Family Love: What It Is, What It Looks Like, And How To Make It Happen
Updated February 11, 2020
Reviewer Laura Angers
It's easy to say, "I love my family," but family love is about more than these simple words. Family love is a special type of love that comes with its unique feelings, behaviors, challenges, and rewards. Once you understand what it truly is, you can learn how to build family relationships by genuine love and care.
What Is Family?
A family isn't necessarily about blood relations-it's a group of people that function as a unit. Often, but not always, this includes parents and children.
Family can also mean all the descendants of a common ancestor. Some people consider their friends like family. However, when we speak of family love, the love you have with your friends might or might not fit, depending on what type of relationship you have.
What Is Love?
Love is a word that's been used in so many ways, it's nearly lost its meaning. We may say we love ice cream or skiing when what we mean is that we enjoy it. Love is of course commonly used to describe romantic or sexual feelings and behaviors.
In the context of family love, the term refers to bonds characterized by deep affection, respect, loyalty, and healthy attachment. Family relationships are different from other types of bonds. The following characteristics of family love set it apart from other types of love relationships.
You Can't Always Choose Your Family
You typically choose the person you want to start a family with when you're an adult. You might choose children to adopt or bring into your family.
But children have no choice about who is in the family group. You don't get to choose your siblings, and you certainly don't get to choose your parents. Despite these limitations, family love still flourishes. It isn't always healthy love, but it is a deep connection, nonetheless.
You Face the Challenges of Living Together
Living in a family unit usually means sharing a living space. Privacy is limited because of your proximity. You must share certain belongings, such as dishes, appliances, and furniture. You compete for the other family members' attention. What's more, to keep that space peaceful, each family member needs to respect the rights of the others to whatever degree is possible.
For example, an infant is a member of the family, but they aren't capable of understanding how to respect other family members. The more mature that person gets, though, the more they need to be mindful of how their behavior affects others.
What Strongly Affects One Family Member Affects the Others
When one member of a family experiences a profound loss, the other members of the family are usually affected by that person's distress. A family member who has lost their job or a friend typically expresses their emotion in some way, whether they intend to or not. Their behavior might change, and they may have less capacity to manage daily living. The other family members feel the effects directly or indirectly.
You Have Family Traditions
Nearly every family has traditions. Family traditions may relate to holidays, but they can also be associated with other special days, situations, or rites of passage. If all the family members follow the traditions of the family, everyone knows what to expect. However, when something disrupts a family tradition, family members may feel disappointed or even distressed.
You Share Family History
Families comprised of parents and their biological children share a history that goes back generations. Even if a child is adopted, they share their family's story. The history of the family influences the current relationships between family members, so it's important that everyone resolves old hurts and misunderstandings to have healthy family love.
It's Unconditional Love
Healthy family love is unconditional. No matter what the other family members say, do, or feel, you still love them for who they are. You might have completely different opinions and political views. You might strongly disapprove of something another family member does. You might even have to remove yourself from the family situation. In a sense, they are still your family and always will be.
You Show Respect for Each Other
When you love your family members, you show your respect through your words and actions. You show family love by honoring the other family members' rights, even when you don't agree with their choices.
You Work Together to Achieve Family Goals
Just as each person can have their own goals, families also have group goals they work together to achieve. For example, a family might decide to go on a camping vacation. Each member may need to help by arranging their schedules, packing up what they need for the trip, and being present and ready to go at the agreed-on time.
You Communicate with Each Other
Effective communication is vital for healthy family love. Unless each person communicates their needs, the other family members aren't likely to help. Family members use words and gestures to express both their concerns and their approval.
You Enjoy Activities Together
Families that enjoy activities as a group build a stronger family love. Whether you're going on an outing or spending the evening playing board games, the interactions between you bring you closer together.
Building Family Love
Healthy family love is a choice that starts with the parents. It isn't something that happens without thought and dedication. There are several ways to build healthy family love throughout the lifespan of the family.
Form Healthy Attachments
As parents, you have a unique opportunity to teach your children how to have a healthy, secure attachment. By being a responsive caregiver, you can start the secure attachment that research has shown leads to higher social functioning later in life. Along with better mental and physical health, a secure attachment gives your child a greater capacity to form healthy attachments with others.
Take Responsibility for What's Yours to Do
Each person in a well-functioning family takes responsibility for what is theirs to do. The parents need to make sure everyone's physical and emotional needs are met until the children assume responsibility or become an adult.
Sometimes it can be hard to figure out what you need to take responsibility for and what you need to leave for another family member. Talking to other parents you admire or attending a parenting support group can help you sort out who needs to be responsible for what. If you're still confused, a therapist can help.
Encourage Healthy Development and Independence
As your child gets older, they develop new skills and abilities. They have more opportunities to explore their world as they develop the independence needed to choose their activities outside the home. As a parent, you need to encourage their development into an emotionally strong, healthy adult. Give them the tools they need to learn. Give them support as they find their own identity. Allow them to move away from you emotionally at times while providing a safe space for them to return to.
Value Each Family Member
No family member is more important than any other. Each family member is valued as the unique person they are. Show each family member that you appreciate them every day. Tell them you love them. You can also show them your love through gestures, facial expressions, and touch.
Kindness is sometimes undervalued. Kindness, though, is a hallmark of healthy family love. Not hurting others unnecessarily must be balanced with self-esteem for authentic kindness. Be kind as a family member. If you're an adult, encourage your family members to be kind to each other.
Make Time for Each Other
A family that lives under the same roof but spends no time together doesn't have the opportunity to develop and maintain healthy family bonds. If the parents are so busy with their adult lives that they ignore their children, the family can't be healthy, and the children suffer. Give your family members enough of your time to enjoy a strong connection.
When you don't forgive a friend, it's easy to let them drift out of your life. However, when a family member has wronged you, it's much more difficult to give up that relationship. You need to forgive your family members to re-establish healthy bonds after the conflict has been resolved.
More Ways to Build Family Love
Conflict resolution is a major challenge for most families. Healthy families increase family love and understanding by learning communication skills. When families communicate well, there are fewer conflicts, and the conflicts that happen can be resolved.
In families with growing children, family love changes as they mature. Being prepared for these changes will safeguard your family love.
Your family can provide a strong support system for you. If you have a healthy family love, you contribute by helping other families meet their needs and satisfy their desires. Unless you're the parent of a child, you don't take on responsibility for them; you offer your assistance because you want to make their life easier.
Building family love is a full-time and often stressful job. If you find you can't manage family relationships in a healthy way, talking to an experienced professional might benefit you.
A counselor can help you by teaching you communications skills, helping you deal with unhealthy prior attachments, and building healthy self-esteem for yourself and among your family members. If you need this type of help, you can talk to a licensed counselor for online family therapy at BetterHelp. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.
"Alisha has let me view situations in another perspective. Like the stressful times I've gone (still going) through with my family and my work. I'm really grateful for her time to listen to what's on my mind and really making me comfortable to share so much with her. Thank you, Alisha!"
"Jack is great! He helps me keep things in perspective and uses visualizing methods to help me focus on what I need to do for myself, which I turn helps my family be more solid. Helps me fill my toolbox and make sure I focus on me even when I'm trying to take care of everyone else. Jack is great and so is BetterHelp!"
Family love isn't a myth. You can have the kind of family love that makes life more satisfying. When you do, everyone in the family can benefit. Take the first step today.