Strong family bonds have the potential to bring joy, comfort, and a sense of safety to each member. They can lead to memories that last a lifetime and represent a support system during difficult moments. However, it can sometimes feel hard to maintain these close bonds because of busy schedules and various distractions. While it might be easy to drift apart, there are also some simple methods you can try to bring your family together and strengthen your relationships with each other.
Why Family Bonds Matter
As one research study on the topic puts it, family relationships can be “an important source of social connection and social influence for individuals throughout their lives.” For some people, these relationships are with their family of origin. For others, “family” primarily refers to relationships they’ve built with their partner(s) and child(ren). For still others, their family is made up of close friends and intimates they’ve designated as family and with whom they spend a life and, in some cases, a home. Whatever the case, family relationships can be highly influential and have the potential to help a person thrive.
On the other hand, weak or unhealthy family bonds can result in isolation, negative health outcomes, stress, unhealthy coping mechanisms, and other concerns. For these reasons, cultivating robust, healthy relationships with those you consider family can be an important component of overall health and well-being.
Strategies That May Help Strengthen Family Relationships
Regardless of what your family makeup is, these relationships can represent an important part of your life. If you’re looking to deepen your relationships with the members of your family, the techniques below might be helpful.
Spend Intentional Quality Time Together
Quality time is one effective way to strengthen your family bonds. You could decide, as a family, to set aside time each week or month to be fully present with each other and engage in activities everyone enjoys. Here are a few ideas:
Family meals. Decades of research indicate the potential benefits of families who regularly have meals—a minimum of three per week and ideally 5–7. For example, children whose families eat together regularly tend to have higher self-esteem, lower rates of substance misuse, teen pregnancy, depression, and behavioral issues at school, better body image and lower risk of eating disorders, higher grades, and lower rates of obesity—and it can act as a healthy emotional bonding experience as well.
Outdoor activities. Hiking, barbecuing, playing sports, or otherwise spending time together outdoors is often something all family members can get on board with. Plus, research suggests potential health benefits of time in nature, like lower stress levels, higher levels of subjective well-being, increased creativity, and better emotional control.
Game nights. Playing board games, card games, or video games together—especially those that are collaborative or team-based—can present an opportunity to have fun together and to collaborate, engage in teamwork, and make memories.
The above are just a few ideas. It may take some time to figure out exactly what your family likes to do together, but the memories, bonding opportunities, and even potential health benefits can make this effort worth it.
Practice Effective Communication
Clear, honest, and compassionate communication can empower individuals in any type of relationship to understand each other and deepen their connection. It can allow for boundaries to be set so everyone feels safe and respected, it can help ensure everyone is listened to and considered in major family decisions, and it may decrease conflict overall.
Here are a few tips for effective communication within a family unit:
Practice active listening. This means giving the person who is speaking your full attention, avoiding interrupting, and asking clarification questions as needed. It can also include making sure everyone gets the chance to say their opinion—including any older adults and children who may be part of the family.
Check in. Most modern families have busy schedules, making it easy for someone’s feelings, struggles, or concerns to get overlooked or ‘lost’ in the shuffle. Making an effort to regularly check in with each member may help ensure everyone has the opportunity to express their needs and feel supported.
Set communication standards. Setting rules for how you’ll aim to communicate with each other could help your family maintain positive relationships with one another. Respect, compassion, grace, calm, and honesty—even in the face of disagreements or conflict—are a few examples.
Work On Problem-Solving Together
Problems and conflicts are a natural part of any type of relationship, including family relationships. Rather than letting them drive you apart, working together to solve problems could strengthen your connections and make each person feel like a valued member of the unit whose input matters. Here’s a basic framework you might consider following when facing a family problem that needs resolving:
Identify the problem. When a problem arises, identifying what it is, why it’s a problem, and who it’s affecting can be a good place to start.
Brainstorm solutions. Sitting down together as a family to develop potential solutions can help everyone feel like a part of the process. It may be helpful to encourage everyone to say their ideas and be open to other perspectives.
Choose a solution. Narrowing down the ideas the group came up with is next, which might be done by voting. It can help if all members enter this phase with an open mind and a willingness to compromise.
Implement the solution. Next, it’s time to implement the chosen solution. Delegating who needs to do what and ensuring that each member is committed to trying to make things work can be useful in this stage.
Evaluate the solution. After some time, you can evaluate the solution as a group to see if it has resolved the problem, taking care to let everyone tell their experience. If not, you may have to go back to the drawing board and develop or choose a new solution.
Show Each Other Appreciation And Gratitude
Psychologists and researchers have examined the effects of gratitude on various types of relationships, and findings suggest that it may help us maintain and strengthen connections with others. Showing appreciation and gratitude for your loved ones may, in particular, help you feel closer and more invested and make it easier to cooperate with each other. A few ideas for showing gratitude to your family members could include:
Giving compliments to acknowledge each other’s strengths and achievements
Regularly expressing thanks for what each person contributes to the family, from cooking meals to making jokes to planning common activities
Giving thoughtful gifts, which could take any form—from putting a thoughtful note in someone’s lunchbox, bringing home pizzas for everyone at the end of a long week, or doing chores or household tasks that benefit everyone
Spending time together—specifically, carving out time and making concrete plans to bring everyone together, whether that’s a family vacation, a special outing, or a movie night at home
Celebrating together to recognize special moments, whether it’s a birthday, a holiday, or an individual success
How Therapy Can Help
Family challenges can be difficult to face alone, which is why some people turn to a therapist for support. A trained mental health professional can help you brainstorm ideas for strengthening family bonds, improve your communication skills, learn to empathize with your family members, polish your conflict-resolution skills, and work through relational challenges. If you’re experiencing stress, anxiety, depression, or another mental health challenge that’s resulting from family issues or contributing to them, they may also help you address these.
If you and your family have busy schedules, it can be hard to find time to regularly commute to and from a therapist’s office. In this situation, online therapy can represent a viable alternative. You can use an online therapy platform like BetterHelp to get matched with a licensed therapist, and you can then meet with them via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging from the comfort of home or wherever you have a strong internet connection. Research suggests that face-to-face and internet-delivered therapy can offer equal effectiveness in many cases, so you can typically choose whichever format best fits your schedule.
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