Your marriage, your parenting or caregiving behavior, and sibling rivalry all have one thing in common: They play a crucial role in developing your family dynamics. Your family is at the heart of everything you do, which is why your family dynamics can have such a profound effect on you, your partner, your young and adult children—even your mental health.
8 Factors That Affect Family Dynamics
- Family Structure
- Family Member Personalities
- Family Roles and Responsibilities
- Family Relationships: Past and Present
- Family Member Goals
- Family Values
- Disabilities or Special Needs in the Family
- Family Events, Hardship, or Trauma
The world and its social norms are evolving, and family structure, relationships, and communication are evolving along with them. It’s not unusual to see a single-parent household or children being cared for by extended family. However, these ever-changing roles and family systems can also lead to changing family dynamics that are necessary to understand and navigate to maintain positive relationships with the members of your family.
What are Family Dynamics?
Every family is unique, and therefore, all family relationships are unique. The ways in which family members interact with one another are known as family dynamics. There can be positive family dynamics, negative family dynamics, and even toxic family dynamics, and it’s possible for your family to have a mixture of each type.
To work through conflicts and issues, it’s important to be aware of how family members feel toward one another. Focus on understanding the relationships between children and parents, caregivers, or siblings, strained relationships with extended family members, and communication patterns. Healthy interactions and positive behaviors ensure that everyone in your family receives emotional support and feels like an essential part of the family unit. In addition, the reverse is true. Ensuring each member receives emotional support and believes they are an essential part of the family unit promotes healthy interactions and positive behavior.
Family caregivers, such as a parent—as well as aunts, uncles, grandparents, or another adult caring for children in the family—can improve how they are managing family interactions and issues through studying their family dynamics. Hosting regular family gatherings or meetings and having open discussions with family members can provide you with an opportunity to identify and work through dysfunctional family roles or behaviors to improve family life and health.
8 Factors That Affect Family Dynamics
The psychology of family dynamics attempts to explain how families work together as a family system—recognizing that each family is unique. There are several factors that play roles in shaping your family dynamics.
1. Family Structure
Your family structure refers to the people you consider part of your family, which may include people who have passed on in addition to those living with you now.
What are the 6 types of families?
- Childless family: Couple without children
- Nuclear family: Two parents with one or more children
- Single-parent family: One parent with one or more children
- Blended family: One that involves step-parents, step-children, and/or half-siblings
- Extended family: Two or more related adults, like an adult child and their parent, living together to raise children or grandchildren
- Grandparent family: Grandparent(s) who care for and raise their grandchild(ren)
Although these are considered the most common types of family structures, there are numerous other combinations of family members that you might consider to be in your family structure. This structure has a significant effect on family dynamics roles because of the relationships within them.
Family structures can shift over the years, and those changes can influence family dynamics. What starts as a single-parent family can change to a blended family and vice versa. In a nuclear family, parents watch their children age into adulthood and the family may experience a significant change in dynamics as adult children move out and begin families of their own.
2. Family Member Personalities
Each member of your family has a unique personality. Some personalities attract each other while others repel each other, much like the push and pull of magnets. Your family’s personalities could create positive dynamics in which everyone feels cared for, secure, and respected, but they can also clash to the point of creating toxic or narcissistic family dynamics.
Personality tests, like The Color Code and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), note pivotal pieces of your personality that can help or harm relationships when communicating with others of a different personality type. For example, an ESTJ (Extraversion, Sensing, Thinking, Judging) personality type according to the MBTI may clash with an INFJ (Introversion, Intuition, Feeling, Judging), partly because a person with ESTJ type tends to make decisions based on what seems logical, while someone with INFJ type tends to make decisions based on how those decisions will likely affect those involved. In addition, ESTJ tends to think out loud and prefers to talk through issues spontaneously, while INFJ prefers to think in private about their thoughts and feelings before having a conversation.
Birth order may often influence personality and how family members interact. A middle child, for instance, tends to be social and fall into the role a mediator, while a first-born child enjoys leading, sometimes to the point of being bossy. As an adult, your birth order can still have a significant impact on your personality and interactions with others.
3. Family Roles and Responsibilities
According to family systems theory, each member of the family has a unique role to play. Your role determines how you interact and communicate with others in your family. These roles vary but can include roles such as peacemaker, instigator, challenger, fixer, planner, and so forth. sibling, child, or partner. These roles can shape your family dynamics because they can influence each member’s self-confidence, self-concept, and feeling of importance within the family.
For example, you might play the role of mediator in your family. Family members may triangulate with you for assistance in working out family problems with another family member. In some cases, this nurturing role can also come with a high amount of stress and anxiety. You may feel pressured to prioritize the problems of others over your own needs.
4. Family Relationships: Past and Present
Your family’s relationships with one another can certainly influence group dynamics. Even past relationships, like those with family members who have passed on, can impact your marriage and family for many years, or even generations, to come. Strong relationships are often very emotional and can have lasting effects on your family.
Consider, for example, a family with an alcoholic family dynamic. Perhaps a great-grandmother had a history of alcohol abuse which has passed onto subsequent generations of the family. Each generation may now have a pattern of alcoholism and strained relationships resulting from the behavior of a family ancestor. Even if family members do not drink, their relationship with the alcoholic member of the family likely taught them unhealthy family patterns such as lying, avoidance, or minimizing that influence the current family dynamics.
Family dynamics change after the death of family members, too. Your family may have had a central figure who led family gatherings and kept everyone communicating. When this person passes on, your patterns of communicating, familial relationships and feelings toward family members may change.
5. Family Member Goals
You and your family members each have individual goals that may or may not align. The parents of a family, for example, may wish for each of their three children to go to college, but maybe two of their children aren’t interested in attending college. Instead, one wants to pursue a basketball career and the other wants to start a business in photography. Although the children have clear goals for their future, their goals don’t align with their parents’ goals for their futures, which can cause conflicts and resentment.
The goals that each member has for your family’s future could look very different from one another and different from family to family. Some families have members who want to live near each other, even when the children are grown with their own families, while others spread out and become distant over the years. The way each member of your family envisions their future can affect your family interactions and relationships now. To align family goals with personal goals your family should communicate effectively about goals and aspirations. Taking a simple family culture assessment is one way to start this type of communication. Insights on your particular family culture will help everyone communicate more effectively, build stronger relationships and have a better understanding of each other points of view and positions.
6. Family Values
Although parents and caregivers attempt to instill the values they have in their children, children will grow to develop their own values, too. These values might mesh well with the primary values of the family unit, but they don’t always blend. Some members of the family may grow to enjoy volunteering and giving to others, while other members develop a more self-centered personality or focus.
Your family’s behavioral and moral values affect overall family culture. Parents and caregivers often have the idea that their children will grow to value the same things in life that they do, but there’s no way to ensure that happens. Even siblings raised the same way can grow to prioritize different things, which can cause rifts and judgment. On the other end of the spectrum, families with members who share very similar values likely prioritize similar things, which can have a positive effect on family dynamics.
7. Disabilities or Special Needs in the Family
Caring for a family member with a disability or other special needs, such as mental illness or behavioral problems, can affect each member of the family—not just the primary caregiver. Family members can be pulled in different ways. Some may form a special bond with the individual with special needs, while a sibling may feel resentment toward that person for getting extra attention.
This unique family situation often comes with increased stress on the family, even in young children who may not understand the situation entirely. Your family unit will need to learn to cooperate with one another to form healthy relationships. Focus on open lines of communication so siblings, children, parents, and even extended family feels comfortable sharing their feelings.
8. Family Events, Hardship, or Trauma
A multitude of events, hardship, and trauma can affect your family at any point in its life. Family threats can include death, sexual abuse, addiction, infidelity, financial struggles, and mental illness. A family threat also refers to anything that substantially and negatively affects a family and how it functions. Trauma can send lasting shock waves through a family that continue to trickle down through each generation and affect the family dynamics.
A parent’s unexpected death, for example, can affect a child’s life into adulthood, and may affect how that person interacts with his or her own family. The death of a matriarch or patriarch of a family can significantly change, alter or end long-standing family traditions that could otherwise serve to help overcome the trauma or other family problems. Neglect or abuse toward one member of the family can cause emotional turmoil and stress on everyone else involved, and it could lead to a pattern of abuse in future generations. Similarly, if a family member has a personality disorder, family dynamics may become rocky or toxic as family members attempt to navigate interactions with that family member.
Factors That Affect Family Dynamics
Anything that impacts your family can influence your family dynamics in a positive or negative way. And certain factors like your family structure, personalities and roles, family values, and trauma can significantly affect how the members of your family feel towards one another and how they interact with the family unit as a whole.
Hosting regular family meetings during which everyone can voice their opinions without judgment is a beneficial first step toward more positive family dynamics. In some cases, regular individual parent-child interviews can be a better alternative to family meetings if one family member has a strong personality and is apt to negatively influence such meetings. It takes willingness and work from each family member to improve your family dynamics, but with enough effort and cooperation, your family life and relationships can strengthen and grow.