Your family is meant to be the first community that you are part of. Here are people who welcome you into the world, come alongside you, support and nurture you, provide comfort in times of trouble, encourage, and challenge you to be the best version of yourself as God created you to be.
In the family, life is brought not only to our doorstep, but into our kitchens, bedrooms, and dens. In the family, life is happening all around us, and it begs to be questioned, evaluated, interpreted, and discussed. There is no more consistent, pregnant, dynamic forum for instruction about life than the family, because that is exactly what God designed the family to be, a learning community – Paul David Tripp
Family is meant to be this rich experience of life in all its fullness. We are brought into it by others, and we in turn bring others (our spouses, children, and others) into our circle and learning community.
Family problems are common.The picture painted above is attractive, and it is something that all of us yearn for on some level. If we’re honest with ourselves, the reality of our families often falls short of this idyllic existence. Families are often the sites of deep brokenness, as children aren’t always welcomed warmly, parents and siblings aren’t appreciated, and spouses can have complicated relationships with each other.
American families are growing more complex as the traditional form of family and the context changes dramatically. According to a Forbes article, 70%-80% of Americans consider their families dysfunctional. The idea of families being dysfunctional is so prevalent in our society that many of the top sitcoms of the last two decades have been based on exploring the dynamics of dysfunctional families.
We gravitate toward these shows and their portrayals because they reflect something of our reality. In other words, we are laughing at our own pain. Almost everyone has that one relative (or several) that makes Thanksgiving uncomfortable for one reason or another. And that may just be one form of dysfunction in a family.
Lest we think the reality of complicated families is a modern phenomenon, it’s important to consider that throughout the Bible there are dysfunctional families. From the second page of the Bible, when Adam and Eve sin, they take turns blaming each other for their sin (Genesis 3), and their son Cain kills his brother Abel (Genesis 4).
Men have multiple wives, including some of the key Biblical figures such as Jacob, David, and Solomon. Family members scam each other (Genesis 27, 29, 30), they sell each other into slavery (Genesis 37), and people are involved in sexual scandals (Genesis 38).
All of this happens in just the first book of the Bible. In the New Testament, we find that at first Jesus’ family didn’t believe in Him and what He was doing. They thought He was out of His mind. (Mark 3: 20-21).
What this tells us is that issues in families are common, perhaps more common than we’d like to acknowledge. While family is indeed meant to be a place of nurture, wholeness, a flourishing, it often doesn’t function that way. The reality of sin permeates every area of our lives, and that includes family life.
One has to be intentional to cultivate the fruitful, loving, and peaceful learning community that Paul Tripp spoke about. There is so much that often flies in the face of that cohesion, including things like being busy, selfishness, and miscommunication.
Types of family problems addressed in counseling.
Marriage and family counseling helps a family become the sort of nurturing and loving space that God intends it to be. There are different kinds of family problems that such therapy addresses, including the following:
- Poor communication between family members. This includes those situations where individuals feel misunderstood, and also where family members just don’t know how to talk to each other.
- Estrangement from one another.
- Navigating a blended family.
- Working through the implications of divorce.
- Violence, abuse, and neglect – either toward the children, or between the spouses.
- Inability to give unconditional love. This is often connected with constant criticism and being emotionally remote.
- Poor boundaries between family members. This can contribute significantly to codependency, and children taking on the parent’s role, for example.
- Addiction issues, including substance abuse as well as pornography.
- Anger issues.
- Mental health concerns, including eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and dementia. These realities call for family members to understand the conditions and play a positive role in the healing process.
- Trust issues, stemming from infidelity, broken promises, and disappointments.
- Jealousy, rivalry, and dishonesty.
- Dealing with grief and illness in the family.
- Financial problems such as debt.
- The inability to set common goals for the common good.
- Adjusting to changes such as the birth of a child, moving house, changing jobs, and social status.
- Lack of connection, whether emotional connection or physical intimacy in the case of spouses.
- Dealing with an unwanted pregnancy.
- Processing the reality of children leaving home, and adjusting to changes in the family dynamic such as children and parents getting older.
- Constant conflict and arguments.
- Parenting issues, including the parents being on the same page about discipline, the number of children they want, how to help a child that’s being bullied or is struggling with emotional problems, and so on.
Some of these issues will be between two family members, while others will involve the entire family. However, because family members are intimately connected, even an issue that only exists between two people will have some impact on everyone else.
If mom and dad are angry at each other because there was an affair, that can affect their parenting and whether they are on the same page about other issues like their finances. The interconnected nature of the family means that counseling needs to address the primary concern, and then deal with the spinoffs of that concern.
Why families hesitate to resolve their problems.
There are several reasons why families may hesitate to begin addressing their problems. These include some of the following:
Not knowing where to start.
Some problems may seem so huge and troublesome, and perhaps they’ve been ongoing for such a long time that it can be overwhelming just thinking about where to begin tackling the issue.
It doesn’t feel like a problem.
In some situations, dysfunction has become the norm, and it’s hard for family members to recognize healthy relationships. It’s only perhaps when they interact with others, for example as friends or when they get married, that the dysfunction is revealed to be just that.
It feels shameful to admit to a problem.
An admission that you and your family need help may be understood as a shameful thing. That coupled with the mindset that what happens in the family stays in the family further isolates the family from the help that is readily available.
We all need help at times in our lives. It’s important to get your family the help it needs to promote your flourishing. The sooner you do that, the better. If dysfunction is not addressed, that hurts the family now, but it also has a future dimension as well, because children from these families will grow up and repeat that cycle of dysfunction with their own families.
Seeking help for family problems.
Talking with someone can give you perspective and wisdom to help you work through your situation. There is also a place for professional counseling, as these are trained individuals who create a safe and confidential space for you to explore family problems and get to the root of them. If your family is going through a rough patch, don’t hesitate to reach out to talk with a Christian counselor.
Counseling can help your family understand how things got where they have. However, it’s not enough to understand how things happened. Knowing why they happened can help you unravel the patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior that help or hinder your health as a family. This is not about assigning blame, but about gaining clarity so that you can move forward well on a solid foundation.
Counseling can also help family members to see themselves as others do, which can lead to helpful self-examination as well as learning to appreciate each other’s strengths and gifts. These gifts and strengths, when appreciated and used well, help to build a strong, healthy family. It can also help the family be clear about their shared beliefs, building crucial common ground for working together as a family.
Additionally, family counseling can give your family tools to process negative thoughts and emotions, so you don’t spiral and revert to unhelpful ways of dealing with hurt or rejection, whether real or perceived.
Counseling may not necessarily fix problems but it can help the family become more aware of the resources they have that they can deploy for problem-solving. It can also help the family make important adjustments in their attitude which can help ease tensions and minimize conflicts.
Start by finding out more about the counselors in our office. As you look through the list and connect with us, we can help you find a counselor that will support you and your family.
“Big Family”, Courtesy of Tyler Nix, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Family Meal”, Courtesy of Jimmy Dean, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Tough Times”, Courtesy of Ben White, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; https://unsplash.com/photos”Family Hands”, Courtesy of Luana Azevedo, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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