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Characteristics of Healthy Families

created by Gayle Peterson, including
Excerpts from
Making Healthy Families

Making Healthy Families

“A healthy family is neither necessarily average, nor merely lacking in negative characteristics. Rather it has described positive features”[1]

We have all become familiar with the concept of “dysfunctional” as it applies to communication and relationships. We may have even concluded that we come from dysfunctional family backgrounds ourselves. The term itself may be overused and perhaps misused but it gets the point across. Thanks to the media and John Bradshaw’s popularity, we understand that we need not recapitulate the past. Indeed past pain in relationships can be circumvented to some degree by learning to change that which does not promote health and happiness. So far, so good, but what exactly needs change and what does not? We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, excuse the old adage. What particular points of strength did our families teach us? What are the hallmarks of families that seem to flourish in an atmosphere of warmth and ease, even under stressful life events? Too often we study what goes wrong, but this does not always give us a picture of how things go “right”!

Paying attention to positive elements in human relationship results in more than the sum of its parts. By studying the characteristics of what contributes to health and well being in family systems, you may find yourself thinking differently about your own family experience. Expectations that reside in past negative experience can cause you to miss opportunities for positive interaction with family members. Wondering what will bring joy or soothing, instead of reliving irritations which presuppose past negative attitudes can constructively alter relationships.

In 1976 a group of family researchers collaborated in the Timberlawn study of healthy families. Their work produced the first published report of a detailed examination of well-functioning families. Robert Beavers, MD continued to develop research on healthy family systems and what makes them tick. The following characteristics of healthy families is the culmination of 30 years of research by Beavers and his associates. The characteristics listed on your tip sheet for this week represent one research team’s[2] attempts to describe what goes on in families that contributes to healthy relationships. It is not all inclusive, nor does it express one way to be as a family. These are simply observations from a variety of family cultures that have been identified as having positive impact on growth and adaptation. Each family is its own unique culture. But all families, no matter where they are, do basically the same thing. Families exist to nurture the growth and development of their members. Each family is like a garden. The characteristics below are some of the nutrients you may wish to consider in tilling the soil. Consider the questions below with reference to your childhood experience of family and your own current family situation.

Go to: Exercise in Characteristics of Healthy Family Relationships

[1] Epstein, Bishop, Ryan, Miller and Keitner,The McMaster Model View of Healthy Family Functioning, p,139 in Normal Family Processes, edited by Froma Walsh, 2nd edition, The Guilford Press, N.Y., 1993.

[2] Beavers, R. and Hampson, R.Measuring Family Competence: The Beavers Systems Model in Normal Family Processes, edited by Froma Walsh, 2nd edition, The Guilford Press, N.Y., 1993.


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