Guest Blog: Misunderstanding Family Systems in Today’s Divorces: Part 1

February 18, 2014


© 2014 by Bill Eddy, LCSW, JD, CFLS
Family systems theory has been around for decades, but there is little discussion of it today. Yet understanding how family systems work can help professionals and parents going through separation and divorce. In this article, I explain some of the basics, some of what happens to family systems in divorce and how to truly help families in divorce. I also point out why the adversarial process of family courts successfully managed family conflicts in the past, but is guaranteed to fail today’s high-conflict family systems (regardless of procedural changes within the adversarial structure) – whereas skillful family mediation and other non-adversarial processes can succeed.
Family Systems Theory

Family systems theory describes families as operating like the solar system: each member of the family has a “pull” on every other member of the family – like gravity pulls planets towards each other and other forces push them away, so that they stay in balance spinning around each other in a predictable orbit. Family systems have many common characteristics, including the following:

They are powerful: Family systems are a powerful source of support. You can take them for granted. Family members will consistently act in predictable ways, so you don’t have to guess each day. You can focus on what your tasks are and respond fairly automatically to each other. In this regard, a family system is like a personality – very predictable, so that you know what you can get from whom, when and where without putting a lot of energy into thinking about it. Family systems have built houses, companies (family businesses are everywhere) and nations (dynasties). For example, most successful Olympic athletes, musicians and actors had strong family support – from a very young age. The family system organized itself around their success.

They seek stability: A family system develops standard ways of doing things. The whole family participates in enforcing its code of conduct, values and roles people play in it. Even young children tell each other, their parents and their toys how they should or shouldn’t behave, which helps them learn the rules of the family system and follow them. Family secrets are kept, so that the family system is not thrown off balance. The more dysfunctional the family, the more rigid the roles to help keep it stable, the more extreme behavior and the more secrets to keep it as stable as possible. Everyone is part of the family system – no member is an “island.”

They create roles: In every family system, everyone develops a role. One member talks a lot and another may be quiet. One person is highly competent at one skill and another is good at something else. In traditional family systems, especially in rural societies, the roles have been very clear-cut. In modern times, roles are more flexible and may overlap, as family members interact with the larger society. This can cause instability, so that the family may spend more time arguing over roles or members may simply leave the family system and have little or no contact.

They are part of larger social systems: Family systems, like “nuclear families” (two parents and their child or children), are part of larger extended families, which are part of communities, which are part of regional cultures read full article here

 

Bill Eddy is a lawyer, mediator and clinical social worker, and the President of the High Conflict Institute. He is the author of several books including The Future of Family Court: Structure, Skills and Less Stress and Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. He is also the developer of the New Ways for Families method of teaching skills to family systems (both parents and the children) and New Ways for Mediation for managing potentially high-conflict families. His website is www.HighConflictInstitute.com.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: