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Making Healthy Families

By Gayle Peterson, Ph.D.

Excerpt from Making Healthy Families
Part One: Becoming a Couple
Chapter One: Creating Your Garden

Available for purchase online at Amazon.com

Fortifying Your Couple's Bond: Creating Your Family "Style"

When two people come together to create a family, they each bring their own unconscious version of how family members relate to one another. As children, we spend years growing up in our own families, observing and imprinting upon the ways that our families, as a particular group of people interact to solve problems, to express feelings, to make decisions and raise their young. How our parents raised us resulted in a unique family culture. We are conditioned to imprint these same influences (both positively and negatively), onto the next generation.

When a child is born, old family styles of relating are awakened. The couple's relationship undergoes tremendous stress. Marital partners who have basked in positive feelings in their partnership can find themselves falling into negative automatic behaviors. Where they once spoke proudly of their open and direct communication, their equal and respectful relationship to one another, they may nevertheless find themselves falling back on old familiar, though unpleasant methods of interacting (blaming, withdrawing) reminiscent of what their parents did when dealing with conflict.

Family researchers, such as Robert Beavers, have defined family style as "the degree of centripetal and centrifugal forces in a family". "Centripetal" is analogous to petals on a flower, tightly formed and organized around a center. It is meant to describe a quality of interactions that draws people closer together. "Centrifugal" refers to the quality of centrifugal velocity, which forces us to drift at an increasing rate, away from one another.

Healthy family styles blend characteristics of both of these polarities at differing points on the life cycle. Young families with small children are naturally centripetal. Parents must be accountable to each other for coordinating childcare and their young children require close proximity to them. But families with adolescents grow towards some incorporation of centrifugal forces, as greater independence is not only necessary but desirable for healthy growth. A successful balance must be achieved to ensure family health and well-being throughout the family life cycle. Let's take a closer look at what is meant by these two polarities, how to recognize their extreme or "dysfunctional" forms, and where our own childhood experience placed us on this continuum....

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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