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Exploring family of origin for individuals who have grown up in extremely rigid and enmeshed families

Relationship education provides an opportunity to work with couples’ perceptions of their families of origin. In particular, it is worth exploring the possible impact of extreme, or unbalanced, family structures on how couples are likely to approach their own relationship.

A series of studies conducted at the University of Sydney have identified some key matters of concern. These studies have been conducted by postgraduate students in the School of Psychology under the supervision of Alan Craddock, a former Senior Lecturer in that School and also the former National Coordinator of PREPARE/ENRICH Australia. All of these studies used measures of family structure that were very closely related to the family of origin questions used in the PREPARE/ENRICH inventories.

The form of extreme family structure focused on in these studies involves enmeshment or extreme closeness. Highly enmeshed families may be typified by an extreme form of cohesiveness that undermines the development of personal autonomy and which results in a form of family bonding that represents an over-identification with the family.

There are two varieties of enmeshed families that occur quite frequently: Rigidly enmeshed and chaotically enmeshed.

Rigidly enmeshed families are excessively close and also have very highly structured rules, roles and routines. In contrast, chaotically enmeshed families, whilst also being excessively close, lack structure and tend to be random, unstable and chaotic.

The University of Sydney studies revealed three areas of personal adjustment that are strongly associated with rigidly enmeshed types of family of origin. These are all areas that may represent important vulnerabilities for couples, and therefore are worth noting.

(1) Relationship Attachment

In 1999, Natalie Nasr, Leah MacFadyen, Clint Marlborough, Rina Sarkis and Susan Scanlon examined the effect of childhood experiences of family of origin on adult relationship attachment among young Australian adults. One important and relevant feature of their findings was that rigid-enmeshment was a significant predictor of discomfort in adult relationships.

(2) Feelings of Shame and Sense of Parentification

In 2003, Margaret Walker studied the effect of childhood experiences of family of origin on young Australian adults’ reports of feeling a sense of personal shame and of being pressured to adopt parent-like roles in their childhood (parentification). She found that rigid-enmeshment, as a feature of family of origin, was a significant predictor of strong feelings of shame and a strong sense of being parentified during childhood.

(3) Perfectionism

In 2006, Wendy Church and Alexandra Sands investigated the relationship between features of family of origin and young Australian adults’ tendencies towards being perfectionistic. They found that family enmeshment and rigid, authoritarian forms of parenting were significant predictors of both functional (healthy) and dysfunctional (unhealthy) forms of perfectionism.

In summary, all of these studies support the view that, although family closeness and structure are generally regarded as positive in their effects, too much closeness (enmeshment) combined with too much structure (rigidity) may be damaging.

The damage identified in these studies may be apparent in couples taking a relational inventory or counselling. In particular, individuals who have grown up in extremely rigid and enmeshed families of origin may find it difficult to be comfortable in their own adult relationships and may be carrying a burden of emotional baggage with them that involves some or all of these components: A sense of shame, a strong pressure to perform perfectly and to inappropriately take on adult parent-like roles. This baggage appears to originate family of origin pressures that are associated with over-controlling and suffocating closeness. Facilitators and counsellors should be alert to these possibilities without assuming that the patterns fit all individuals who have grown up in rigid and enmeshed families.

Tune in for more tips and ideas next week.

Marriage and Relationship Education is a learning opportunity, much like you would do in any other important life event. Check out the new video for couples on YouTube: https://youtu.be/xyuUl-JnIhM

Keep up with the latest from the MAREAA online:

Join us at www.mareaa.asn.au or sign up to our Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/bRigGf

#PREPARE/ENRICH is a customised online assessment tool that identifies each couples unique strength and growth areas. Based on their assessment results, a facilitator provides feedback sessions, helping couples to discuss and understand their results while teaching them proven relationship skills.

For more information on PREPARE/ENRICH or to simply set up a couple on the tool, please contact: www.prepare-enrich.com.au or call today (02) 9520 4049 #prepareenrich #strongerrelationships

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Text, Twitter, Tweet… Couples, the Internet and Social Media: Being distracted by the wired world

Social media has changed the daily lives of couples by:

  • How they stay in touch with others (and reconnect with people);
  • The way couples make friends, how they find acquaintances and how others find partners by connecting with people anywhere in the world;
  • How couples do business, how businesses connect to buyers and potential buyers;
  • How they reveal themselves and share information;
  • How couples allow their voice to be heard – to amplify a message; and
  • How they learn.

This technology also creates difficult situations for couples involving emotional intimacy and fidelity, including the ease of access to personal details, the ease at which private communication can take place and access to pornography. Facebook is increasing cited in divorce proceedings in both the US and UK.

Whilst most of the qualities that help sustain a good relationship have not changed – commitment, effective communication, constructive conflict and patience, honesty, forgiveness amongst others – there is strong evidence that couples are using these technologies to enhance their relationships. Both the opportunities and threats associated with the use of internet and mobile technologies including the stress associated with their use by couples must be understood and considered to ensure effective communication in all their life stages.

While younger adults in serious relationships are more likely than older couples to report that the internet has had an impact on their relationship, this impact can cut both ways. Many young couples view technology as a way to bring greater intimacy to their relationship, even as it introduces new sources of tension.

  • 45% of online 18-29 year olds in serious relationships say the internet has had an impact on their relationship – 21% say a major impact.
  • 42% of 18-29 year olds with a mobile phone in a serious relationship say their partner has been distracted by their phone while they were together.
  • 41% of online 18-29 year olds in serious relationships felt closer to their partner because of online or text conversations.

“Technology is everywhere and our relationships are no exception,” said Amanda Lenhart, lead author of the report and Senior Researcher at the Pew Research Center. “And for younger adults and those in newer relationships, tools such as mobile phones and social media are there at the beginning and play a greater role today for good and for ill.”

Reference:

  • Cowley, D, 2017: Social Media Statistics Australia – April 2017: https://www.socialmedianews.com.au/social-media-statistics-australia-april-2017/
  • Hampton, K.N., Rainie, L., Lu, W., Shin, I., & Purcell, K. (2014). “Social Media and the Cost of Caring.” Pew Research Center, Washington, DC. Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/01/15/social-media-and-stress/

Tune in for more tips and ideas next week.

Marriage and Relationship Education is a learning opportunity, much like you would do in any other important life event. Check out the new video for couples on YouTube: https://youtu.be/xyuUl-JnIhM

Keep up with the latest from the MAREAA online:

Join us at www.mareaa.asn.au or sign up to our Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/bRigGf

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Text, Twitter, Tweet… No screens at bedtime or during family time

According to a recent survey, we are fast becoming (if not already) an always-on mobile society. Our addiction to our favourite device and the apparent need to check regularly and respond instantly must be in response to our growing fear of missing out or perhaps our love of being always-on.

For children, this obsession can start early but needs to be tackled by parents to ensure good habits are learnt and distractions from mobile technology don’t impact negatively on their health and learning abilities.

Here are some tips:

2. No screens at bedtime or during family time.

You don’t have to confiscate their phones, you can get an app that can automatically block activity at a certain time or when a time limit is exceeded.

By installing a child control app on all devices that your children use, you can set various time limits for the Internet, PC or mobile device and even specific programs, apps and websites. some even shut the device down automatically, displaying a lock screen.

In your search browser, type ‘manage your kids screen time’. Use the app as a starting point for conversations about screen use, not as a replacement for them.

Reference:

Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey, 2016: http://landing.deloitte.com.au/rs/761-IBL-328/images/tmt-mobile-consumer-2016-final-report-101116.pdf

Tune in for more tips and ideas next week.

Marriage and Relationship Education is a learning opportunity, much like you would do in any other important life event. Check out the new video for couples on YouTube: https://youtu.be/xyuUl-JnIhM

Keep up with the latest from the MAREAA online:

Join us at www.mareaa.asn.au or sign up to our Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/bRigGf

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Text, Twitter, Tweet… Cyber bullying is most likely to occur behind a closed door

A recent study claims that there is anecdotal evidence of parents needing to lock away their children’s devices for fear of midnight video watching, texting, and gaming.

According to the Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey, 2016 – we are fast becoming (if not already) an always-on mobile society. Our addiction to our favourite device and the apparent need to check regularly and respond instantly must be in response to our growing fear of missing out or perhaps our love of being always-on.

Here are some tips:

  1. No technology in the bedroom. The number one recommendation from experts in addressing cyber bullying. Cyber bullying is most likely to occur behind a closed door.

For children, this obsession can start early but needs to be tackled by parents to ensure good habits are learnt and distractions from mobile technology don’t impact negatively on their health and learning abilities.

Reference:

Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey, 2016: http://landing.deloitte.com.au/rs/761-IBL-328/images/tmt-mobile-consumer-2016-final-report-101116.pdf

Tune in for more tips and ideas next week.

Marriage and Relationship Education is a learning opportunity, much like you would do in any other important life event. Check out the new video for couples on YouTube: https://youtu.be/xyuUl-JnIhM

Keep up with the latest from the MAREAA online:

Join us at www.mareaa.asn.au or sign up to our Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/bRigGf