I know I am not alone when I say that I have a dysfunctionally functioning family. Based on all the research I have done, and people I have spoken to, it is more common to have a dysfunctionally functional family rather than one that is “healthy.” When speaking to most people they were surprisingly unaware (or less inclined to admit) that their own family was dysfunctional but upon further discussion, a light bulb inevitably switched on. There are so many types and degrees of dysfunction within the family structures that exist today. That is not to say that our traditional sense of family and the ever-changing definition of it is in itself dysfunctional, I am addressing the ways in which we as family members relate to one another completely independent of our family structure.

As society redefines our nuclear family structure, so do our expectations of our role in these new family dynamics. Recent statistics now report that the divorce rate is now decreasing (as apposed to the last decade where the divorce rate stayed steady at 50%). This is not because people are staying married now and working through their issues, it is because less people are getting married. There are a rising number of couples that are cohabitating and NOT marrying with extended families, rather than the traditional definition of a family.

So lets make a clear distinction between the functional (healthy) and dysfunctional family. The distinctions aren’t complicated, but rather they are simply defined by a few characteristics. Family’s that respect one another, and exercise consideration of others within the family unit, are more likely to have a healthy functional family. A family that engages in healthy safe dialogues is more likely to be healthy. Open communication that is built on respect, trust and consideration is considered healthy and functional. The presence of clear and healthy roles for each family member also helps contribute to a healthy environment. Family structures where children have assumed a grown up role because a parent or guardian is not responsible is unhealthy and have negative consequences on everyone involved. The list goes on. Personal accountability, respect, privacy, healthy coping skills for life’s curve balls and a foundation of resilience and support are all characteristics of a healthy functioning family.

All of these characteristics affect how we relate to one another within our families. I grew up with an older brother and a single mom living in NYC. In the late 1970’s, early 1980’s that type of family structure was ‘unconventional.’ Today, not only is it ‘normal’ but it is more common than the traditional definition of family. My older brother has been married to the same woman for over 15 years, while I have been divorced and remarried. My own family structure consists of my husband’s grown children and my children that are minors. We work everyday at communicating and relating with respect and consideration. The role of the children in our house is to be children, and our role as adults is to be loving supportive parents with a solid set of values to bestow upon the children. I consider us very lucky and very healthy. However, how my family outside of my immediate household relates is completely dysfunctionally functional. There is a constant battle for respect and consideration by all of us. We all struggle to communicate in a healthy loving manner. And to make matters worse, when parts of the family get upset at each other there is a huge outburst of rage followed by an automatic removal from all communication for very long and extended periods of time, rather than working out whatever issue caused the pain. I am not sure there is a whole lot I can do to turn this dysfunctionally functional family around, all I can do is stop the ball from rolling at my doorstep and make sure that the dysfunctional behavior does not continue and penetrate future generations.

Author's Bio: 

Sarah was born in Boston, MA, raised in New York City and graduated from the University of Connecticut with two degrees. She obtained her degrees in Communications and Psychology. Through her own personal tragedies and struggles Sarah married young and had two beautiful girls. Even though her marriage failed, her devotion to her graduate education and her girls was unsurpassed. With her Masters in Business Administration (MBA) in analyzing foreign markets, and a new career opportunity in MD, she moved to MD where she met and fell in love with Enrique. Today, Sarah lives in Maryland with her husband and their children, researching, writing and publishing articles and books.