Integrated Theory of Functional Families: What Works in Families and What Doesn’t Work

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Abstract
A healthy family should create and sustain and environment which promotes emotional and physical health and psychological well-being for its members. To fulfill this function, families should know how to nurture, support, encourage, protect, communicate, create boundaries and structure, have fun and work together as a team. What does a healthy family look like? The answer to that may be as varied as there are families; however there are common characteristics that can be found in functional families.

Integrated Theory of Functional Families:
What Works in Families and What Doesn’t Work
“If the family were a fruit, it would be an orange, a circle of sections, held together but separable - each segment distinct.” Letty Cottin Pogrebin In earlier times a family was traditionally thought of as two parents with children, but this is no longer the structure of the majority of the families today. The percentage of single-parent families, step families and blended families has increased significantly over the years. The nuclear family is a thing of the past. What type of family is more functional? A two parent home bringing in two incomes, but no one has time for each other or a single parent who works hard to make ends meet but always makes time for his or her children. Distinct Roles and Clear Boundaries

“The great gift of family life is to be intimately acquainted with people you might never even introduce yourself to, had life not done it for you.” Kendall Hailey There is a certain amount of role fluidity in functional families. Clear role definitions are identified as an important characteristic of family functioning and essential for a family's ability to adapt to changing situations. Related to the concept of role definition is the issue of power. Who decides what and how it is decided are indicators of the role structure in the family. From a Minuchin standpoint, within healthy families there is a clear recognition that the parents are in charge. At the same time, parents are open to their children's input and the parents are rarely seen as authoritarian (Lewis, 1979, pp. 87-88). Parents should always have sufficient authority in the family to effect change and to provide a safe, loving environment for their children. With a clear, yet flexible structure in place, family members are aware of their responsibilities to the family. In the face of crisis and problems, members know their roles. Boundaries between people in healthy families should be strong enough so that each person has his or her own identity and room to grow. However, boundaries should not be so rigid that people can’t communicate and share. If the boundaries are too rigid, there is no intimacy. If the boundaries are too permeable, then the family is said to be enmeshed. An enmeshed family blurs the identities of its members and does not allow each person an adequate amount of personal space or privacy. For healthy family functioning the couple’s relationship should be preserved complete with an appropriate parental boundary. Salvador Minuchin depicts family emotional connections through interpersonal boundaries: if boundaries are inappropriately rigid there is disengagement, if boundaries are diffuse there is enmeshment. On the continuum between these two boundaries is the mid-range of clear boundaries where family members can be close yet maintain a sense of personal identity and agency. When boundaries are overly restrictive, interpersonal connections are impaired, often experienced in a sense of isolation and alienation. Good and Effective Communication

“Deep listening is miraculous for both listener and speaker. When someone receives us with open-hearted, non-judging, intensely interested listening, our spirits expand.” Sue Patton Thoele The presence of effective communication patterns is one of the most frequently mentioned characteristics of strong families. Healthy families communicate their feelings (both positive and...
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