Family connections can be a great source of joy, but they can also bring up a host of challenges. Maintaining such close relationships generally takes work, and not every member is always committed to putting in the same level of effort. That’s why virtually every family can benefit from knowledge and tips related to strengthening interpersonal relationships or healing from past conflicts. With the right information and support, many families can successfully work through a variety of challenges.
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Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant
In the past, the traditional definition of family was a mother, a father, and their biological children. Today, the definition has expanded to include significantly more variation in what families can look like—far beyond the nuclear unit that was expected for so many generations. In the 21st century, “family” can mean many different things.
A more accurate definition of a family today is simply a unit composed of people who love each other and have a unique, intimate bond. This can take many forms, from children raised by single parents, grandparents, polyamorous parents, or same-sex parents to families with no children or adopted children. Blended families have also become more common, as have “chosen families,” made up of intimate friends with no biological relation. There are countless variations of the modern family—but whatever form a family takes, issues can still arise. This section will explore common challenges that modern families face, along with the impact that various dynamics can have on mental health and well-being.
The “Traditional” Family Continues To Evolve
The traditional definition of family included a man and woman, married, and their children. While this used to be the most common arrangement, the percentage of families that fit this structure has been on a significant decline in the US over the last several decades. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the number of households made up of married couples with children has declined from 44% in 1960 to just 19% in 2020. Non-biological family households have gone from 15% to 35% in the same time frame.
How Family Can Impact Wellness
Humans are social creatures, so it’s natural to be affected by the close relationships you have with other people. Family members can have some of the most powerful impacts on your well-being—for better or for worse.
For example, research has consistently indicated a link between strong social connections and overall mental and physical health. Those who have close, supportive, and generally positive relationships with those they consider family may enjoy these benefits. On the other hand, however, those who have unstable or high-conflict relationships with those closest to them and/or those in their household could experience more health problems—both mental and physical—as a result.
Families Across Various Cultures
What families look like in the United States is heavily influenced by a strong culture of individualism, resulting in generations of strictly defined nuclear families in single-family households. Other countries and cultures, however, have different views on what family is. In many Hispanic and Asian cultures, for example, extended family tends to be closer and more highly valued, and intergenerational households are more common.
Another example comes in the form of those who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Among queer people, identifying close friends as “chosen family” members and cohabitating as non-nuclear, non-biologically related families is more common. Looking at examples like these of how various cultures and groups treat family can help you understand what you value and what you might want out of family life in the future.
Addressing Family Problems
When you have discord or a history of conflict or trauma in your family, it can be difficult to move forward in a healthy way unless these things are properly addressed. That’s why many people who are looking to heal from such experiences and create healthier relationships often turn to a therapist for support and guidance. A mental health professional like this can help you address harmful family experiences from the past, learn to set boundaries with family members for the future, and sharpen your skills in areas like conflict resolution.
Working Through Family Concerns In Online Therapy
If issues within your family unit are preventing you from leading a peaceful, satisfying life, it could be helpful to meet with a therapist. However, busy schedules and responsibilities like childcare make it challenging for some people to attend regular therapy in person. In cases like these, online therapy can represent a more convenient alternative.
With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can connect with a licensed therapist to receive support and guidance from the comfort of home or anywhere else you have an internet connection. You can connect with them via phone call, video call, and/or in-app messaging to address the challenges you may be facing, all in a format that may be more convenient and cost-effective for you.
The Efficacy Of Online Therapy
Researchers have examined the effectiveness of online therapy as an alternative to traditional, in-person sessions for addressing a variety of concerns, from mental health challenges to family troubles. A 2021 study, among others, suggests that online therapy in general is “no less efficacious” than in-office treatment. That means you can typically choose whichever format is most convenient for you if you’re interested in trying therapy.
From families of origin to chosen families, the family unit and its dynamics can look different for everyone. In general, belonging to a close-knit group can provide many benefits, from shared responsibilities to positive mental health. Regardless of the stage of life that you’re in, it can be important to consider the impact of family on your well-being. If you’re experiencing family-related challenges, you might consider reading through some of the articles in this section or speaking with an online therapist to identify strategies for moving forward.