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Just because everyone is grown up doesn’t mean the family functions well for all its members. Maybe your family never did. Or maybe there are new complications that strain the ways the family learned to work together, either because the challenges are unexpected and hard, or because the surface harmony covered up tensions that were always there—but everyone could ignore them. Sometimes it’s the whole family that needs work, and sometimes there’s an especially problematic relationship, say a mother-daughter or two brothers—or parts of a blended family that never quite jelled.

Family complications can include:

Sometimes relational difficulties between adults have an impact on children. Co-parenting (after separation or divorce) that is not coordinated and predictable would be an example. Marital difficulties often end up with the anxiety passed on to one or more children. Dr. Murray Bowen named this “triangulation,” which often means the child is caught in a can’t-win tension between the two adults. The results can be acting-out behaviors or turning inward. The usual difficulties of the teen and preteen years can be worsened for an adopted child, who may be struggling with some level of anger or fear about being unwanted or abandoned.

All of these situations are hard with a fully functioning family. When the dynamics of the family situation raise the stakes for some people more than others, angry behaviors can start up or get worse. When the dynamics of the family’s interactions make it unlikely to solve the family’s problems, chaotic rehashing and rehashing (or someone cutting off) may become a chronic source of unhappiness.

Family situations are complicated because they often involve issues for individuals, couples, and families—challenges like chronic pain, chronic illness, and Alzheimer’s or other dementia.  Or challenges that cross generational lines to include parenting or parent-care, end-of-life planning, or sibling jealousies made worse by a sense of financial inequities.

Reestablishing a workable relationship among adult family members is a reported outcome of family counseling. People find new ways to relate, discover healing of past hurts and problems, relax their suspicions because they understand the families’ patterns, and accommodate new roles divided among family members.  Families report being able to draw strength from each other in new ways and to make the decisions that their situation warrants.

Recommended books

Raising Kids Who Can

Interpreting childrens’ behaviors as revealing their underlying motivations and needs, applying that understanding through natural consequences, and considering how to use family meetings.

Loving Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder: How to Keep Out of Control Emotions from Destroying Your Relationship

Excellent approach to responding to difficult loved ones—ignore the “borderline” label in the book by holding onto the idea that we all have areas of sensitiveness and issues we can get reactive about. Pay attention to the methods for communicating in reactive situations.

The Attachment Connection: Parenting a Secure and Confident Child Using the Science of Attachment Theory

This book focuses on meeting the attachment needs through the first four years of human development. At the same time, its detailed account makes it easy to pinpoint attachment dysfunction that can lead to difficulties in the rest of childhood and, later, in adulthood.