Chapter 11: Family & Marriage Relationships

Families are one of the essential relationships that all of us have in our lifetimes. Admittedly, there are a wide range of family types: adopted families, foster families, stepfamilies, nuclear families, and the families we make. According to the latest research from the US Census Bureau, there are a wide range of different types of households in the United States today:

  • Family households (83.48 Million)
  • Married couple households (61.96 Million)
  • Married couple households with own children (31.29 Million)
  • Married couple households without own children (30.67 Million)
  • Male householder, with own children (3.81 Million)
  • Male householder, without own children (2.67 Million)
  • Female householder, with own children (12.33 Million)
  • Female householder, without own children (2.72 Million)

This chapter is going to explore the different types of family relationships and then end by looking at marriage.

11.1 Family Relationships

Learning Objectives

  1. Differentiate among various definitions of the word “family.”
  2. Describe the term “family communication patterns” and the two basic types of family communication patterns.
  3. Explain family systems theory and its utility for family communication researchers.

We interact within our families and begin learning our family communication pattern from the time we are born. Families are comparable to cultures in that each family has its own values, rituals, customs, beliefs, values, and practices. Interactions with other families reveal that there are vast differences between families. You may notice that the family down the street yells at each other almost constantly. Yelling is their baseline interaction, whereas another family never raises their voices and may seem to speak so infrequently that it appears that they have nothing to talk about within their family unit. These differences and our tendency as humans to make comparisons cause individuals to assess the value of the various styles of family communication.

Defining Family

One of the biggest challenges for family researchers has been to define the “family.” The ambiguity of the term “family” has often been seen in the academic literature. The definition of the family developed by Ernest W. Burgess was the first widely used definition by academics.1 The term “family” was described as “two or more persons joined by ties of marriage, blood, or adoption; constituting a single household; interacting and communicating with each other in their respective social roles of husband and wife, mother and father, son and daughter, brother and sister; and creating and maintaining a common culture.”2 According to Burgess a family must be legally tied together, live together, interact together, and maintain a common culture together. The first three aspects of Burgess’ definition are pretty easy to conceptualize, but the concept of common culture deserves further explanation. Common culture consists of those communication interactions (day-to-day communication) and cultural tools (communication acts learned from one’s culture previous to the marriage) that each person brings into the marriage or family. The various tools and interactions form a unique and individual subculture that exists within the context of the new family. A couple can pick and choose from their various backgrounds which communicative acts are most important to them and integrate those into the family unit. If a couple has communicative acts that are polarized, then a couple will need to negotiate and form new ways of communicating. Burgess’ definition of the family was useful because he was the first to examine the family structure’s attempt to maintain a common culture, but it also has many serious problems that cannot be ignored. Burgess’ definition of the word “family” excludes single parent families, commuter families, bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgendered/transsexual families, and families who do not choose to, or are unable to, have children.

After examining the flaws of Burgess’ definition of the word “family,” an anthropologist, George Peter Murdock, attempted to define the family, “Social group characterized by common residence, economic cooperation, and reproduction. It includes adults of both sexes, at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship, and one or more children, own or adopted, of the sexually cohabiting adults.”3 Once again, this definition only allows for heterosexual couples who have children to be considered a family because of the “socially approved” sexual relationship clause.

Another problem with this definition deals with the required inclusion of children for a couple to be labeled as a family. Many couples are unable to have children. Yet other couples opt not to have children. Does this really mean that they are not families? Couples, with or without children, should be considered as family units. All in all, this definition gave more direction than the Burgess one, but it is still extremely ambiguous and exclusive.

Another anthropologist, Bronislaw Malinowski, was looking at tribal familial structures all over the world at the turn of the century and defined the family as having 1) boundaries, 2) common residence, and 3) mutual affection for one another.4 Malinowski’s definition deals primarily with the fact that in different cultures around the world, a family member may include anyone from the immediate family of origin who gave birth to a person, to any member of the society into which one is born. Many African tribes see the tribe as being the family unit, and the tribe takes it upon itself to raise the children.

Statistical Definition of ‘Family’ Unchanged Since 1930

By David Pemberton (2015, January 28)

What is the Census Bureau’s definition of “family”?

Printed decennial census reports from 1930 to the present are consistent in their definition of “family.” The 2010 version states: “A family consists of a householder and one or more other people living in the same household who are related to the householder by birth, marriage or adoption.”

The 1930 version is strikingly similar: “Persons related in any way to the head of the family by blood, marriage or adoption are counted as members of the family.”

But prior to 1930, the definition of a family was quite different.

The 1920 version went like this: “The term ‘family’ as here used signifies a group of persons, whether related by blood or not, who live together as one household, usually sharing the same table. One person living alone is counted as a family, and, on the other hand, the occupants or inmates of a hotel or institution, however numerous, are treated as a single family.”

The 1900 Census announced: “The word family has a much wider application, as used for census purposes, than it has in ordinary speech. As a census term, it may stand for a group of individuals who occupy jointly a dwelling place or part of a dwelling place or for an individual living alone in any place of abode. All the occupants and employees of a hotel, if they regularly sleep there, make up a single family, because they occupy one dwelling place …”

The older definition is closer to the current use of the term “household.”

Enumerator instructions beginning in at least 1860 and extending at least through 1940 emphasize this older definition of family.

Here is an example from the 1860 instructions: “By the term ‘family’ is meant either one person living separately and alone in a house, or a part of a house, and providing for him or herself, or several persons living together in a house, or part of a house, upon one common means of support and separately from others in similar circumstances. A widow living alone and separately providing for herself, or 200 individuals living together and provided for by a common head, should each be numbered as one family.”

The 1870 instructions add the element of eating together as one defining element of a family: “Under whatever circumstances, and in whatever numbers, people live together under one roof, and are provided for at a common table, there is a family in the meaning of the law.”

By 1930, the concept of a “household” had become more important and by implication was separated from the term “family”: “A household for census purposes is a family or any other group of persons, whether or not related by blood or marriage, living together with common housekeeping arrangements in the same living quarters.”

In 1960, the concepts of household and family were even more clearly delineated: “A household consists of a group of people who sleep in the same dwelling unit and usually have common arrangements for the preparation and consumption of food. Most households consist of a related family group. In some cases, you may find three generations represented in one household. Some household members may have no family relationship to the central group — boarders and servants, for example — but they should be included with the household if they eat and sleep in the same dwelling unit.”

In summary, the definition of family before 1930 was more similar to today’s definition of household. However, since 1930, the definition of family has remained the same, and includes those who are related to the householder by birth, marriage, or adoption.

https://www.census.gov/newsroom/blogs/random-samplings/2015/01/statistical-definition-of-family-unchanged-since-1930.html

The United States’ societal concept of the term “family” became very rigid during the 1950s when the family was depicted by social norms and the media as a mother, father, 2.5 offspring, and the family dog living together behind a white picket fence in the suburbs.5 Though this is currently what many Americans picture as the typical 1950s’ family, the reality was considerably different. According to Steven Mintz and Susan Kellog the family structure was very weak in the 1950s.6 Women started using tranquilizers as a method for dealing with normal household duties, and the divorce rate skyrocketed when compared with the 1940s. Currently, only around seven percent of U.S. families participate in the so-called “traditional” 1950s-style family with Ozzie, the breadwinning father, and Harriet, the happy homemaking mother, enjoying their first marriage, which has produced two or more school-aged children.7

During the 1970s, a variety of psychologists attempted to define the term “family.” Arthur P. Bochner defined the family as “an organized, naturally occurring relational interaction system, usually occupying a common living space over an extended time, and possessing a confluence of interpersonal images which evolve through the exchange of messages over time.”8,9 Though this definition is broad enough to allow for a variety of relationships to be considered families, the definition is too vague. It has allowed almost anything to be considered a family. Take, for example, individuals who live in a dormitory setting either at a college or in the military. The first part of Bochner’s definition of family is that it has an organized, naturally occurring relational interaction system. In essence, this means that any group that has organization and interacts through various relationships accomplishes part of what it means to be a family. People who live in dormitories interact through various relationships on a regular basis. Whether it be relating with one’s roommate or with the other people who live in the rooms next to you, people in dorms do interact. Dormitories are generally highly organized. People are required to listen to complex directors and Resident Assistants (on a collegiate level). Also, with the myriad of dormitory softball teams and other activities, interaction occurs regularly.

The second part of Bochner’s definition of the family deals with occupying a common living space for an extended period. People who live in college dormitories do so for around a year. To many transient people, this can be seen as an extended period. The extended time clause is very awkward simply because of its ambiguity.

The last aspect of Bochner’s definition of the family deals with the possession of interpersonal images that evolve through communication. Many people who live in the same space will start to acquire many stories and anecdotes concerning those people with whom they are in close proximity. Whether it be remembering the night that a group went on a beer run or the time when everyone pulled together to win the intramural softball competition, a variety of interpersonal images will be created through communication.

As can be seen through the previous discussion, dormitories are facilities where people cohabitate with others for extended amounts of time and share interpersonal images that change over time. The people who live in dorms under this definition could be considered as a family unit. These groups of people should not be considered as a family unit because dorm residents lack the permanence that is needed within a family structure. Once an academic year is over, the people go their directions, and many people will never see or talk to those people with whom they once lived. A family has an ongoing relationship that is constantly functioning even when the individuals are forced to live apart from the family of origin. Once again, here is a definition that does not allow for a concise explanation that can be easily applied when analyzing a family unit.

To understand the concept of a family, the definitions should be combined in such a way that all types of family structures (e.g., single parent, LGBTQIA, non-married parents, etc.) are included. For our purposes a is defined as two or more people tied by marriage, blood, adoption, or choice; living together or apart by choice or circumstance; having interaction within family roles; creating and maintaining a common culture; being characterized by economic cooperation; deciding to have or not to have children, either own or adopted; having boundaries; and claiming mutual affection. This does not necessarily say that all types of families are healthy or legal, but that all cohabiting groups that consider themselves to be families should be researched as such to understand the specific interactions within the group. Though one may disagree with a specific family group, understanding the group through a family filter can lend itself to a better understanding than could be reached by analyzing the group through an organizational filter. To understand this definition of family, an analysis of the various aspects of this study’s definition shall be done to help clarify this definition.

Marriage, Blood, Adoption, or Choice

The first part of the definition says that a family is “two or more people tied by marriage, blood, adoption, or choice.” This part of the definition allows for a variety of family options that would not be accepted otherwise. This definition also allows for children who become part of a foster family to have a family that they can consider their own, even if they are switched from family to family. Non-married couples who consider themselves a family should also be researched as such. This aspect of the definition does open itself to some family types that are seen as illegal (e.g., family members marrying each other). This definition does not attempt to create a legal definition of family as much as it attempts to create a definition under which the family can be studied. As mentioned earlier, not all forms of family are necessarily healthy or legal. This part of the definition opens the field of family study while the remaining criteria narrow the focus so that not just any group can call itself a family.

Cohabitation

The second part of the definition of family indicates that the cohabitants may live together or apart by choice or circumstance. There are a variety of married couples who are not able to live in the same place because of occupation. According to Naomi Gerstel and Harriet Engel Goss, a commuter family is such a family:

The existence of marriages in which spouses separate in the service of divergent career demands at least suggests a need to question both the presupposition that coresidence is necessary for marital viability and its corollary that husbands and wives necessarily share economic fates. Dubbed “commuter,” “long-distance” or “two location” families, these marriages entail the maintenance of two separate residences by spouses who are apart from one another for periods ranging from several days per week to months at a time.10

These marriages, seen as nontraditional by many, are becoming an increasingly more common occurrence within the United States. Any member of the military who is stationed in the United States and sent to other parts of the world without their family experiences the problems caused by commuter marriages. Just because these families are not able to live under the same roof does not mean that they are not a family.

Family Roles

The third criterion of the definition of “family” suggests that the persons interact within family roles. These roles include such terms as mom, dad, son, daughter, wife, husband, spouse, and offspring. When an adult decides to be the guardian either by birth, adoption, or choice, the adult has taken on the role of a father or mother. When a group takes on the roles of parental figures and child figures, they have created a family system within which they can operate. Some of these roles can be related to the understanding of extended family as well, such as grandmother, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, and the like. These roles and the rules that cultures associate with them have a definite impact on how a family will function.

Common Culture

The fourth aspect, creating a common culture, stems directly from Burgess’ definition.11 Couples bring other aspects (communicative acts, history, cultural differences, etc.) of their lives into the family to create the new subculture that exists in the new family. This can be done whether you have two men, a mother and daughter, or a husband and wife. When a couple joins to create a family unit, they are bringing both of their cultural backgrounds to the union, thus creating a unique third family culture that combines the two initial family cultures.

Economic Cooperation

The fifth trait of a family deals with economic cooperation, or the general pooling of family resources for the benefit of the entire family. Economic cooperation is typically thought of in the context of nuclear families, but in commuter families, both units typically pool their resources in order to keep both living establishments operational. Even though the family is unable to live together, the funds from both parties are used for the proper upkeep and maintenance of each location. In many instances, overseas military men and women will send their paychecks to their families back in the states because they will not need the money while they are out at sea or abroad, and their families still have bills that must get paid. Economic cooperation allows families who have dual earners to establish a more egalitarian relationship between the spouses since no one person is seen as the worker and the other as the non-worker.

Children

The sixth component of the definition of a family deals with children as a component of a family. Many researchers (Burgess, 1926; Murdock, 1949; Bailey, 1988) have said that for a family to exist, it must have offspring.12 This would mean that a couple who is infertile and only wants to raise children if they are biologically related would not be considered a family. This also prevents couples who do not desire to have children from achieving a family status. There are many unions of people who are not able to have children or do not desire to have children who are clearly families.

Established Boundaries

The seventh characteristic of a family deals with the need for the family to establish boundaries. Family boundaries is a concept that stems from family systems theory. According to Janet Beavin Bavelas and Lynn Segal, boundaries are those aspects of a family that prevent the family from venturing beyond the family unit.13 Boundaries function as a means for a family to determine the size and the scope of family interactions with the greater system or society. The family can let information into the family or exclude it from the family.

An example of this can be seen in religious parents/guardians who are coming to terms with the fact that their son is gay. These parents/guardians often reject information from the family system that would indicate that homosexuality is natural. In this example, the parents/guardians draw an informational boundary and refuse to let information that could contradict their position into the family system. Also, families do not function entirely in conjunction with the system of which they are a part. Families must filter information or risk information overload. Families have naturally occurring and created boundaries that decide how a family should and should not operate. Many families create boundaries that deal with religious discussion, or they do not allow for any rejection of the family’s religious beliefs on any level. This is an example of a boundary that a family can create. Conversely, there are boundaries that a family must respect because of societal laws. Understanding these boundaries is necessary because it allows the researcher a greater understanding of the context in which the family lives.

Love and Trust

The eighth, and final, trait of a family, mutual affection, deals with the concept of love and trust that a family tends to possess to help them journey through conflict situations. Mutual affection also means that an individual must have a desire to be within the family or possess the freedom to leave the family system when they are of age. Families are not coercive entities but entities in which all participants can make personal decisions freely belong. Leaving the family system does not guarantee that a member of a family will be able to lose all connections to the family itself. Besides, the family will have had an impact on members that will affect them even if they leave the family of origin and cut all ties.

Understanding the definitions presented about the family and their obvious limitations will help the understanding of the usefulness of this new definition. Too often, definitions of the word “family” have been so narrow in scope that only some families were studied, and thus the research into the family came from only a very narrow and rigid perspective. Defining what constitutes a family is a difficult task, but without a clear definition, the study of family communication cannot be done effectively.

Family Communication Patterns

Two communication researchers, Jack M. McLeod and Steven H. Chaffee, found that most models of families relied on dichotomous ideas (e.g., autocratic/democratic, controlling/permissive, modern/traditional; etc.).14 Instead of relying on these perspectives, McLeod and Chaffee realized that family communication happens along two different continuums: socio-orientation and concept-orientation. In a series of further studies, David Ritchie and Mary Anne Fitzpatrick identified two family communication patterns: conformity orientation and conversation orientation.15, 16

Socio-Orientation

To McLeod and Chaffee, (conformity oriented) families are indicated by “the frequency of (or emphasis on) communication that is designed to produce deference, and to foster harmony and pleasant social relationships in the family.”17 Families high in socio-orientation tend to communicate a similarity of attitudes, beliefs, and values. Similarity and harmony are valued while conflict s avoided. Family members maintain interdependence within a hierarchical structure. One of the authors comes from a family where similarity and harmony were valued to the extent that any amount of disagreement was frowned upon. The parent never (literally) argued or disagreed in front of the children. Despite the desires of her parents, the personalities of the children soon emerged and revealed that neither child could go along with total similarity and harmony. One child dealt with this difference by learning to keep his opinions to himself. The other sibling, who happened to be the oldest child, never learned to keep her opinion to herself. Her communication style simply did not align with the conformity orientation friction was the result. You may have similar experiences if your communication style is different from your family’s communication orientation.

Concept-Orientation

To McLeod and Chaffee, (conversation oriented) families use “positive constraints to stimulate the child to develop his own views about the world. and to consider more than one side of an issue.”18 High concept-orientation families engage in open and frequent communication. Family life and interactions are perceived to be pleasurable. Self-expression is encouraged when attempting to make family decisions. Parents/guardians and children communicate in such a way that parents/guardians socialize and educate their children. Understanding the communication pattern within a family can lead to the ability to adapt to the family communication pattern rather than consistently communicating in a manner that is uncomfortable within the family structure.

Four Combinations

A 2x2 matrix with the bottom labeled concept-orientation and the left side labeled socio-orientation. Consensual is labeled as high concept-orientation and high socio-orientation. Pluralistic is high concept-orientation and low socio-orientation. Protective is low concept-orientation and high socio-orientation, and laissez-faire is low concept-orientation and low socio-orientation.
Figure 11.2. Family Communication Pattern

To further explain the concepts of socio- and concept-orientations, Jack M. McLeod and Steven H. Chaffee broke the combinations into four specific categories (Figure 11.2).

Consensual

The first family communication pattern is the consensual family, which is marked by both high levels of socio- and concept-orientation. The term “consensual” is used here because there is a tendency in these families to strive for or have pressure for agreement between parents/guardian and children. Children are encouraged to think outside the book as long as it doesn’t impact the parents/guardians’ power or the family hierarchy. However, “These conflicting pressures may induce the child to retreat from the parent/guardian-child interaction. There is some evidence of ‘escape’ by consensual children, such as strikingly heavy viewing of television fantasy programs.”19

Protective

The second type of family communication pattern is the protective family, which is marked by high levels of socio-orientation and low levels of concept-orientation. In these families, there tends to be a strong emphasis on child obedience and family harmony. As such, children are taught that they should not disagree with their parents/guardians openly or engage in conversations where differences of opinion may be found. McLeod and Chaffee noted that parents/guardians strive to protect their children from any kind of controversy, which may actually make them more vulnerable to outside pressures and persuasion because they have not been taught how to be critical thinkers.

Pluralistic

The third type of family communication pattern is pluralistic, which is the opposite of the protective family and marked by high levels of concept-orientation and low levels of socio-orientation. In these families, “The emphasis in this communication structure seems to be on mutuality of respect and interests: the combination of an absence of social constraint plus a positive impetus to self-expression should foster both communication and competence.”20 Some parents/guardians worry that this type of openness of thought actually creates problems in their children, but McLeod and Chaffee noted that these families have children who say they are more likely to want to grow up and be like their parents/guardians than the other three types.

Laissez-faire

The final family communication pattern, laissez-faire, is marked by both low concept- and socio-orientations. In these families, there tends to be a lack of parent-child interaction or co-orientation. Instead, these children are more likely to be influenced by external factors like the media, peers, and other forces outside of the family unit. McLeod and Chaffee said that these children are more like a control group in an experiment because of the hands-off nature of their communicative relationships with their patterns. As such, it’s somewhat difficult to discuss the effectiveness of this study of family communication.

Research Spotlight

image

In a 2018 study by Kelly G. Odenweller & Tina M. Harris, the researchers set out to examine the relationship between family communication patterns and adult children’s racial prejudice and tolerance. The researchers used a mostly college-age sample of 190 adults.

Parental use of socio-oriented family communication patterns was positively related to an adult child’s reported levels of prejudiced and bias towards their own group, and negatively related to being racially tolerant. As for concept-orientation, there were no relationships found at all.

Ultimately, a parent’s conformity oriented family communication style can affect their children’s racial biases.

Odenweller, K. G., & Harris, T. M. (2018). Intergroup socialization: The influence of parents’ family communication patterns on adult children’s racial prejudice and tolerance. Communication Quarterly, 66(5), 501–521. https://doi.org/10.1080/01463373.2018.1452766

Family Systems Theory

At the turn of the 20th Century, philosophers started questioning how humans organize things and our understanding of organizing. One critical theorist was Belarusian-born Alexander Aleksandrovich Bogdanov, who wrote a philosophical treaty on the nature of organization in 1922.21 Bogdanov’s ideas ultimately influenced Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s general systems theory. In a series of works, Bertalanffy conceptualized what has become known as general systems theory.22 Bertalanffy defined a as “sets of elements standing in interrelation.”23 A classic mechanical system is a non-digital watch. Figure 11.3 shows the basic layout of a watch’s innards.

gears labeled seconds, minutes, and hours.
Figure 11.3. Watch System. “Watch Movement” by Giacomo Ciurlo, DensityDesign Research Lab is licensed CC-BY-SA

In this illustration, we see how the balance wheel causes the fork pin to move, which turns the escapement wheel. The escapement wheel turns the third wheel (seconds), which turns the second wheel, which turns the first wheel (minutes), which turns the reduction gear, which turns the hour wheel. All of these different parts must work together to tell time. If a problem arises at any part of this process, then it will affect the entire system and our ability to tell time accurately.

So, how does this ultimately help us understand family communication? A psychiatrist named Murray Bowen developed family systems theory in the 1950s while working at the National Institute of Mental Health, which stemmed from the work of general systems theory discussed by Bertalanffy.24 Like Bertalanffy, Bowen’s theory started by examining how everything exists within nature and was governed by natural processes. Two of these processes, individuality and togetherness, became central to these ideas.25 is a “universal, biological life force that propels organisms toward separateness, uniqueness, and distinctiveness.”26 , on the other hand, is “the complementary, universal, biological life force that propels organisms toward relationship, attachment, and connectedness.”27 This essential dialectical tension creates an organism’s differentiation, or its drive to be both individualistic while maintaining intimate connections with others in the larger environment. This more ecological view of how humans exist becomes a central tenant of Bowen’s family systems theory. Bowen argues that human behavior was not greatly determined by social-construction or intra-psychically generated. Instead, Bowen believes that a great deal of human behavior is habitual and rooted in billions of years of evolutionary history.

In his earliest work, Bowen examined schizophrenic patients, so he was interested in the development and treatment of schizophrenia. Instead of focusing just on the schizophrenic patient, Bowen started analyzing the broader range of relationships within the individual family units. Ultimately, Bowen argued that schizophrenia might be an individual diagnosis, but is in reality, “a symptom manifestation of an active process that involves the entire family.”28 Dr. Bowen goes on to rationalize, “When schizophrenia is seen as a family problem, it is not a disease in terms of our usual way of thinking about disease… When the family is viewed as a unit, certain clinical patterns come into focus that are not easily seen from the more familiar individual frame of reference.”29 In essence, when we stop to think about a family as a system, it’s much easier to understand the manifestations of behaviors of family members.

Characteristics of Family Systems

Over the years, numerous researchers have furthered the basic ideas of Murray Bowen to further our understanding of family systems. Part of this process has been identifying different characteristics of family systems. According to Kathleen Galvin, Fran Dickson, and Sherilyn Marrow,30 there are seven essential characteristics of family systems: interdependence, wholeness, patterns/regularities, interactive complexity, openness, complex relationships, and equifinality.

Interdependence

The term interdependence means that changes in one part of the system will have ramifications for other parts of the system. For example, if one of the gears in your watch gets bent, the gear will affect the rest of the watch’s ability to tell time. In this idea, the behaviors of one family member will impact the behaviors of other family members. To combine this idea with family communication patterns described earlier, parents/guardians that are high in socio-orientation and low in concept-orientation will impact that children’s willingness and openness to communicate about issues of disagreement.

On the larger issue of pathology, numerous diseases and addictions can impact how people behave and interact. If you have a family who has a child diagnosed with cancer, the focus of the entire family may shift to the care of that one child. If the parents/guardians rally the family in support, this diagnosis could bring everyone together. On the other hand, it’s also possible that the complete focus of the parents/guardians turns to the ill child and the other children could feel unattended to or unloved, which could lead to feelings of isolation, jealousy, and resentment.

Wholeness

The idea of wholeness or holism is to be able to see behaviors and outcomes within the context of the system. To understand how a watch tells time, you cannot just look at the fork pin’s activity and understand the concept of time. In the same way, examining a single fight between two siblings cannot completely let you know everything you need to know about how that family interacts or how that fight came to happen. How siblings interact with one another can be manifestations of how they have observed their parents/guardians handle conflict or even extended family members like aunts/uncles, grandparents, and cousins.

Holism is often discussed in opposite to reductionism. Reductionists believe that the best way to understand someone’s communicative behavior is to break it down into the simplest parts that make up the system. For example, if a teenager exhibits verbal aggression, a reductionist would explain the verbally aggressive behavior in terms of hormones (specifically testosterone and serotonin). Holistic systems thinkers don’t negate the different parts of the system, but rather like to take a larger view of everything that led to the verbally aggressive behavior. For example, does the teenager mirror their family’s verbally aggressive tendencies? Basically, what other parts of the system are at play when examining a single behavioral outcome.

Patterns/Regularities

Families, like any natural organism, like balance and predictability. To help with this balance and predictability, systems (including family systems) create a complex series of both rules and norms. Rules are dictates that are spelled out. Many children grow up hearing, “children are to be seen and not heard.” This rule dictates that in social situations, children are not supposed to make noise or actively communicate with others. Norms, on the other hand, are patterns of behavior that are arrived at through the system. For example, maybe your mother has a home office, and everyone knows that when she is in her office, she should not be disturbed.

Of course, one of the problems with patterns and regularities is that they become deeply entrenched and are not able to be changed or corrected quickly or easily. When a family is suddenly faced with a crisis event, these patterns and regularities may prevent the family from actively correcting the course. For example, imagine you live in a family where everyone is taught not to talk about the family’s problems with anyone outside the family. If one of the family members starts having problems, the family may try to circle the wagons and ultimately not get the help it needs. This is an example of a situation that happened to one of our coauthors’ families. In this case, one of our coauthor’s cousins became an alcoholic during his teen years. We’ll call him Jesse. Very few people in the immediate family even know about Jesse’s problems. Jesse’s mother was a widely known community leader, so there was a family rule that said, “don’t make mom or our family look bad.” When Jesse’s parents found out about his alcoholism (though a DUI), they circled the wagons and tried to deal with the problem as a family. Unfortunately, dealing with a disease like alcoholism by closing ranks is not the best way to get someone treatment. One night Jesse’s mother was called out to an accident at a local night club where a drunk driver had hit several people. When Jesse’s mother showed up, it was only then that she learned that the drunk driver had been her son.

In this case, the rule about protecting the family’s image had become so ingrained, that the family hadn’t taken all of the steps necessary to get Jesse the help he needed. Although no one died in the accident, one young woman hit by Jesse was paralyzed for the rest of her life. Jesse ended up going to prison for several years.

Interactive Complexity

The notion of interactive complexity stems back to the original work conducted by Murray Bowen on family systems theory. In his initial research looking at schizophrenics, a lot of families labeled the schizophrenic as “the problem” or “the patient,” which allowed them to put the blame for family problems and interactions on the schizophrenic. Instead, Bowen realized that schizophrenia was one person’s diagnosis in a family system where there were usually multiple issues going on. Trying to reduce everything down to the one label, essentially letting everyone else “off the hook” for any blame for family problems, was not an accurate portrayal of the family.

Instead, it’s important to think about interactions as complex and stemming from the system itself. For example, all married couples will have disagreements. Some married couples take these disagreements, and they become highly contentious fights. These fights are often repetitious and seen over and over again. Mary asks Anne to take out the trash. The next day Mary sees that the trash hasn’t been taken out yet. Mary turns to Anne at breakfast and says, “are you ever going to take out the trash?” Anne quickly replies, “Stop nagging me already. I’ll get it done when I get it done.” Before too long, this becomes a fight about Anne not listening to Mary from Mary’s point-of-view, while the conversation becomes about Mary’s constant nagging from Anne’s point-of-view. Before long, the argument devolves into an argument about who started the conflict in the first place. Galvin, Dickson, and Marrow argue that trying to determine who started the conflict is not appropriate from a systems perspective, instead, researchers should focus on “current patterns serves to uncover ongoing complex issues.”31

Openness

The next major characteristic of systems is openness. The term openness refers to how permissive system boundaries are to their external environment. Some families have fairly open boundaries. In essence, these families allow for a constant inflow of information from the external environment and outflow of information to the external environment. Other families are considerably more rigid about system boundaries. For example, maybe a family is deeply religious and does not allow television in the home. Furthermore, the family only allows reading materials that come strictly from their religious sect and actively prevent any ideas that may threaten their religious ideology. In this case, the family has a very rigid and closed boundary. When families close themselves off from the external environment, they essentially isolate themselves. Children who are reared in highly isolated family systems often have problems interacting with other children when they come into contact with them in the external environment (like school). Some families will choose to homeschool their children as another tool to close the family system to foreign ideas and influences.

Complex Relationships

It’s important to remember that all family systems also have multiple subsystems. One of the areas that Murray Bowen became very interested in was how family subsystems develop and function during times of crisis. In Bowen’s view, a couple may be the basic unit within an emotional relationship. Still, any tension between the couple will usually result in one or both parties turning to others. If there are not others within the family itself, partners will bring in external people into the instability. For example, James and Ralph just got married. After a recent argument, Ralph ended up talking to his best friend, Shelly, about the argument (11.4). Bowen argues a two-person system under stress will draw in a third party to provide balance, which ultimately creates a two-helping-one or a two-against-one dynamic. It’s also possible that James decides to talk to his mother, Polly, which creates a different triangle.

On top Ralph and James have arrows pointing to each other with two dotted lines connecting them as a triangle to Shelly. In the middle a blue triangle contains Ralph and James again with arrows pointing to each other and a dotted line to Shelly. Polly is to the right in an orange triangle not connected to any other name. The last diagram shows the opposite: Ralph, James, and Polly are in an orange triangle, and Shelly is by herself in a blue triangle.
Figure 11.4. Nature of Three

Families are filled with relationship triangles. We could describe Ralph and James as parents and Shell and Polly as their daughters just as easily. These triangles are always being created and defined within a family unit when there is instability between two people. During times of crisis, these triangles take on a solution to the instability in the two-person relationship. Unfortunately, this “solution” is either two-helping-one or a two-against-one.32 Basically, in a triangle, there are now two people on one side and one on the other, so it gives a sense of balance. The more family members we start to examine, the more complicated these triangle structures can become.

Equifinality

The final characteristic of family systems is equifinality. Equifinality is defined as the ability to get to the same end result using multiple starting points and paths. Going back to the basic definition of “family” discussed earlier in this chapter, there are many different ways for people to form relationships that are called families. Within family systems theory, the goal is to see how different family systems achieve the same outcomes (whether positive or negative).

Mindfulness Activity

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Research has demonstrated that parental mindfulness has an indirect impact on children’s internalizing or externalizing of problems.33 As such, mindful parenting is an extremely useful tool when raising children (specifically being attentive, non-judgmental, and non-reactive). Furthermore, Jill Suttie recommends three specific factors for successful mindful parenting:

  1. Noticing your own feelings when you’re in conflict with your child,
  2. Learning to pause before responding in anger,
  3. Listening carefully to a child’s viewpoint even when disagreeing with it.34

Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn define mindful parenting as “Seeing if we can remember to bring this kind of attention and openness and wisdom to our moments with our children. It is a true practice, its own inner discipline, its own form of meditation.”35 The essence of mindful parenting is about being present in one’s day-to-day interactions with their children. For this activity, answer the following questions. If you are not a parent, think about how your own parents and/or guardians would answer these questions.

  1. When you are spending time as a family, are you free from distractions (e.g., cell phones, television, etc.)?
  2. Does your family have a clear schedule that creates a stable routine (e.g., family mealtimes, bedtimes for children, etc.)?
  3. Does your family engage in “family time” that does not involve technology?
  4. How often do you dedicate time to focus purely on your child’s needs?
  5. When engaging in a conflict with your child, do you remove yourself when you start to get angry (taking a “time out”)?
  6. How often do you apologize to your child when you’re wrong?
  7. When watching your children’s behavior, do you find yourself observing them or judging them?
  8. When was the last time you considered your intentions, judgments, and attitude towards your child during an interaction?

Mapping Family Systems

One of the revolutionary tools created by Murray Bowen to understand complicated family relationships is the genogram. A a pictorial representation of a family across generations. Unlike a traditional family tree, a genogram is designed to detail family data and not just basic demographic information (biological sex, birth dates, death dates, etc.). When used effectively, you can track generations of family interactions, medical issues, psychological issues, relationship patterns, and any other variable a researcher or clinician may be interested in studying.36

The standard genogram starts with a couple pairing of some kind. In a genogram, males are represented by squares and females are represented by circles. Figure 11.5 is a key for common elements in a genogram. Please understand that this is not an exhaustive list. Researchers commonly add symbols to illustrate specific issues of interest. Furthermore, not all of the symbols below are necessarily agreed upon by all researchers who utilize genograms. As such, it’s essential to know the key an individual is using when attempting to understand a genogram.

Geneogram symbols including basic symbols, relationship types, relationship interactions, and Physical/mental illness & other diseases.
Figure 11.5. Genogram Key

As you can see in Figure 11.5, your basic genogram allows individuals to look at various basic characteristics of individuals within a family, the types of relationships, types of relationship interactions, and any physical/mental illness and other diseases. When thinking about your average family, many people think of the idyllic family represented in Figure 11.6.

Geneogram symbols showing a three generation family that has four grandparents of opposite sexes, two children each that married the opposite sex and had two children and two pets.
Figure 11.6. Idyllic Family

In this genogram, we have two heterosexual couples who each have a boy and a girl, who then turn around and have a boy and a girl of their own (and, of course, one dog and one cat). However, most families don’t look like this. Families are complicated and messy.

To help us understand genograms, let’s look at your typical family, The Skywalkers (Figure 11.7).

An annotated genogram showing second marriages, hostile relationships, and repaired cutoffs.
Figure 11.7. The Skywalkers

As you can see, there is a lot going on in this genogram. We have three general familial lines in play within this genogram: The Solo’s (to the left), the Skywalker’s (in the middle), and the Naberrie’s (to the right). We have four generations represented within this genogram. For our purposes, the “index person” is Luke Skywalker (highlighted in the yellow box). For those of you who are unaware, the first trilogy of Star Wars centers around Luke Skywalker, so it makes sense to see him as the index person for our genogram.

Let’s examine some of the family interactions. Let’s start with Luke and Leia. They are fraternal twins who were separated by birth. Luke is adopted by his uncle Owen Lars and his wife Beru Whitesan. Leia, on the other hand, is adopted by Bail Prestor Organa and Queen Breha Organa. Ultimately, the two do find each other and establish a close relationship as adults, which is why the “cut off repaired” symbol was used between them. Luke also happens to be best friends with Leia’s future husband Hans Solo. Hans has an interesting life before Leia. From what we know, he may have been previously married to Sana Starros (she said they were, he said they weren’t). There’s also the possibility that Han had an affair with an unknown woman and had a child out of wedlock named Danielle Kieran.

Of course, the bulk of the original trilogy of Star Wars movies centers on the triangle relationship between Luke, Leia, and their father, Anakin Skywalker (also known as Darth Vader). To put it mildly, Vader is a slightly distant father figure and prone to acts of violence. His acts of violence are not only targeted at his children, but also at anyone he perceives to get in his way. During one of his more dramatic acts of violence, Darth Vader destroys the entire planet of Alderaan, which kills Leia’s adopted parents in the process. Of course, this is after he gives the order to kill his half brother Owen and his wife, who were Luke’s adopted parents. As we said earlier, families are complicated and messy.

Now, we used the Star Wars world as a tool to help illustrate how genograms can help us breakdown family histories and understand family dynamics. So, let’s look at a genogram from a real family. The following genogram is created without names, but all parts of the genogram represent an actual family (Figure 11.8).

A Genogram showing second marriages, divorces, deaths, adoptions, repaired relationships, hostile relationships, and same sex families.
Figure 11.8. Real Family Genogram

Take a few moments and look at this genogram. What do you see? How would you characterize this family? You have a number of close relationships. You have two children who were adopted. Both of whom have repaired the relationships with their birthmothers, but have no apparent connection with their birth fathers. You have single adults with pets. You have three marriages that ended in divorce. For a couple of people, we have no information, which is why we have question marks for two males in the genogram. We have a situation where two male siblings had an intense hatred for their stepmother. We have one gay man who is single and a bisexual woman who is now living with another bisexual woman. We also have one male suspected of alcohol abuse.

We show you this genogram because it’s more realistic of how modern families look. Modern family systems aren’t always clean and easy to follow. Sure, we could put all of these people on leaves in a family tree, but you would only get a fraction of the picture of what this family looks like. Genograms are an excellent tool for getting a bird’s eye view of how a family functions.

Research Spotlight

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In 2014, Justin Parent, Jessica Clifton, Rex Forehand, Andrew Golub, Megan Reid, and Emily R. Pichler set out to examine the relationships among parental mindfulness, relationship quality, and parental firm control (“degree to which the parent consistently regulates and monitors the child’s activities and conduct”37). For this specific study, the researchers specifically examined Black children who had a single mother and the mother had a cohabitating male partner (CMP) who lived with them. The average age of the children participants was 13 years old; the average age of the mother was 39; and the average age of the CMP was 41.

First, the research did not find a relationship between a mother’s mindfulness and her CMP’s mindfulness. For the mothers, mindfulness was positively related to relationship quality, and positively related to parental firm control. For the CMP, mindfulness was positively related to relationship quality, but was not related to parental firm control. We should also mention that mother and CMP relational quality was positively related, and there was a positive relationship between mother and CMP use of parental firm control.

The researchers used family systems theory to help explain the CMP’s role within the family system. Specifically, the researchers argue, “It is also important to note that the MCP’s role in different family subsystems may be, at least in part, determined by how a mother defines her male partner’s role. For example, his main role may be to meet her relationship needs and/or contribute to completing general household responsibilities (e.g, grocery shopping, cleaning) rather than setting limits on an adolescent age child.” 38

Parent, J., Clifton, J., Forehand, R., Golub, A., Reid, M., & Pichler, E. R. (2014). Parental mindfulness and dyadic relationship quality in low-income cohabiting black stepfamilies: Associations with parenting experienced by adolescents. Couple & Family Psychology, 3(2), 67–82. https://doi.org/10.1037/cfp0000020

Key Takeaways

  • Although there are numerous definitions for the term “family,” this book uses the following definition: two or more people tied by marriage, blood, adoption, or choice; living together or apart by choice or circumstance; having interaction within family roles; creating and maintaining a common culture; being characterized by economic cooperation; deciding to have or not to have children, either own or adopted; having boundaries; and claiming mutual affection. The family structure is represented by single-mothers, single-fathers, two-parents, and adults living together without children. The idea of family has shifted away from the notion that a family is made up of a mother, father, and children.
  • Jack M. McLeod and Steven H. Chaffee originally coined the term “family communication patterns” and broke the concept into two different patterns of family communicative behavior: socio-orientation and concept-orientation. Concept-orientation is the pattern of family communication where freedom of expression is encouraged, and communication is frequent, and family life is pleasurable. Conversely, socio-orientation is the pattern of family communication where similarly is valued over individuality and self-expression, and harmony is preferred over expression of opinion.
  • Murray Bowen’s family systems theory is an extension of Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s general systems theory. Bowen argued that human behavior is not determined by social-construction or intra-psychically generated, but is habitual and rooted in billions of years of evolutionary history. As such, to understand how someone behaves or communicates today, it’s important to see how this behavior/communication can be understood through generations of family members.

Exercises

  • Reflect on your experiences as a family member. How does your own family compare to other families in communication patterns and structure?
  • Describe your idea of the ideal family. How would your ideal family communicate? Is this different from your own family?
  • Using conformity orientation and conversation orientation to describe two families you know.
  • Create your own genogram for your family, including at least three generations. You can create this using a pen and paper, graphic arts software, or genogram software. The genograms used in this book were created using Genogram Pro, https://www.genopro.com/. There is also a paired down free version of this software: https://www.genopro.com/free/.

11.2 Family Changes

Learning Objectives

  1. Differentiate among the different stages of a family’s life cycle.
  2. Explain some of the common problems researchers have identified with family life cycle approaches.

One of the fascinating parts of study interpersonal relationships in families is that they are always changing. As the dynamics of a family change, so do the communication networks. For example, a family that starts with a pair of committed adults suddenly becomes a group when they either have their first child, foster their first child, adopt their first child, etc… With the addition of one other life into the family household, the nature and dynamics change almost overnight.

Family Life Cycle

The notion that families go through systematic cycles that resemble other families is nothing new.39 Early research attempted to focus on the differences in families between those that existed in rural and urban settings. One such research, Charles Loomis, broke families down into four general categories:

  1. Childless couples of child-bearing age;
  2. Families with children under the age of 14;
  3. Families with at least one child over the age of 14 but under 36; and
  4. Old families.

Other characteristics that Loomis found could impact the family life cycle were those from the addition of both parents’ children and non-parental children (nieces, nephews, etc.). Of course, the age breakdown shown by Loomis primarily had to do with work. Generally, children under the age of 14 were not considered fully capable of work; whereas, those over the age of 14 were considered work-aged. You’ll also notice that stage three is generally viewed as the time when a family has the most working adults within the family unit. At this time, especially in rural America, it was assumed that adult children would stay on the homesteads and help with the upkeep and day-to-day duties, whether it was a farm or ranch. These were multi-generational endeavors. Eventually, a family became “old,” and the next generation continued the cycle by having their children to keep the homesteads running.

Of course, our understanding of how families function has changed quite a bit since the 1930s. Studying family life cycles has been a consistent endeavor across generations of family scholars. For our purposes, we are going to discuss the more recent family life cycle, discussed by David Weaver and Laura Lawton, along with some problems inherently associated with this type of research. 40

Understanding how families generally function is essential for scholars because it lets us know what major events in someone’s life can be predicted. For our purposes, we are going to quickly examine David Weaver and Laura Lawton’s Family Life Cycle (Figure 11.9).

1. Young singles 2. Young couples (no children). 3. Full nest one (pre-school children). 4. Full nest two (School-aged children) 5. Full nest three (older children) 6. Empty nest one (still working, launched children). 7. Empty nest two (retired). 8. Solitary Survivor (Retired).
Figure 11.9.Family Life Cycle

Young Singles

The first stage of any family starts when single people enter in the world and start looking for potential partners. Now, most people begin to think about this stage when children are around 18 years of age and enter into the world outside of their parents/guardians’ house. They go out looking for potential partners through dating and eventual mating. However, we know that in our modern world, this isn’t always how this works.

Young Couples (No Children)

Eventually, a couple starts to self-identify as a couple. In today’s modern world, we see the couple stage as one that exists with no children. During this time, the focus of the couple is often on developing themselves by going to college or starting a career. During this time, some marketers will refer to these couples as “dinks,” dual incomes, no kids. As you can imagine, dinks are often sought out by marketers because they generally have a higher expendable income level compared to those who do have children or are just starting.

As couples come together, they enter into a period that many family scholars call third-culture building. Each member of the couple brings with her/him/them a distinct cultural background and upbringing. The more distinct the cultural differences, the easier it is to see where these differences are. For example, maybe you have a couple where one was raised in the Middle East and the other in South America. These two distinct parts of our world have countless numbers of cultural differences that even outsiders can quickly pinpoint. However, all couples come from different cultural backgrounds, even when the cultures are very similar. For example, you could have a Baptist and a Methodist who were both born and raised in the same town in rural Louisiana. Generally speaking, there may be some minor cultural differences between these two people becomes of denominational distinctions in their Christian upbringing. Still, these differences aren’t huge (though some may overexaggerate them). But even in these cases where people are very similar, there will be cultural differences that exist that must be dealt with as the couple comes together.

When a couple negotiates their cultural background with the cultural background of their partner, they are building a new “.” Sometimes these cultural differences can be very small. Maybe one member of the couple always opens presents on Christmas Day, and the other member of the couple always opens presents on Christmas Eve. The couple could decide to open one present on Christmas Eve and the rest on Christmas Day. In this case, the couple has negotiated their cultural differences to create a new pattern. Other cultural differences can be much larger. In our example of the couple from the Middle East and South America, you could have a couple that has to negotiate the religious upbringing of a child in the Islamic and Roman Catholic faiths. Maybe the couple is atheist, and will not include any kind of religious teaching into the rearing of children, or the couple could opt for some type of combination of both. It’s also entirely possible that one member of the couple will convert to the other member’s religion to ensure religious upbringing in a specific faith.

Ultimately, third-culture building is a unique part of any couple. Some couples will have fairly minor cultural differences to negotiate, while other couples could have very large cultural differences to negotiate. The important part is that this is a negotiation by the couple.

Full Nest One (Pre-School Children)

Once a couple decides to involve children, Weaver and Lawton break these into three distinct categories depending on the age of the children. The first stage with children (full nest one) occurs when a couple has pre-school age children. Pre-school age children require more parental oversight. We also see couples with children starting to associate more and more with other couples who also have children, which can cause changes to a couple’s social network. Other couples may become very dependent on both their nuclear and extended family for child-rearing help. In contrast, others depend on paid help in the forms of nannies or daycare facilities. When the initial couple is both dual-income earners, these extended networks become paramount for the ability of the couple to maintain their occupations.

Full Nest Two (School-Aged Children)

In full nest two, the couple has children who are now in school. Once kids go to school, a good chunk of their day is spent in the care of adults outside of the nuclear or extended family. For this reason, the traditional workday tends to be somewhat more flexible for these parents/guardians, but their evenings and weekends are often filled with family functions. As children grow older, parental oversight and direction become less necessary, but children also start taking on their own busy lives and schedules that often conflict with their parents/guardians’ lives and schedules.

Full Nest Three (Older Children)

In full nest three, the couple’s children are older and more and more independent; however, they are still somewhat dependent upon their families for food and shelter. As children try to increasingly demand their own identities apart from their parents/guardians, parent/guardian-child relationships are often fraught with various degrees of conflict. On the one hand, you have parents/guardians who have been in a parental oversight role for many years, and on the other, you have children who are seeking their own independence and autonomy. Finding the balance between these polarizing forces is often easier said than done for many families.

Empty Nest One (Still Working, Launched Children)

The next stage is empty nest one, which happens once children are launched, but the parents/guardians are still working. The occurs when late adolescents leave the parental home and venture out into the world as young singles themselves. Historically, late adolescents started the launching stage when they exited the home and went off to college.

However, it’s possible that going to college is only a partial-launch. In today’s world, many adolescents go off to college and then after college find it almost impossible to function in many large cities on a single salary, so they end up back and home living with their parents/guardians. At the same time, adolescents seek to achieve economic security, but some find it impossible to do so, depending on what’s going on within our economy. For example, we know after the economic turn-down of 2008, many recent college graduates had a tough time finding entry-level jobs because they were competing against people with decades of experience who had lost their jobs and desperately needed work (even entry-level work).

As I’m writing this sentence, we’re just at the beginning of the global economic disaster stemming from the coronavirus outbreak of 2019-2020. Many experts are predicting that we could be looking at a period of economic unease not seen since the Great Depression started in 1929. If this economy does dive into a depression, we’ll see more and more late adolescents forced to live longer and longer with their parents/guardians out of economic necessity. Although it’s simply too early to tell in March 2020 what will happen, experts say that 80 million jobs are at moderate to high risk of disappearing (more than half the jobs in the U.S. today).41

Eventually, most parents/guardians will experience a period when their adult children have launched, and the parents/guardians, themselves, are still working.

Empty Nest Two (Retired)

Empty nest two occurs once both parents/guardians have decided to retire. Now, retirement is one of those options that may not be viable for everyone, so some couples never end up in empty nest two as a necessity. Other couples spend almost the last third of their lives in retirement. In many ways, couples in retirement have a lot of the same flexibility they had when they were young couples.

Solitary Survivor (Retired)

The typical final stage in the family life cycle is when one partner passes away, leaving the other partner on her/his/their own. In essence, an individual suddenly finds her/him/themself older and yet again single

Problems with Life Cycle Research

Probably the most apparent problem with the traditional approach to the family life cycle is that it does not take into account a wide range of differing family possibilities. For example, Elisa Backer noted a wide range of other options that could exist outside of the traditional family cycle:

  • Young singles (less than 35 years old)
  • Young couples (no children) (female less than 35 years old)
  • Gay couple (no children)
  • Gay couple (with children)
  • Older couple (no children) (female 35+ years of age)
  • Older retired couple (no children from current marriage)
  • Age-gap couple (children from current relationship; with or without children from previous relationship)
  • Age-gap couple (no children from current relationship; with or without children from previous relationship)
  • Older divorced single (no children)
  • Single parent (children still at home)
  • Older single (never been married, no children) (35+ years old)
  • Couple with pre-school children (youngest child not at school)
  • Couple with school-aged children (youngest child at school)
  • Couple with older children (all children finished school)
  • Empty Nest I (still working, children left home)
  • Empty Nest II (retired, children left home)
  • Widower (widower who is not working and partner is deceased)
  • Widower (still working)42

Another commonly discussed problem with this approach to understanding the family life cycle is that many individuals do not walk through the family life cycle in an exact sequence. For example, someone could be single, get married, get divorced, get married again, have a child, lose a partner, get remarried, have another child (one child is pre-school age one is recently launched), etc.… Suddenly, we’ve gone from a path that seems highly “normalized” and straight forward to one that contains a lot more uncertain and diversions from the typical path of “family.”

As a whole, family life cycles are an excellent tool for having a general understanding of how many families function within society, but many families do not experience the life cycle as a linear process from singlehood to death.

Key Takeaways

  • David Weaver and Laura Lawton’s Family Life Cycle consists of eight distinct stages: 1) young singles, 2) young couples (no children), 3) full nest one (pre-school children), 4) full nest two (school-aged children), 5) full nest three (older children), 6) empty nest one (still working, launched children), and 7) empty nest two (retired).
  • Although family life cycles is a useful tool for examining families, there are some inherent limitations to this approach. First, the life cycle doesn’t allow for different types of family units. Additionally, many individuals do not walk through the family life cycle in an exact sequence.

Exercises

  • Use the idea of a family life cycle to map out the cycle of a famous family. You want to choose a family that has completed the full cycle to make this activity easier. Once you’ve mapped out the family, answer the following questions. Did the life cycle fit this family? How easy was it to determine the different parts of the family life cycle? What critiques would you have of the applicability of the family life cycle approach to this specific family?
  • Think about your own family’s life cycle. Attempt to plot out the life cycle of your family through at least three generations: your grandparents (or equivalent), your parents (or equivalent), and yourself and any siblings (or equivalent).

11.3 Sibling Types

Learning Objectives

  1. Explain the two main concepts Shirley McGuire, Susan M. McHale, and Kimberly Updegraff found in research related to siblings.
  2. Differentiate among Shirley McGuire, Susan M. McHale, and Kimberly Updegraff’s different sibling relationship types.
  3. Describe different ways that siblings maintain their relationships.

After examining the literature related to siblings, Shirley McGuire, Susan M. McHale, and Kimberly Updegraff realized that two main concepts were commonly discussed in the literature: hostility and warmth.43 was characterized by such sibling behaviors as causing trouble, getting into fights, teasing/name-calling, taking things without permission, etc…44 , on the other hand, was characterized by sibling behaviors such as sharing secrets, helping each other, teaching each other, showing physical affection, sharing possessions, etc…45 Research has shown us that warmth and hostility have an impact on sibling relationships. For example, individuals who have higher levels of sibling warmth are more likely to engage in prosocial behavior.46 Individuals who have sibling relationships that are high in hostility are more likely to report higher levels of aggression, anxiety, depression, and loneliness.47

Sibling Relationship Types

McGuire, McHale, and Updegraff knew that these two dimensions were distinct from one another, so they set out to create a typology of sibling relationships based on hostility (high vs. low) and warmth (high vs. low). You can see this typology in Figure 11.10.

2x2 matrix sibling hostility vs sibling warmth. High sibling hostility and high sibling warmth is Affect intense. High sibling hostility and low sibling warmth is hostile, low sibling hostility and low sibling warmth is uninvolved, and low sibling hostility and low sibling warmth is harmonious.
Figure 11.10. Sibling Relationships

Harmonious

The first type of sibling relationship is the harmonious relationship. Harmonious sibling relationships are characterized by low levels of hostility and high levels of warmth. In these relationships, the siblings get along very well and have very low levels of problematic conflict. Often siblings in this category get along so well that they are very close friends in addition to being siblings. When it comes to long-term outcomes, harmonious siblings were found to have lower feelings of loneliness and higher self-esteems.48 Research has also found gender effects. When sibling pairs are both female, they are more likely to report harmonious relationships than the other three sibling relationship types. At the same time, the combination of gender and birth-order also makes a difference. Males who are the firstborn are less likely to report harmonious sibling relationships.49

Hostile

The opposite sibling type of the harmonious sibling is the hostile sibling relationship, which is characterized by high levels of hostility and low levels of warmth. These relationships are marked by high levels of conflict between the siblings, which can often be highly physically and verbally aggressive. Furthermore, individuals in hostile sibling relationships are more likely to internalize internalizing of problems along with lower academic success, social competence, and feelings of self-worth.50 These siblings often perceive their siblings as rivals within the family unit, so there is an inherent competition for scarce resources. Often these resources are related to parental attention, respect, and love.

Affect-Intense

The third sibling type is the affect-intense relationship. Affect-intense sibling relationships are marked by both high levels of hostility and warmth. These sibling relationships are as nurturing as harmonious relationships and as dominating as hostile relationships. These relationships are also perceived as more satisfying than hostile sibling relationships.51 In one study examining affect-intense sibling relationships, researchers found that 38% of siblings from divorced families reported their sibling relationships as affect-intense as compared to only 22% of siblings from intact families.

Uninvolved

The last type of sibling relationship is called the uninvolved, which is characterized by low levels of both hostility and warmth. Uninvolved sibling relationships typically don’t have any of the problems associated with affect-intense or hostile sibling relationships. Still, they also do not report any of the benefits that have been found with harmonious sibling relationships.52 Uninvolved sibling relationships also appear to develop later in life. “Perhaps the separation processes and increased focus on peers that begin during adolescence stimulate the development of an uninvolved sibling relationship.”53

Sibling Relationship Maintenance

One area where communication scholars have been instrumental in the field of sibling relationships has been in relationship maintenance, or the communicative behaviors that one engages in to preserve a relationship with another person. In one of the earliest studies to examine sibling relationships in the field, Scott Myers and a group of students explored the relationship between relationship communication and sibling communication satisfaction, liking, and loving.54 Equality, receptivity, immediacy, similarity, and composure were all positively related to communication satisfaction. Composure, equality, similarity, and receptivity were all positively related to sibling liking. Equality, similarity, and receptivity were positively related to loving one’s sibling. The researchers also noted that individuals who perceived their relationships as more formal reported lower levels of loving their siblings. This first study helped pave the way for future research in examining how relationship communication impacts sibling relationships.

In a follow-up study, Scott Myers and Keith Weber set out to construct a measure for analyzing how individuals use communication to maintain their sibling relationships.55 In their research, Myers and Weber found six distinct ways that siblings maintain their relationships through communication: confirmation, humor, social support, family visits, escape, and verbal aggression

Confirmation

The first way that siblings engage in relational maintenances is through confirmation. Confirmation messages help a sibling communicate how much they value the sibling. Sometimes it’s as simple as telling a sibling, “I’m pretty lucky to have a brother/sister like you,” can be a simple way to demonstrate how much someone means to you. These types of messages help validate the other sibling and the relationship.

Humor

A second relational maintenance tool that siblings can use is humor. Being able to laugh with one’s sibling is a great way to enjoy each other’s company. Often siblings find things completely hilarious that outsiders may not understand because of the unique nature of sibling relationships. Siblings also can lovingly make fun of each other. Now, we’re not talking about making fun of someone in a demeaning or mean-spirited manner. For example, one of our coauthors has an older brother who loves to give him a hard time. Recently, our coauthor misspelled something on Facebook, and his brother was right there to point it out and give him a hard time. In some relationships, this could be viewed as criticism, but because of the nature of their relationship, our coauthor knew the incident should be taken in jest.

Social Support

The third way siblings engage in relational maintenances is through social support. Social support is an individual’s perception and the actuality that an individual is loved and cared for and has people he/she/they can turn to when assistance or help is needed. Between siblings, this could involve conversations about one’s romantic life or even about parental concerns. Another way that siblings often provide social support is by giving and seeking advice from her/his/their sibling(s).

Family Events

The fourth way that families engage in social support is through family events. Now, not all families are big on family events, but some families participate in close-knit gatherings regularly. Some siblings will avoid these events to avoid seeing their other siblings, but many siblings see these opportunities as a way to keep their sibling relationships going. One of our coauthor’s family has problems getting together each year during the holidays because of how busy their schedules are in December. Instead, our coauthor and family go on family trips. Over the years, they’ve gone to Australia, Alaska, Hawaii, The Bahamas, San Francisco, New York City, New Zealand, and many other places. Currently, they’re planning trips to Belize and back to Hawaii. The family looks forward to these vacations together. In addition to these trips, our coauthor’s father also arranges periodic family reunions for his side of the family. Once again, our coauthor and sibling often end up rooming together because both are single. Ultimately, both look forward to these reunions because it gives them a chance to catch up.

Escape

At the same time, it’s often great to attend family events, but we usually only like to attend when we know our sibling will be there. In these cases, we often use our siblings as a form of escape. In fact, some siblings will only attend family get-togethers when they know their sibling(s) will be there. We often have a range of reasons for why we need to escape when we’re interacting with our family, but we are sure glad our sibling(s) are there when we need that escape.

Verbal Aggression

The final relational maintenance strategy that siblings have been found to use is verbal aggression. Now, verbal aggression is generally not viewed as a positive tool for communication. However, some sibling pairs have realized over time that verbally aggressive behavior allows them to get their way or vent their frustrations. However, in the original study by Weber and Myers, the researchers did find that all of the other relational maintenance strategies were positively related to sibling liking, commitment, and trust, but verbal aggression was not.56

Key Takeaways

  • Shirley McGuire, Susan M. McHale, and Kimberly Updegraff examined the literature related to siblings and found that there were two common variables: hostility and warmth. Sibling hostility is characterized by such sibling behaviors as causing trouble, getting into fights, teasing/name-calling, taking things without permission, etc…. Sibling warmth, on the other hand, is characterized by sibling behaviors such as sharing secrets, helping each other, teaching each other, showing physical affection, sharing possessions, etc….
  • Shirley McGuire, Susan M. McHale, and Kimberly Updegraff’s found four sibling relationship types. The four different types of sibling relationships are based on the degrees to which they exhibit the combination of hostility and warmth. First, harmonious sibling relationships are characterized by low levels of hostility and high levels of warmth. Second, hostile sibling relationships are characterized by high levels of hostility and low levels of warmth. Third, affect-intense sibling relationships are characterized by both high levels of hostility and warmth. Lastly, uninvolved sibling relationships are characterized by low levels of both hostility and warmth.
  • Scott Myers and Keith Weber discovered that siblings generally maintain their relationships using several relational maintenance strategies: confirmation, humor, social support, family visits, escape, and verbal aggression.

Exercises

  • Think about your sibling relationships. How would you describe your sibling relationships using the four different types of sibling relationships discussed by Shirley McGuire, Susan M. McHale, and Kimberly Updegraff? If you don’t have siblings, think of a famous pair of siblings. Based on what you know about their relationship, how would you describe their relationship using the four different types of sibling relationships discussed by Shirley McGuire, Susan M. McHale, and Kimberly Updegraff?
  • Think about your sibling relationships. What relational maintenance strategies discussed by Scott Myers and Keith Weber do you use with your siblings? If you don’t have siblings, think of a famous pair of siblings. Based on what you know about their relationship, what relational maintenance strategies do these famous siblings use?

11.4 Marriage Relationships

Learning Objectives

  1. Describe the marriage relational dimensions discussed by Mary Anne Fitzpatrick.
  2. Explain the three different types of marital relationships described by Mary Anne Fitzpatrick.
  3. Discuss the application of Mary Anne Fitzpatrick’s relational dimensions to same-sex marriages.

Earlier in this text, we discussed dating and romantic relationships. For this chapter, we’re going to focus on marriages as a factor of family communication. To help us start our conversation of marriage, let’s look at some sage wisdom on the subject:

  1. “Marriage has no guarantees. If that’s what you’re looking for, go live with a car battery.” — Erma Bombeck
  2. “The trouble with some women is that they get all excited about nothing – and then marry him.” — Cher
  3. “I love being married. It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.” — Rita Rudner
  4. “By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.” — Socrates
  5. “Marriage is an endless sleepover with your favorite weirdo.” — Unknown
  6. “Many people spend more time in planning the wedding than they do in planning the marriage.” — Zig Ziglar

Many writers, comedians, political figures, motivational speakers, and others have all written on the subject of marriage. For our purposes, we are going to examine marital types and the research associated with the Prepare/ENRICH studies.

Marital Types

One of the most important names in the area of family communication and marital research, in general, is a scholar named Mary Anne Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick was one of the first researchers in the field of communication to devote her career to the study of family communication. Most of her earliest research was all in the area of marriage. The culmination of her earliest research on the subject was the publication of her important book Between Husbands and Wives: Communication in Marriage in 1988.57 Although this book is over 30 years old now, the information she found and discussed in this book is still highly relevant to our understanding of marital relationships and marital communication.

Relational Dimensions

One of the earliest projects undertaken by Mary Anne Fitzpatrick was the creation of the Relational Dimensions Instrument. The creation of the measure started as part of her dissertation work in 1976,58 and was originally fleshed-out in a series of articles.59,60 The RDI originally consisted of 200 items based on different ideas expressed in the literature about marriage at the time. Through her research, Fitzpatrick was able to fine-tune the measure to identify eight dimensions of marriage measured by 77 items. These eight dimensions fall into three larger categories: conventional versus nonconventional ideology, interdependence/autonomy, and conflict engagement/avoidance. The RDI can be seen in its entirety in a couple of different locations.61

Conventional vs. Nonconventional Ideology

The first large category of relational dimensions is what Fitzpatrick called ideologies. In this category, Fitzpatrick recognized two different types of ideology: traditionalism and uncertainty and change.

Ideology of Traditionalism

The first dimension is referred to as the . Traditionalism is the idea that a couple has a very historically grounded and conservative perspective of marriage. For example, couples who see themselves as more traditional are more likely to believe that a wife should take her husband’s name when they get married. They are also more likely to think that the family should adhere to specific religious traditions and that children should be taught those traditions when growing up. Generally speaking, people with a traditional ideology are going to believe in a more rigid understanding of both the male and female roles within a marriage. As for specific communication issues associated with this ideology, there is a strong belief that families should look composed and keep their secrets to themselves. In other words, families should strive to keep up appearances and not talk about any of the issues going on within the family itself.

Ideology of Uncertainty and Change

The underlying idea of the ideology of uncertainty and change is basically the notion that people should be open to uncertainty. “Indeed, the ideal relationship, from this point-of-view, is one marked by the novel, the spontaneous, or the humorous. The individuals who score highly on this factor seem open to change. They believe that each should develop their potential, and that relationships should not constrain an individual in any way.”62

Interdependence vs. Autonomy

The second large category of relational dimensions is what Fitzpatrick called the struggle of interdependence versus autonomy. In every relationship, as people grow closer, there is the intertwining of people’s lives as they become more interdependent. At the same time, some people prefer a certain amount of individuality and autonomy outside of the relationship itself. “To figure out how connected spouses are, one has to look at the amount of sharing and companionship in the marriage as well as at the couple’s organization of time and space. The more interdependent the couple, the higher the level of companionship, the more time they spend together, and the more they organize their space to promote togetherness and interaction.”63

Sharing

The third dimension of marriage relationships is sharing. Sharing consists of two basic components. The first component involves discussing the affective or emotional health of each of the partners and the relationship while exhibiting nonverbal affective displays (e.g., touching holding hands in public. The second component expands across the other dimensions. “A high score on this factor would suggest an open sharing of love and caring, and the tendency to communicate a wide range and intensity of feelings. There is a sharing of both task and leisure activities, as well as a considerable degree of mutual empathy. Finally, these relational partners not only visit with friends but also seek new friends and experiences.”64

Autonomy

is an individual’s independence in their own behaviors and thoughts. In a marriage relationship, autonomy can include having a “man cave” or a home office that is specified as “personal” space for one of the marriage partners. Some couples will even go on separate vacations from one another. In any relational dialectic, there is always the struggle between connectedness and autonomy. Different couples will place differing degrees of importance on autonomy.

Undifferentiated Space

The fifth dimension of marital relationships is , or the idea that there are few constraints on physical spaces within the home. This undifferentiated space means that spouses do not see her/his/their ownership of personal belongings as much as they do ownership as a couple. Furthermore, individuals who score high in undifferentiated space are also more willing to open their homes to family and friends. On the other hand, individuals who have a low undifferentiated space generally see belongings in personal terms. “That’s my room.” “That’s my pen. “This is my mail.” Etc. These individuals are also more protective of their personal space from outsiders. When they do allow outsiders (e.g., family and friends) into the house, they want to forewarn the outsiders that this will happen and may limit access to parts of the house (e.g., office spaces, workshops, master bedrooms, master bathrooms, etc.).

Temporal Regularity

The next dimension, , is how strict a schedule do couples stick. Do they always get up at the same time? Do they always go to bed at the same time? Do they always eat their meals at the same time? Some marriages run like a well-scheduled train, while other marriages fluctuate temporally daily.

Conflict Engagement vs. Avoidance

The final broad category of relational dimensions examines how couples handle conflict. Some couples will actively avoid conflict, while others openly engage in conflict.

Conflict Avoidance

The seventh dimension of marital relationships is conflict avoidance. Couples who engage in conflict avoidance do not openly discuss any conflicts that occur within the marriage. Individuals who avoid conflict will even avoid expressing their true feelings about topics that could cause conflict. If, and when, they do get angry, they will hide that emotion from their spouse to avoid the conflict.

Assertiveness

The final relational dimension is assertiveness. When analyzing the items on the Relational Dimensions Instrument, Fitzpatrick noticed that two different patterns emerged. First, she saw a pattern of the use of persuasion or influence to get a partner to do specific things (e.g., watch a TV show, read a book/magazine, etc.). At the same time, there is a sense of independence and the desire to stand up for oneself even in front of friends. Ultimately, Fitzpatrick believed that “assertiveness” was the best term to capture both of these phenomena.65

The Relational Definitions

After creating the relational dimensions, Fitzpatrick then further broke this down into a marriage typology that included three specific remarriage types: traditional, independents, and separates.66 Figure 11.11 illustrates how the three relational definitions were ultimately arrived at.

The left side is labeled Independance and shows Low on the bottom and High above it. Conventional Ideology: high conflict and low conflict and Unconventional Ideology: high and low conflict are both listed along the top. Below Conventional ideology High conflict and next to independance high is "traditionals". "Independents" is situated underneath Unconventional Ideology high conflice and high independence. Lastly Separates is listed under conventional ideology low conflict and low independence.
Figure 11.11.Relational Definitions
Traditionals

The first relational definition that Fitzpatrick arrived at was called traditionals. are highly interdependent, have a conventional ideology, and high levels of conflict engagement. First, traditional lives are highly intertwined in both the use of space and time, so they are not likely to feel the need for autonomous space at home or an overabundance of “me time.” Instead, these couples like to be with each other and have a high degree of both sharing and companionship. These couples are more likely to have clear routines that they are happy with. These couples are traditionals also because they do have a conventional ideology. As such, they believe that a woman should take her husband’s name, keep family plans when made, children should be brought up knowing their cultural heritage, and infidelity is never excusable. Lastly, traditionals report openly engaging in conflict, but they do not consider themselves overly assertive in their conflict with each other. Of the three types, people in traditional marriages report the greatest levels of satisfaction.

Independents

The second relational definition that Fitzpatrick described were called independents. have a high level of interdependence, have an unconventional ideology, and high levels of conflict engagement. The real difference is their unconventional values in what a marriage is and how it functions. Independents, like their traditional counterparts, have high levels of interdependency within their marriages, so there is a high degree of both sharing and companionship reported by these individuals. However, independents tend to need more “me time” and autonomous space. Independents are also less likely to stick with a clear family schedule daily. To these individuals, marriage is something that compliments their way of life and not something that constrains it. Lastly, independents are also likely to openly engage in conflict and report moderate levels of assertiveness and do not avoid conflicts.

Separates

The final relational definition that Fitzpatrick described were called separates. have low interdependence, have a conventional ideology, and low levels of conflict engagement. “Separates seem to hold two opposing ideological views on relationships at the same time. Although a separate is as conventional in marital and family issues as a traditional, they simultaneously support the values upend by independents and stress individual freedom over relational maintenance.”67 Ultimately, these couples tend to focus more on maintaining their individual identity more than relational maintenance. Furthermore, these individuals are also likely to report avoiding conflict within the marriage. These individuals generally report the lowest levels of marriage satisfaction of the three.

Same-Sex Marriages

Up to this point, the majority of the information discussed in this section has been based on research explicitly conducted looking at heterosexual marriages. In one study, Fitzpatrick and her colleagues specifically set out to examine the three relational definitions and their pervasiveness among gay and lesbians.68 Ultimately, the researchers found “gay males, there are approximately the same proportion of traditionals, yet significantly fewer independents and more separates than in the random, heterosexual sample. For lesbians, there were significantly more traditionals, fewer independents, and fewer separates than in the random, heterosexual sample.”69 However, it’s important to note that this specific study was conducted just over 20 years before same-sex marriage became legal in the United States.

The reality is that little research exists thus far on long-term same-sex marriages. The legalization of same-sex marriages in July 2015 started a new period in the examination of same-sex relationships for family and family communication scholars alike.70 As a whole, GLBT families, and marriages more specifically, is an under-researched topic. In a 2016 analysis of a decade of research on family and marriage in the most prominent journals on the subject, researchers found that only.02% of articles published during that time period directly related to LGBTQ families.71 For scholars of interpersonal communication, the lack of literature is also problematic. In an analysis of the Journal of Family Communication, of the 300+ articles published in that journal since its inception in 2001, only nine articles have examined issues related to LGBTQ families. This is an area that future scholars, maybe even you, will decide to study.

Key Takeaways

  • Mary Anne Fitzpatrick started research marriage relationships in the late 1970s. Her research found a number of specific relational dimensions that couples can take: conventional/nonconventional ideology, interdependence/autonomy, and conflict engagement/avoidance.
  • Mary Anne Fitzpatrick described three specific relational definitions. First, traditional are couples who are highly interdependent, have a conventional ideology, and high levels of conflict engagement. Second, independents are couples who have a high level of interdependence, have an unconventional ideology, and high levels of conflict engagement. Lastly, separates are couples who have low interdependence, have a conventional ideology, and low levels of conflict engagement.
  • Little research has examined how LGBTQIA couples interact in same-sex marriages. Research has shown that in a decade of research about family and marriage, only.02% articles had to do with LGBTQIA families. In the field of communication, out of the 300+ studies published in the Journal of Family Communication, only nine of them involved LGBTQIA families. In the one study that examined Mary Anne Fitzpatrick’s relational dimensions among same-sex couples, the researchers found that gay males had approximately the same proportion of traditionals, yet significantly fewer independents and more separates than in the random, heterosexual sample. Conversely, lesbian women there were significantly more traditionals, fewer independents, and fewer separates than in the random, heterosexual sample.

Exercises

  • Think about a marital relationship where you know the couple fairly well. Examining the three relational dimensions (conventional/nonconventional ideology, interdependence/autonomy, and conflict engagement/avoidance), how would you categorize this couple? Why?
  • Find a copy of Mary Anne Fitzpatrick’s Relational Dimensions Instrument (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232561704_The_instrumental_and_expressive_domains_of_marital_communication), have a married couple that you know to complete the instrument separately. How similar were their responses? How different were their responses?
  • Think about a marital relationship where you know the couple fairly well. Based on what you know about this couple, would you consider them traditional, independents, or separates? Why? Please be specific with your answer to demonstrate your understanding of these three marital types.

Key Terms

autonomy

An individual’s independence in their behaviors and thoughts within a marriage relationship.

concept-orientation

Family communication pattern where freedom of expression is encouraged, and communication is frequent and family life is pleasurable.

family

Two or more people tied by marriage, blood, adoption, or choice; living together or apart by choice or circumstance; having interaction within family roles; creating and maintaining a common culture; being characterized by economic cooperation; deciding to have or not to have children, either own or adopted; having boundaries; and claiming mutual affection.

genogram

A pictorial representation of a family across generations that can be used to track generations of family interactions, medical issues, psychological issues, relationship patterns, and any other variable a researcher or clinician may be interested in studying.

ideology of traditionalism

Marriages that are marked by a more historically traditional, conservative perspective of marriage.

independents

Marital definition where couples have a high level of interdependence, have an unconventional ideology, and high levels of conflict engagement.

individuality

Aspect of Murray Bowen’s family system theory that emphasizes that there is a universal, biological life force that propels organisms toward separateness, uniqueness, and distinctiveness.

launching stage

Period in a family life cycle when late adolescents leave the parental home and venture out into the world as young singles themselves.

separates

Marital definition where couples have low interdependence, have conventional ideology, and low levels of conflict engagement.

sibling hostility

Characteristic of sibling relationships where sibling behaviors as causing trouble, getting into fights, teasing/name-calling, taking things without permission, etc…

sibling warmth

Characteristic of sibling relationships where sibling behaviors such as sharing secrets, helping each other, teaching each other, showing physical affection, sharing possessions, etc…

socio-orientation

Family communication pattern where similarity is valued over individuality and self-expression, and harmony is preferred over expression of opinion.

system

Sets of elements standing in interrelation.

temporal regularity

The degree to which a couple sticks to a consistent schedule in their day-to-day lives.

third-culture

When a couple negotiates their cultural background with the cultural background of their partner essentially creating a third-culture or hybrid culture between the two.

togetherness

Aspect of Murray Bowen’s family system theory that emphasizes the complementary, universal, biological life force that propels organisms toward relationship, attachment, and connectedness.

traditionals

Marital definition where couples are highly interdependent, have conventional ideology, and high levels of conflict engagement

undifferentiated space

The degree to which spouses do not see her/his/their ownership of personal belongings as much as they do ownership as a couple.

Chapter Wrap-Up

As we discussed at the beginning of this chapter, families are a central part of our lives. Thankfully, several communication scholars have devoted their careers to understanding families. In this chapter, we started by exploring the nature of family relationships with a specific focus on family communication patterns and family systems. Next, we explored the family life cycle. We then discussed the nature of sibling relationships. Lastly, we ended the chapter by discussing marriage.

11.5 Chapter Exercises

Real-World Case Study

Nick and Diane were strangers flying on Continental flight 05 from London’s Gatwick Airport to Houston, TX, when the terrorist attacks on 9-11 struck in the United States. Their plane, along with 38 other wide-body jets were diverted to Gander International Airport in Newfoundland, Canada. Gander is a city of approximately 10,000 people. What the town lacked in size, the airport made up for in capacity.

Gander International Airport was at one point one of the busiest airports in the world because it was the refueling stop for all planes flying from the United States to Europe and from Europe to the United States. In fact, over the years, Gander played host to Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra, President Ronald Reagan, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and many others had stop-overs at the airport. But as airlines switched to planes that had larger fuel capacities, the need for Gander as the refueling stop faded into a thing of the past.

On 9-11, 38 planes, along with 6,122 passengers and 473 flight crew members, suddenly joined the small community. As you can imagine, most cities are not prepared for a population growth of 66% in a matter of hours. Thankfully, the community members of Gander rallied and took care of those passengers and flight crew for four days in what was dubbed Operation Yellow Ribbon.

On the flight, Diane was in the front of the plane while Nick was at the back of the plane. The two had never met or even really laid eyes on each other. Both were taken to a place called Gambo, about 20 minutes outside of Gander. At the shelter there, the two met in line waiting to get blankets. One of them commented about how the blankets smelled, and the two just started talking. Nick, sensing the possibility of a new friend, ended up bunking next to Diane in the shelter. The two shared stories and trail mix. Over the next few days, the two started to fall in love.

One night, the two, along with other passengers, went to a local pub where the two became official Newfoundlanders, by drinking Screech and kissing a cod. During the midst of the festivities, a local justice of the peace made the mistake of assuming the two were a couple. When he found out they weren’t, the justice said, “I can marry the two of you.” To which Diane responded, “sure!” Admittedly, it was probably the Screech talking, but in that moment, Diane realized that she really was starting to like Nick and that she could see him romantically.

After four days, a hurricane was quickly approaching Newfoundland, so there was a short time period to get the planes off the ground once the U.S.’s airspace was reopened. On the bus heading back to the airport, Diane started to tear up, realizing that this side journey in life was ending. Nick leaned in to comfort her and kiss her on the forehead, but Diane took the opportunity to turn it into a more romantic experience.

Nick ultimately proposed to Diane over the phone in November, and the two were married on September 7, 2002, and they honeymooned in Newfoundland. Nick and Diane Marson are very much real people. You can even follow them on Twitter, @RealNickanDiane. Their story is actually one of the main plot-points in the awarding winning Broadway musical Come From Away, which explores the generosity of the people of Gander and the ones who come from away.

  1. What do you think it was about this situation that drew the couple together?
  2. How would you describe their relationship using the family life cycle?
  3. Why do you think Nick and Diane Marson’s story has been so captivating to millions of people around the world?

End-of-Chapter Assessment

  1. Socio-orientation is characterized by all of the following except _____.
    1. Harmony
    2. Similarity of values
    3. Relatively little communication
    4. Self-expression
  2. Concept-orientation is characterized by all of the following except_____.
    1. Self-expression
    2. Open communication between parent and child
    3. Frequent communication between parent and child
    4. Harmony
  3. A ___________ is a pictorial representation of a family across generations that can be used to track generations of family interactions, medical issues, psychological issues, relationship patterns, and any other variable a researcher or clinician may be interested in studying.
    1. Family life cycle
    2. Family system chart
    3. Genogram
    4. Genealogy tree
  4. In which stage of David Weaver and Laura Lawton’s Family Life Cycle are adolescents “launched?”
    1. Full nest two
    2. Full nest three
    3. Empty test one
    4. Empty test two
  5. Which of Mary Anne Fitzpatrick’s marital types is marked by being highly interdependent, having conventional ideology, and having high levels of conflict engagement.
    1. Traditionals
    2. Independents
    3. Separates
    4. Temporals

Notes

1 Burgess, E. W. (1926). The family as a unity of interacting personalities. The Family, 7(1), 3-9. https://doi.org/10.1177/104438942600700101
2 Burgess, E. W. (1963). The family: From institution to companionship (3rd ed.). American Book Company; pg. 2.
3 Murdock, G. P. (1949). Social structure. Macmillan; pg. 141.
4 Malinowski, B. (1927). Sex and reproduction in savage society. Commentator.
5 Bailey, B. L. (1988). From the front porch to back seat: Courtship in twentieth-century America. Johns Hopkins University Press.
6 Mintz, S., & Kellog, S. (1988). Domestic revolutions: A social history of American family life. Free Press.
7 Otto, L.B. (1988). America’s youth: A changing profile. Family Relations, 37(4), 385-391.
8 Bochner, A. P. (1975). Family communication research: a critical review of approaches, methodologies and substantive findings [Paper presentation]. Annual Meeting, Speech Communication Association, Chicago, IL, United States.
9 Bochner, A. P. (1988). Conceptual frontiers in the study of communication in families: An introduction to the literature. Family Relations, 37, 385-391; pg. 328.
10 Gerstel, N., & Gross, H. E. (1982). Commuter marriages: A review. Marriage & Family Review, 5(2), 71-93. https://doi.org/10.1300/J002v05n02_05; pg. 81.
11 Burgess, E. W. (1926). The family as a unity of interacting personalities. The Family, 7(1), 3-9. https://doi.org/10.1177/104438942600700101
12 Burgess, E. W. (1926). The family as a unity of interacting personalities. The Family, 7(1), 3-9. https://doi.org/10.1177/104438942600700101Murdock, G. P. (1949). Social structure. Macmillan; pg. 141.Bailey, B. L. (1988). From the front porch to back seat: Courtship in twentieth-century America. Johns Hopkins University Press.
13 Bavelas, J. B., & Segal, L. (1982). Family systems theory: Background and implication. Journal of Communication, 32(3), 99-107. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.1982.tb02503.x
14 McLeod, J. M., & Chaffee, S. H. (1972). The construction of social reality. In J.T. Tedeschi (Ed.), The social influence processes (pp. 50-99). Aldine-Atherton.
15 Ritchie, L. D., & Fitzpatrick, M. A. (1990). Family communication patterns: Measuring intrapersonal perceptions of interpersonal relationships. Communication Research, 17 (4), 523–544. https://doi.org/10.1177/009365090017004007
16 Ritchie, L. D. (1991). Family communication patterns: An epistemic analysis and conceptual reinterpretation. Communication Research, 18(4), 548-565. https://doi.org/10.1177/009365091018004005
17 McLeod, J. M., & Chaffee, S. H. (1972). The construction of social reality. In J.T. Tedeschi (Ed.), The social influence processes (pp. 50-99). Aldine-Atherton; pg. 83.
18 McLeod, J. M., & Chaffee, S. H. (1972). The construction of social reality. In J.T. Tedeschi (Ed.), The social influence processes (pp. 50-99). Aldine-Atherton; pg. 83.
19 McLeod, J. M., & Chaffee, S. H. (1972). The construction of social reality. In J.T. Tedeschi (Ed.), The social influence processes (pp. 50-99). Aldine-Atherton; pg. 86.
20 McLeod, J. M., & Chaffee, S. H. (1972). The construction of social reality. In J.T. Tedeschi (Ed.), The social influence processes (pp. 50-99). Aldine-Atherton; pg. 85.
21 Bogdanov, A. A. (1980). Essays in tektology: The general science of organization (G. Gorelik, Trans.). Intersystems Publications.
22 Bertalanffy, L. von (1934). Modern theories of development (J. H. Woodger, Trans.). Oxford University Press.Bertalanffy, L. von (1951). Problems of general systems theory. Human Biology, 23, 302–312.Bertalanffy, L. von (1955). General systems theory. Main Currents in Modern Thought, 11, 75–83.Bertalanffy, L. von (1968). General systems theory. George Braziller.
23 Bertalanffy, L. von (1968). General systems theory. George Braziller; pg. 38.
24 Bowen, M. (1978). Family therapy in clinical practice. Aronson.
25 Kerr, M. E., & Bowen, M. (1988). Family evaluation: An approach based on Bowen theory. Norton.
26 Regina, W. F. (2011). Applying family systems theory to mediation: A practitioner’s guide [Adobe digital edition]. University Press of America; pg. 16.
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Interpersonal Communication by Jason S. Wrench; Narissra M. Punyanunt-Carter; and Katherine S. Thweatt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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