Family Systems Theory and Frameworks
When discussing marriage and family, there are multiple theories, models and frameworks that can be used to discuss family dynamics. One such theory is the Family Systems Theory which is a theory of human behavior that views the family as an emotional unit and uses systems thinking to describe the complex interactions in the unit (Kerr, 2000). Dr. Murray Bowen developed the family system theory in 1974 and he believed that the family can be defined as a set of interrelating individuals who are connected by blood, marriage, adoption and even simply just living together with no official ties and these people perform interdependent functions through their roles in the system. Essentially families are connected emotionally in a deep way which will never break. Like all things problems can and will arise and they family system is no different. If one family member becomes anxious over a problem at work or school, the anxiety can spread throughout and almost “infect” one another. Dr Bowen, believes that eventually at least one family member will take the brunt of this “infection” which could lead to serious troubles for that member of the system and then the system as a whole could crumble or fall into disarray. This is why some family members will find themselves becoming ostracized or estranged.
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Divorce or infidelity is a major leading cause to why the family system can become disrupted. Most often children are aware that there are issues or problems with the parents. They will ask questions, behave better than usual, try to do more chores around the house to try to ease the tension. Obviously, this will cause a lot of undue stress to the child having taken on all of this extra emotional baggage and responsibility. This can lead to them acting out at school or even at the house once they realize that they weren’t able to fix the issues and divorce is imminent. One way that we can combat this or even stop it from happening in the first place is to take the high road and understand that the marriage is not going to work and work on the friendship aspect so that the children do not have to take on the burden of being stuck in the middle. When this is achieved the family enters in to a new dynamic but one that is not fraught with anger, hatred and discontent.
Along with the Family Systems Theory, Family Development as a conceptual framework was originally designed to describe and explain the process of change in couples and families (Olson, Defrain, & Skogrand, 2019). Evelyn Duvall was a major creator of the family development framework and had identified eight different stages in family development, they essentially range from the married couple all the way to retirement. There are stages for child bearing, school-aged children, teenagers, launching the children and middle-aged parents amongst others. These stages best represent what is typically described as a traditional family. A traditional family is one that that has a mother, a father and children and the parents’ relationship does not end in divorce. This model does not represent a lot of families this day and age. The idea of the traditional family has evolved and is believed to be in a constant state of evolution. Now we have families that have same-sex parents, step parents and siblings, single parent families and adopted/foster families. Due to this, some researchers have built upon Duvall’s eight stages. One stage that some believe that can be added would be the introduction of a new parental figure.
Statistics show that 41% of first marriages end in divorce and that 70% of those individuals will end up getting married once again at some point in their life (Gaille, 2017). Gaille, also points out that 51% of remarriages do not have biological children which means that 49% of remarriages could consist of biological children. One problem that all divorced parents will encounter when they are dating is the introducing their new love interest to their children. Some people may decide to rip the band aid off, so to speak, and just introduce them right away while others may choose to do so in a slow and methodical way over the course of a few months. Doing this slowly could ease the transition for all parties but specifically the children and the new adult figure. If done haphazardly, or without thoughtful consideration, the children might despise the new person without ever giving them a fair chance. This unfortunately is a pitfall that some divorced parents find themselves in. Adding this stage into Duvall’s framework could eliminate such dangers or help coach parents on how to properly introduce a new love interest to the family.
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Another framework that helps the discussion of marriage and the family dynamics is the Symbolic Interaction framework. This framework helps explain how we learn through communicating with each other about various roles in our society (Olson, Defrain, & Skogrand, 2019). Each member of a family is assigned a role based on societal constraints. For example, a husband and wife do not have children and both work full time. When a child is introduced, the wife may stay at home and take on the nurturer role while the husband takes on the providing role and the child takes on the role of son/daughter. As the child grows, he or she might take on other roles such as student, athlete, etc. The mom then might choose to go back to school to pursue a degree once the child has reached the school age stage of family development and now the mother has taken on additional roles. These roles might change during the course of the family life cycle but most of the time will always have some sort of societal constraint. Typically, the mother won’t be the main financial supporter of the family. In America, this just isn’t the case anymore. A number of households have the wife as the primary supporter or even the sole provider for the family. In other parts of the world it is unheard of or even taboo to have the wife work let alone be the main provider. One reason why this is changing can be attributed to the ever-evolving family dynamics such as same sex relationships.
As you can see there are many models, frameworks, ideas and theories that can help mold or explain family dynamics. Along time ago it was thought that there was only one way a family was supposed to act and that was the dad works, the mom cooks and cleans and the children do what they are told and behave in an extremely well manner. This is what society had taught families in the early to mid-1900’s in America. Society is ever changing and so is family dynamics. There are several models out there and that is extremely beneficial for families. It is imperative that a family, or even just one member of the family system, learns what framework that is being currently used in their dynamic as well as what other frameworks are out their that might better suit their lifestyle or needs. One family won’t fit just one lifestyle or framework and typically the one model that society might push on that family wont work. It is like trying to push a square peg through a round hole. Sometimes the predetermined lifestyle brought upon the surrounding culture in which the parents were raised may not fit the current surrounding culture that their new family finds themselves in.
- Gaille, B. (2017, May 20). Retrieved January 19, 2019, from Brandon Gaille: https://brandongaille.com/52-fascinating-divorce-and-remarriage-statistics/
- Kerr, M. E. (2000). One Family’s Story: A Primer on Bowen Theory. Retrieved January 18, 2019, from The Bowen Center for the Study of the: http://www.thebowencenter.org
- Olson, D. H., Defrain, J., & Skogrand, L. (2019). Marriages and Families: Intimacy, Diversity, and Strengths (Ninth ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Education. Retrieved January 17, 2019
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