The definition of what a family is isn’t an easy task to define. There are many broad definitions of what a family consists of. Gladding (2015), writes that families are individuals that are connected biologically or psychologically, or have some form of connection whether it be emotionally, historically, or perceiving themselves as part of a family household. There are so many different obstacles or challenges that families face on a daily basis that often leads to problems within the household. Healthy families continue to change and there is some reinventing in order to meet the needs or demands within different families from different cultures. Gladding (2015), stated that typically family relationships are altered when different events occur whether expected or unexpectedly and it can find a way of hindering the way families function moving forward. In order to have a healthy family dynamic, it starts with having a healthy and strong marriage. There are many different characteristics that can decipher the difference between what healthy families and unhealthy families look like. There are relationship issues that have many different reasons for the disconnect within the family such as lack of emotional and physical affection, finances, communication struggles and, high expectations of one another. Healthy families continue to change and there is often a need for reinventing within family members in order to meet the needs or demands from different families and their cultures.
Whether a marriage is in the beginning stages, or if it has become a well established and weathered marriage with a routine, there are different levels of stress that decipher how the marriage has progressed over the years. Family therapy has been a form of therapy that helps to interact with families who are facing different emotional aspects and need help to get through them. In order to work with families, Gladding (2015), says that there is a system theory that is based on a set of of different elements and how those elements work within family interactions. One specific element is the system that has the capacity to adapt changes within the family based on the their response to different living conditions. When working as a family therapist with different families, it’s important to understand the treatment that these families are requiring and making sure to apply the proper family theory for each person involved in order to make their family stronger.
While interviewing the Stevens family, it was very evident that they could be classified as a blended family, Shane brought in a daughter from a previous relationship into his new relationship with Jessica and have always included Samantha in family trips and events. Upon learning more about the family throughout the interview, there was a lot of information obtained about their family dynamics and issues lacking in the marriage as well that could help decide whether this family was a good candidate for family or even couples therapy.
The Stevens family consists of 5 family members. Shane Stevens (38), and Jessica Stevens (35) are married, they have two children together, Brandon is 11 years old and Deandra is 7 years old. Shane has a daughter Samantha who is 16 years old from a previous relationship who lives out of state but visits frequently. Shane and Jessica met through mutual friends and have been married for 12 years but have known each other for 16 years. They dated for 4 years before they got married. Their personalities are somewhat different, Shane is very outgoing and enjoys being outdoors, fishing, bike riding, running, playing golf, and doing outdoor activities with the kids. He likes to attend outdoor events, water parks, amusement parks, and carnivals and fairs, making him a definite extroverted person. Jessica is more of an introvert and prefers to spend time at home, she likes to read and is social when she needs to be depending on the situation, but she is mainly outgoing with her immediate family (ie. Sister, brother and parents), and has started to occasionally meet with coworkers after work. Prior to his relationship with Jessica, Shane was in another brief relationship and had his daughter Samantha with his ex-girlfriend. Samantha is 16 years old and lives in Florida with her mother. Samantha came to live with Shane and Jessica for about a year last year but then decided to move back to Florida. Samantha is very introverted and keeps to herself, while living with Shane and Jessica, she kept to herself and only made a few friends in school. Shane and Samantha have a pretty good father daughter relationship but the distance does make that a little harder for both of them. As a new couple, Jessica and Shane started off their dating relationship shortly after Shane became a father. This came at a time where Jessica and Shane were in a the new couple stage of their relationship, it didn’t necessarily put a strain on the relationship
Shane and Jessica got pregnant about 6 months after they were married with Brandon who is 11 years old and is in the 6th grade. He enjoys playing on his Xbox and doing some outdoor activities with his dad. He is a very loving child and more of an introverted child and doesn’t deal well with pressure. He seems to have some struggles in school with being overwhelmed with his schoolwork. Three years after having Brandon, Shane and Jessica found out that they were expecting again and it was unplanned and a bit of a surprise. They had their daughter Deandra, she is 7 years old and in the 2nd grade. She enjoys going to school and loves to watch YouTube videos on her tablet. Deandra is definitely extroverted, very talkative and tends to make friends very easily.
Shane is a job recruiter/licensed agent for a health insurance company and Jessica works for a bank in the loan department. Shane and Jessica lived in Houston, Texas until Shane took a new job and had to relocate about two years ago to the Austin area. Shane moved here first and was seeking a good area to live in, which required them to live apart for quite some time. Jessica and the kids eventually joined him in Austin after about 6 months. The move was something that both Shane and Jessica spoke about extensively and came to the joint decision for the family since it would be taking them away from friends and family.
Family Dynamics and Lifestyle
Shane and Jessica have a routine in their household when it comes to housework, finances, and kids schedules and it has been this way their entire marriage. Based on information obtained during the interview, Shane expressed that before they decided to have children they traveled and experienced some newlywed trips. Once they became parents, the responsibilities in the home changed drastically, which took a toll on the relationship of the marriage because of the new responsibilities that come with becoming parents and finances. For Shane and Jessica, they have a routine in their household that works for them. Shane is in charge of the cooking and cleaning of the household, while Jessica takes care of the laundry. Shane picks up the kids from school and does homework with them in the evenings. Shane and Jessica at the beginning of their marriage shared the same interests but do not do to many things as a couple as the years have gone by. They do have Friday night family dinner every week with the children. Shane and Jessica both expressed they could not remember the last time they were able to go out together as a couple without the children.
The both expressed that they are supportive of each other and usually discuss any changes that are to be made when it comes to jobs, living situations, or big purchases. Shane shared that there has been a lack of emotional and physical affection from Jessica at times, and Jessica shared the same about Shane. They both shared that because of the different interests they both have at this point in their lives, it has put an emotional strain on their marriage. Some of the interests they have aren’t reciprocated by the other, so they end up doing things separately. These issues that have begun to arise between Jessica and Shane have become more apparent to the children and is affecting them as well which can lead to bigger issues for the family all together.
Jessica explained that Shane recently changed jobs with a significant pay cut which has put a strain on their finances and has led to some disagreements between them. Jessica also expressed that she has been accustomed to a specific life style because of the type of job Shane had prior and because of the recent change it has brought some conflict between Shane and Jessica. Finances is often the lead reason of stress among couples and families which often leads to conflict and distance between the two. According to Dew (2011), there is a specific theory that provides information proving that financial disagreements along with worrying about financial well-being could put a strain on the relationship. Typically financial factors can be used as a reward if the finances influence the couple to work together or it could lead to a separation or divorce because the lack of financial stability. Jessica stated that she believes that Shane should be the main provider of the family and should provide most of the finances because he is the man of the house. Hubler et al. (2016), writes that gender roles may often play a role on a relationship and their partners because of the financial burden that one may take on in order to reach the demands of their partner. A big part of this has been a conflict in Jessica and Shane’s marriage because typically the male partner begins to feel the weight of the pressure coming from his wife to fulfill the expectations that she may have of him to provide the income needed.
Family Religion & Culture
Families consist of different cultures, ethnicities, and religions and often build a strong family structure based on those dynamics. Shane and Jessica have different beliefs of different things starting with religion and how they were both raised. Jessica said she was Baptist and was not active in a church and Shane grew up catholic and went to a catholic school growing up. They agreed that they can’t seem to agree on a specific church to attend or decide on what religion to teach their children. Shane expressed that he wanted to have both of his younger children baptized through the Catholic Church but Jessica does not practice those beliefs and does not want her children baptized. Families who have different religious beliefs often face more challenges than families or couples who share the same beliefs. For Jessica and Shane, because religion wasn’t a big topic while they were dating, they never fully discussed anything because at the time there were no children involved. Now that there are children of the marriage the religion issue has now come up and is causing some conflict. There has been some speculation that religion has had an impact on marital stability. Being able to work with couples who are having issues based on their religion can be problematic if you don’t share the same beliefs as either one of them. It’s important as a marriage and family counselor to remain biased and leave our own beliefs out of the equation. As a counselor being able to understand families and their beliefs is important in order to provide the appropriate therapeutic needs that this family would require based on their religious beliefs. Because the differences in their religion has caused a conflict between this couple, Shane has been open to trying both religions in order to see what is the best fit for their family. According to Hughes (2004), some interfaith couples try to negotiate in order to make the religious conflict less stressful on both individuals. But research suggests that most interfaith couples have a higher risk for divorce than those couples who share the interest in the same religion.
Family Lifestyle & Wellness
Having a healthy lifestyle is important when having the responsibility of being a mother, a spouse and employee. There are so many factors that can contribute to putting large amounts of stress on someone that can lead to bringing that into the household. Gladding (2015) states stress is a huge part of a family’s life that can lead to families not being able to handle the level of stress that comes their way. As in any family, there are many different reasons for stressors to trigger in an individual or even a family. Many individuals or families often get caught up in everyday life that comes along with family life, work stresses, and even unexpected social functions. There are different ways to cope with stress, and while working with families that need help dealing with these families it’s important to implement wellness and self-care. As counselors who work with families who have different levels of problems within their marriages can often lead to lack of personal wellness because we become so focused on our client and less on ourselves. These are different ways that counselors can at times focus on their own self-care in order to provide the best resources and attention to their own clients.
Recommendation and Conclusion
Working with couples who have even the minimal amount of conflict ranging from finances to religious beliefs, and even just emotional and maturity balances its important to know all the different factors and dynamics before deciding on a treatment for the couple or family. Gladding (2015) writes “Proverbs are rich in their advocacy for prevention, such as “a stitch in time saves nine” or “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Being able to help a relationship by preventing it from falling apart is easier by focusing on enhancing the marital relationship and making sure that they maintain stable and happy, as opposed to just trying to do a quick fix. I think that Shane and Jessica focus so much on other things outside of their marriage they need to be able to take some time to focus on each other and bring the spark they once had back into their marriage. While interviewing the Steven’s family, I did see some signs of conflict and some of the four horsemen antidotes. There was some signs of stonewalling and some criticism on both sides