From a couple’s perspective , there is probably no group that offers them as much support as family and no group that at times creates as much stress!
There is ample evidence that one of the most important resources people need in the aftermath of trauma is connection to family and familiar networks of support (Boscarino, J.A., Adams, R. & Figley, C., 2005). If you have ever spent time in the waiting area of an ICU unit or the emergency waiting area of a hospital you understand the way that families rally to be there for each other in times of crisis.
If you have ever crowded into a maternity ward to view a new baby, saved chairs at the Nursery School recital, or flown miles for a sister’s wedding, or a brother’s return from Iraq, then you also know how families come together to support and celebrate each other in times of joy.
Where does the stress come in? Why? Can it be avoided?
A couple’s relationship with the families they share is far more complicated than it looks the day of their wedding – actually it is usually pretty complicated even on that day! Whether a couple has been together 25 years or 2 years, whether or not they have children, there are two other families consciously or unconsciously involved with the family they have created together.
From a family systems perspective (PDF) we are talking about the overlap of three distinct family systems and given the number of reconstituted and blended families, there may even be more systems and dynamics in the picture.
Family as a System
Consider that every family as a system has a defined boundary ( which may be tightly closed or easily opened) predictable patterns, expectations, assigned roles, explicit and implicit rules, codes of behavior, religious beliefs, educational levels, recipes of choice, ethnic roots, rituals and social-economic status.
When a person meets a partner and bonds with them, they choose to open their family system boundary and include another and at the same time to step away from their system to enter a new one. Buoyed by love, desire, differences, similarities, future dreams, …