Family is the most important social unit for individual growth and community well-being. It can be a great source of happiness and comfort, but it also can be the source of stress and negativity. In fact, research has proven that the quality of our closest family relationships is linked to health, longevity, and well-being (Gottman & Silver, 2015; Sifferlin, 2017). I have an ideal model of what my future family would look like, and I believe many of us have these kinds of ideal family models. Interestingly, when we look at the attributes of what makes a family “healthy” in different cultures around the world, we find that there are many similarities across cultures. Below are some healthy family attributes that are similar in many cultures.
Research indicates that, for all different types of family structures (e.g., nuclear families, extended families, single parent families, blended families and families with same-sex partners and different-sex partners), most cultures agree that healthy families are built on (1) commitment and a sense of togetherness, (2) appreciation and respect, and (3) good communication patterns. In fact, results from cross-cultural studies suggest that these three family characteristics are important for creating a sense of positive family identity and fulfilling its members’ needs (Sifferlin, 2017).
Commitment and sense of togetherness. In many collectivist and individualist cultures, values such as family cohesion are important for family health. For instance, in some societies (e.g., Mexican and Middle Eastern families), We defined the family rather than the I. Commitment to the family is an obligation over other personal needs, and individual identity is drawn from this familial association (Rothman, Gant, and Hnat, 1985). This togetherness is believed to have many advantages to the family, such as long-term increases in familial stability, coherence, and support for each other (Sifferlin, 2017; Rothman et al., 1985).
Examples to achieve commitment and togetherness. This attribute can be as simple as eating your meals together as a family. Eating together is a healthy habit that brings the family together to share stories, enjoy the food, and teach children tableside manners.
Appreciation and respect. Healthy families notice and express appreciation for each other. In fact, expressing verbal and emotional appreciation reduces family negativity and enhances psychological well-being (Gottman & Silver, 2015). Expressing appreciation becomes even more important during tumultuous times, because we tend to forget to pay attention to the small things our family does for us in times of stress.
Examples to achieve appreciation and respect. While the common form of appreciation might be by saying phrases like “Thank you,” you can also appreciate your family by recognizing the goodness they bring to your life and be thankful for it. For example, calling your partner or kids by their favorite names is a great simple step and it shows how special they are to you. Another example of appreciation is by taking responsibility for house chores, for instance, helping with laundry or taking out the trash.
Good communication. Being able to communicate well is important not only for resolving conflict, but also for expressing love and affection for one’s family. Unfortunately, sometimes anger, misunderstanding, or neglect can get in the way of our ability to communicate effectively. Becoming an effective communicator can take practice, but learning which communication style works best for you and your family is key for family health.
Examples to achieve good communication. When you are upset and angry, describe what happened and use a soft start-up statement such as, “I’m really exhausted, could you please help out with …”, rather than using an attacking statement such as, “You never help me”. Another example is if the family is drifting apart due to a lack of communication, arrange a family gathering so you can listen to each other. Research shows such good communication patterns predict the success of your close relationships (McCreary & Dancy, 2004).
Taken together, healthy family characteristics are similar in many cultures. Commitment and sense of togetherness increase your family ties, which strengthens the family well-being. Appreciation and respect show value of each family member. And finally, communicating effectively brings support and helps resolve daily life conflict.
Gottman, J., & Silver, N. (2015). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert. New York, NY: Harmony.
McCreary, L., and Dancy, B. (2004). Dimensions of Family Functioning: Perspectives of Low-Income African American Single-Parent Families. Journal of Marriage and Family. Vol. 66, No. 3 pp. 690-701. DOI: 10.1111/j.0022-2445.2004.00047.x
Rothman, J., Gant., L & Hnat., S. (1985) Mexican-American Family Culture. Social Service Review. 59, 197-215. DOI https://doi.org/10.1086/644283
Sifferlin, A. (2017). How Family Ties Keep You Going, In Sickness and In Health. Time, 189(5), 20. Retrieved from https://empoweringallpeople.files.wordpress.com/2017/05/how-family-ties-keep-you-going.pdf