Family Ties: How Much Distance Is Enough?

People often hear about close families and the fun they have together. It’s easy to think that being close with other family members is always a good thing, but as with other types of relationships, family bonds can become too close and can even become destructive. A look at family systems can help to identify the dynamic that operates in your family system.

Family Systems
Each family is a group that constructs its own rules and ways of interacting. These rules and habit are called “transactional patterns.” The patterns determine how, when and with whom the members relate to in normal circumstances. The proximity or distance in these relationships determines the functionality or dysfunctionality of the dynamic. These interactions may be appropriate at one stage of development, but inappropriate at another stage. Each person in the family affects the dynamic of interaction. When something happens to one person in the family, it ripples through to through and affects others in the family in one way or another. This effect can often mean that the system must be adjusted to allow for changes to the individual members.

Changes in Family Systems
Members of a family often have a significant emotional stake in maintaining old relationship patterns. However, because changes in one member of the family inevitably affect other members, instability can be felt as a kind of relationship stress. A member’s self-image may change, causing a reaction in other members and a complete shift in the system’s dynamic. At these times, a healthy ability to adjust to changes is needed to re-balance interactions within the system.
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Enmeshed Family
Most people have witnessed the actions of very close families and admired their tightly knit relationships. However, the downside of that system may not be evident until you get quite familiar with the habits and interactions that exist within the system. Enmeshed families may spend a great deal of time together. They are often present to help celebrate or support members’ life events. However, any attempt to pull away from traditional events and interactions is discouraged, often with a great deal of resentment. Boundaries may be non-existent in these families, with people knowing a great deal about each other’s relationships, sexuality, finances, moods and problems. Outsiders may not feel welcomed in the “closed” type of this family system. There is a strong boundary between the family and the outside world that is reinforced with many rituals and habits. Other enmeshed families may allow outsiders in as long as they consent to the boundary crossing that is always present. Those who come from more distant family systems may feel this requirement as much too intrusive. In enmeshed family, the uniqueness of the individual may not be honored. Instead their identity within the family structure must be maintained at all times.

Disengaged Family
Disengaged families are much more distant from each other. They have much stronger boundaries between subjects that are allowed to be discussed and subjects that are not, as well as what is considered intrusive. Boundaries are held rigidly. Personal issues about relationships, sexual activities, finances, problems and mood may be avoided and even discouraged. Few open display of affection may occur. Members feel little connection to each other and little support is offered. Communications between members is often rare. People outside the family may come and go with little connection to the family unit. Privacy is highly regarded.

The Healthy Family
After this extensive detail about how family systems operate, it’s important to clarify how a healthy family deals with personal boundaries and interactions. Healthy families are interested and engaged in each other’s activities, but accede to requests for privacy without complaint or resentment. Communication lines are generally open and confidence shared with one, some or all of the members. People outside the family are welcomed, but not required to engage in mandatory rituals, sayings, jokes, habits or other symbolic gestures. Uniqueness is valued and encouraged. Affection is given and received freely. Physical and personal boundaries are respected. Though changes in the family may cause stress, feelings are generally resolved within a short time.

Most families experience an overlap of some of the features of these systems. Understanding the forces that work in family dynamics can help people to resolve old conflicts and function more satisfactorily despite changes.

Professional Relationship Coach Dawn is ready to help with any relationship questions you want help with. Give a call at 1-800-639-3396, … open 24/7.

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