Understanding family problems and how to find a family therapist
Most families will experience relationship difficulties. As emotionally complex beings with a range of opinions, ideas, and feelings, it is normal to find ourselves in disagreement at times. However, relationship problems and negative emotions can often spiral and worsen, leading to more complex difficulties.
It is imperative to understand that we can learn how to cope and manage with difficult situations and disagreements. There are many ways in which you can try and improve your relationships with your partner and family and find the best resolutions to any problems you may be having.
What are typical signs of family problems?
Many people are able to recognise when they are experiencing issues in their relationship with a family member.
Some signs of family relationship problems include:
● Anger/ frustration
● Rethinking/ruminating about conversations you have had
● Feeling lonely
● Feeling upset
Many people cope with such outcomes in negative ways, particularly when family problems seem to have become serious or complicated and unwieldy. Many individuals can resort to counter-productive behaviours to cope with their feelings, including self-harm and substance abuse. People can also develop mental health problems caused by stress and heightened emotions, with research indicating anxiety and depression can arise from relationship problems.
Research has also shown relationship problems can lead to struggles in other areas of life including education, occupation, social adjustment, and individual self-esteem.
What are the causes of family-related difficulties?
There can be multiple factors that have a negative affect on family relationships.
Living in close proximity may lead to an awkward household dynamic, causing tension. It can be easy to find annoyance in another person's habits and routines if you are seeing them so often.
Changes to the family
The birth of a new baby, moving house, or the arrival of a new resident in the home can alter family dynamics.
Differences of opinion
Family disputes can arise when an individual participates in activities that other family members disagree with. Research suggests such conflicts of opinion, interest, and feelings are a leading factor in the development of relationship difficulties within families.
Some individuals may be territorial or particular about the environment in which they live in, with arguments arising about the positioning of belongings or perhaps messiness in the house. Research also suggests that many adolescents feel as though their parents can be over-controlling which leads to many family disputes. However, in contrast, research also says that many parents feel as if their children do not respect boundaries.
Mental, neurological or physical health problems in individuals can cause strain on a household. Stress levels within the household can increase as a lot of focus may be placed on recovery and management of illness. High levels of anxiety may also occur, and other aspects of life that individuals may also deem important may be put on pause while focus remains on recovery and management.
Occupational difficulties, such as someone being made redundant from a job, can place stress upon both the individual affected and the wider household. ‘Bringing work home’ can also add to stresses, highlighting the importance of maintaining a healthy balance between work and home life.
Trust issues may lead to relationship problems. For example, if an individual has previously been unfaithful to their partner but the couple have decided to work through their issues, the partner or rest of the family may experience anxiety over this experience reoccurring. Feelings of resentment may also result in further issues.
Addictions such as alcohol, smoking, drug taking, gambling, or shopping can affect not only the individual with the addiction but also their partner and surrounding family. Watching a loved one experience an addiction to something can be painful. It may also confuse others who have a limited understanding. The addicted individual may lie, be short-tempered and spend a lot of money on his or her addiction.
Financial struggles have been identified as a contributing factor to relationship problems. The number of enjoyable activities within the household may be limited under this increased stress.
Physical and emotional abuse can create problems within both families and couples. The victims of abuse and those living within the abusive environment may experience negative feelings and high levels of stress. They may also experience anxiety, guilt, and loneliness. It is worthwhile to recognise that some individuals have a particularly high conflict tendency, which can be cause by a number of complex reasons.
Attachment issues may play an important part in a relationship. Our experiences of relationships at a young age may go on to influence us later in our adulthood. Attachment theory suggests that our relationship with our parents/caregivers at a young age can influence our social and emotional development. We may struggle to form healthy relationships as an adult if we have experienced unhealthy relationships in our youth. In addition, some individuals may feel anxious or sceptical about their current relationship if they have experienced negative relationships in their past. This may lead to trust issues, frustration, false expectations, and further relationship problems.
Advice in improving family relationships
There are many ways in which you can try to improve family relationships. Individual differences and the cause of any issues will play a part in what methods will suit you best.
Being mindful of everyone in the household is important to a healthy dynamic, with particular consideration of how others might feel. Spending a healthy amount of time with others is important, but to reduce negative feelings of annoyance it may be useful to spend less time with certain people. A positive change in your relationship may be noticeable if you aren't ‘living in each other’s pocket.’
Negotiation can be an important part to healthy relationships, providing simple resolutions to natural conflicts.
Stress management is also useful, as many of the causes of relationship problems lead to feelings of stress.
This NHS website can guide you through some useful stress management techniques:
● When a loved one is going through a bad experience, it can be very helpful to support them. For example, it may be better to support the individual who has lost their job through positive encouragement rather than placing blame on them for financial struggles you may be experiencing.
● When a loved one suffers with an addiction, it can be important for the others who are affected to learn more about the addiction. There are many options available to help an individual overcome addiction. The NHS provides many useful articles on addiction.
● When a household is struggling financially, try to learn to enjoy life for cheaper while planning on how to raise your household income. In times of struggle, it is usually helpful to focus on the positive.
● When someone says something hurtful try to put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself why they may have said what they did. Remember that their problem will often not be related to you. For example, ‘They may be taking out their frustration on me because they are stressed at work.'
Some useful self-help books include:
● Counseling Techniques: Improving Relationships with Others, Ourselves, Our Families, and our environments, Rosemary Thompson (2005)
● I Hear You, But... Communication & listening skills Tips for improving all relationships, Rick Goodfriend (2009)
● Overcoming Low Self-Esteem - A Self-Help Guide. Melanie Fennell (1999)
Psychological approaches to improving family relationships
Sometimes, seeking psychological help may be the best way to improve your relationship with your partner or family. Although humans are adaptive beings, we can sometimes benefit from extra help to adjust.
An important understanding of human behaviour is that we learn through our own observations and experiences, leading to the development of our assumptions, ideas and morals. For example, a child who experiences an argumentative household is more likely to live within an argumentative household when they are older. We model, imitate and appropriate the behaviour of those around us and misunderstand that certain behaviours are the norm.
Individual counselling and psychotherapy may allow individuals to identify unhealthy relationship patterns. It can offer the opportunity to make sense of your feelings and discover why you may behave in certain ways.
One evidence based therapy technique is Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which can help you focus on the link between the emotions, thoughts and behaviour associated with your relationship. This can be a beneficial technique, changing the way an individual responds to the situations that provoke relationship problems.
Some therapists may choose to focus on mindfulness, relaxation, and problem solving. These can help you approach conflict with a calm attitude.
Communication skills are important to know and can be learned. The ability to express yourself is key. A lack of communication skills may result in relationship problems. Family or couple therapy can be a great way of helping all those involved in understanding and improving the relationship and dynamics. Including everyone involved in the conflict is usually the best approach. There are now many counselling and therapeutic services and organisations available. Mental health professionals, including psychotherapists and counsellors, can support you.
The NHS - approach your GP and ask to be referred to a specialist.
Local charities or organisations - these may provide support groups, therapy and advice in your local or near-by area. See their websites for details.
Counselling and psychotherapy clinics and services - Online directories can provide further information or get in touch with your local council to find therapeutic services.
We can put you in touch with qualified, professional psychotherapists and counsellors when you're ready. This can be done easily and quickly, no matter your location, at a time and price convenient to you.