Family Systems

Perhaps no single issue is of greater importance for families than the one of marital conflict. When couples fail to successfully negotiate the emotional difficulties of their relationship, it can lead to either years of unhappiness within the marriage or to the breakdown of the marriage and to divorce. Unhappy couples negatively affect their families and even their communities.

Usually, the family environment plays a large role in shaping the identity of who you are as you grow into adolescence and become an adult. The way family members relate to one another and operate together as a group can shape your self-esteem and worth, socialisation, and the definition of who you were as a child and ultimately, the person that you are today.

Identity is an essential component in the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Failure to establish a positive identity at this time (a perceived sense of personal wholeness)) may lead to failing to adjust adequately or appropriately to certain situations, as well as endanger future psychological development and personal relationships. As such, late adolescence is a particularly important time in the identity development process. It is during this phase of psychological development that individuals experience, to varying degrees, a crisis brought on by the need to reconcile personal and social conflicts. These conflicts lead to a search for resolution and personal meaning.

Hierarchy of needs

Central to the crisis resolution process is achieving the balance between the need to be a unique individual, contrasted with the need to achieve a sense of belonging and how they relate to those who are significant to them, in particular, their husbands, wives or life partner.

Emotional cut off within a relationship is a common factor in couples who are struggling to remain committed to their family system. The most contagious of all emotions is anxiety, followed by depression.  Anxiety can seriously reduce our ability to think, therefore, we may lack the clarity that we usually count on to make good marital decisions.  It can also reduce the ability of married couples to see the big picture, the emotional system.  As anxiety increases over time, couples tend to focus on cause-and-effect blaming of each other. Bridging marital cut off replaces simplistic linear thinking with process thinking.

“A person can, through a gradual process of learning that is converted into action, become more of a self in his or her family and other relationship systems. This process of change has been called “defining a self” because visible action is taken to which others respond. A change in basic level can be achieved while in relationship to emotionally significant others, but not when others are avoided or when one’s actions disrupt a relationship.”

Kerr and Bowen (1988)

The more self-aware we are, the more observant we become regarding what escalates marital anxiety and when this anxiety increases.  We need to be careful observers of the patterns of anxiety, looking for marital triggers, such as the need to identify and focus on the negatives, such as mannerisms, gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice.   By addressing these triggers, there will be a significant reduction in anxious withdrawal and marital cut off.  Our marriages have built-in mechanisms for reasonably adapting to acute anxiety.  Chronic marital anxiety is most significant in determining the self-differentiation in a marriage. 

Connected with determining one’s own identity is the need to psychologically separate oneself from parents and family and the ability to see oneself as a separate and distinct individual.

Unique Individual

You may be seeking some advice to identify the nature of the emotional process leading to marital difficulties and how a counsellor can be a resource to help couples in conflict. A counsellor will be able to help you improve your lives personally, as well as your relationship and family life. By extension, you will both develop skills that will improve your work life and your life in the community.

If you find yourself within a similar situation, I can help you to understand the problematic behaviours of your family system and to map out a relevant solution to ease the tension at home.

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