak the messages that we want others to receive.
Non-verbal communication includes the following:
- facial expressions
- hand gestures
- head position
Each one of these items tells the person we are communicating with how important they are to us when we are in their presence. On "open" position is one which invites communication and includes eye-to-eye contact, facing the other person, responding to what is said with facial expression, hands that reach out to the other person, and a posture that leans forward to the person who is speaking.
A "closed" position drives away communication. Things such as turning the head away, lack of eye contact, yawning, folding the arms, crossing the legs, looking at the clock, or in any way acting pre-occupied all discourage others from pursuing communication with us.
Our family members are deeply affected by our actions toward them in the area of communication. What we do as their loved ones sends messages of love and acceptance or criticism and annoyance, depending upon how we act when we are around them.
Putting time and effort into quality communication includes understanding "I" messages, "You" messages, and "We" messages. See the table below for examples of these types of communications. The communication we use either builds our family or tears it down. These are the type of messages that build.
I love you.
We make a great team!
I think that is great!
You are welcome.
We have the time.
I am sorry I did that.
You did a great job.
We are ready to go.
I like the way that looks on you.
You are kind.
We keep quiet.
I feel sad.
You have a great smile.
We like doing this together.
I feel happy.
You are having a tough time.
We know how to do it.
"This shield of faith is not manufactured on an assembly line, only handmade in a cottage industry...Some still do not see that too many out-of-home activities, however well intended, leave too little time to make and fit on the shield of faith at home."
Pursue common goals
Working together toward common goals brings family members close in ways that nothing else can. Family unity comes from doing things together, whether work, play, or service. The time we are working toward a common goal builds relationships, enables communication, and give us reasons to share our love and acceptance of one another. The following family activities give family members opportunities to pursue common goals:
- Family devotional time
- Family prayer
- Family meals
- Family Home Evening
- Family work projects
- Family service to others
- Family recreation
- Family musical activities
- Family crafts or hobbies
The family is fundamental in formulating of faith, repentance, and the understanding of religious practices. Those families who pursue spiritual goals together are more likely to pass their values and moral principles on to the next generation. Regular attendance in church services strengthens the bonds of unity in the family.
Which area do you feel your family needs to work on most?
Put family on your priority list
If our family is not on our priority list, we will lose them, it is that simple. Other things will happen in life that seem more important at the time. Our career, home, friends, or hobbies will compete for our attention. Before we know it, our children are grown and gone, and our spouses are pursuing other interests. The most common regret people have on their deathbeds is not spending more time with those they love.
Family relationships must be nurtured daily. This does not happen automatically, it takes time, planning, and effort on our part. We have to set aside our preoccupations for the moment, and live with those we love in such a way that they will know that we care for them and are concerned for their health and well-being.
Whether it is expressing affection to our spouse, holding a crying child, or helping a teenager with their homework, the time we take now will pay big dividends in the future. When the moment arrives that we need love and understanding from others, it will be there for us. The law of the harvest applies directly to family life. The seeds we sow, we will inevitably reap. If our harvest is meager, we only have to look into the mirror.
Yes, every family is dysfunctional, but every family is also unique in its possibilities. We can take our weaknesses and turn them into strengths by using quality communication, working toward common goals, and putting our family on our priority list.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Denise W Anderson