© 2017 by IFP

Don’t Be a Dysfunctional Family

Resolve These Common Family Issues


Dr. Bill Walker  (Institute for Family Preservation, 2017)

 

No one wants to be part of a dysfunctional family.  A dysfunctional family is a family that does not ‘function’ in a way that meets the needs of its family members.

 

There are common issues related to a family’s functioning that can keep a family from working the way it needs to. 

 

In no certain order, here are 10 common problems that can result in a dysfunctional family.

 

In this article we will deal with issues #1-5.

1.  Negotiating Boundaries with Your Parents

 

After you marry and move away from home you still have a relationship with your parents.  But, your primary identity is NOT as your parent’s child but as a husband or wife to your spouse.  The challenge is to develop new boundaries with your parents that allow you to meet your spouse’s needs first.

 

Boundaries are the unwritten but agreed upon rules regarding what behavior is acceptable between the members in a given family. 

 

What behavior might have been appropriate between you and your parents when you were in high school may no longer be appropriate now that you are married.  When you were in high school dad used to open your monthly bank statement to see how you were spending your money.  Now that you are married you and your spouse have to decide if this is still appropriate behavior.  If it is not, this unwritten rule must be changed.

 

A primary boundary-related task for newlyweds is the task of self differentiation from your parents.  Differentiation is a big word that refers to the degree of separation and independence you have attained from the family you grew up in (your parents, grandparents, siblings). 

 

The question is: Have you become your own person as an adult, or does it seem your parents are still in charge of your life and the decisions you make?

 

It is easy to see the serious problems that might occur when parents have a degree of control over their adult child’s marriage and family.

 

 

Family Checkup

 

1.  Are there clear boundaries between you and your parents?

 

2.  Do these boundaries work to establish a healthy boundary between your role as a spouse/parent and your role as your parent’s child?

 

3.  If not, what are some things you might do to make the boundaries more clear?

 

 

 

2.  Negotiating Boundaries with Adult Siblings and Friends.

 

Your own family (spouse and children) need to come first in your life, ahead of your relationships with brothers/sisters and friends.  This will require sacrifices.  You cannot live your life now as you did when you were single.   

 

Now that you have a spouse and possibly children, can your 23-year-old brother still walk in your house at anytime without knocking?  Can your best friend still expect you to go out with them on Friday nights like you used to before you were married? 

 

These boundary issues must be addressed or they will cause problems in your family.

 

 

Family Checkup

 

1.  Are there clear boundaries between you and your siblings and friends?

 

2.  Do these boundaries work to establish a healthy boundary between your role as a spouse/parent and your role as a sibling or friend?

 

3.  If not, what are some things you might do to make the boundaries more clear?

 

 

 

3.  Negotiating Boundaries in the Nuclear Family.

 

The nuclear family is the family made up of your spouse and your children.  What behavior is acceptable and unacceptable in your family?  If your bedroom door is closed is it okay. for the children to walk in anytime without knocking?  Is it okay for family members to walk around the house with no clothes on?   

 

Is it okay for your spouse to check your iphone messages?  Is it okayfor your children to use your password to get on the family computer?

 

“We don’t do that in this family” is the common way of communicating boundaries.  But to be effective expected behaviors must be identified and agreed on by the members of the family.

 

 

Family Checkup

 

1.  Are there clear boundaries between you and your spouse and children?

 

2.  Do these boundaries work to establish a healthy boundary between you and your spouse and you and your children?

 

3.  If not, what are some things you might do to make the boundaries more clear?

 

 

4.  Finding a Balance Between Individual Needs and Needs of Family Members.

 

Every family member needs to have some time for themselves.  This is an especially critical area for moms with young children.  I have heard many mothers with preschool children say (with great exasperation), “I cannot even go to the bathroom by myself.”

 

Family members must work together to ensure each member has an opportunity to meet their individual needs while not neglecting the needs of the rest of the family.

 

These needs can range from a wife/mother having time alone to read a book, take a long hot bath, or have a “girl’s night out,”  to a husband/father being given the opportunity to go fishing/golfing or just work in his woodshop for an hour for three nights a week.

 

Compromise is the key word here.  The enemy of compromise is selfishness.  A functional, emotionally healthy family is able to make necessary concessions between its members.  The family’s love for one another is what will make this work.   

 

Reality check:  More sacrifice of personal time and needs will be required when the children are young.  This is just the way it is.  I promise (with mixed feelings) - they will be graduating from high school before you know it and you will yearn for the days when they were younger.

 

 

Family Checkup

 

1.  Do you feel there is a healthy balance between your needs getting met and the needs of your family?

 

2.  If not, what are some of your unmet needs?

 

 

5.  Creating/Implementing Family Goals.

 

Family goals are agreed upon accomplishments or outcomes the family desires to achieve.  It is very important that each family member have the opportunity to contribute to the decision process.

 

In my experience most families do not talk about family goals.  This is unfortunate as research shows that setting goals make us more likely to achieve the things we desire. 

 

Examples of family goals might be for the entire family to eat five meals a week together at the family dinner table, limit screen time (T.V., smartphone, etc) to 1 hour per night after 7 p.m.,  go on a family vacation every summer, and one Saturday afternoon a month the entire family will work at the local soup kitchen. 

 

 

Family Checkup

 

1.  Do you believe your family has a set of goals for the family?

 

2.  If not, what steps do you need to take to help your family establish some family goals?

 

 

 

In Pt. II of this series we will discuss Family Issues #6-10.