The Sense of Family that Survives Separation


Every week a wonderful newsletter via UK Marriage News comes through that rounds up the latest research about families.  A few weeks ago something in particular caught my eye about family values.

Between many of the family law professionals, whether they are lawyers, therapists or financial planners, there is an increasing awareness of values.  When we are working together, we will often spot each other seeking to understand – and helping the family members to discern – their common values and where their values diverge.  It seems to be an approach that we have all come to in parallel.  In mediation or in the collaborative process for example, when we are seeking to shape the good outcome – including the process by which it is achieved, we can often make the strongest progress by starting first with the client’s most fundamental values.

The newsletter focused on the impacts of Covid and the way that this operated almost as an accelerator of stress: destabilising some families but making others more cohesive with deeper bonds. I’ll let the authors take up the narrative:

“For this, we investigated group differences across a set of 11 different variables hypothesized to influence the degree to which stressors affect family relationships. Those variables were:

  • Couple Communication
  • Couple Social Integration
  • Partner Gratitude
  • Cohesive Family Mindset
  • Perceived Stress
  • Financial Hardship
  • Loneliness
  • Income
  • Education
  • Marital status
  • Gender 

All measures have been utilized in prior research, with the exception of one measure we developed for the current study that assessed what we called a Cohesive Family Mindset. As multiple resilience researchers have described conceptually (but rarely tested empirically), resilient families often possess higher-level meanings, or schemas, of what it means to be a family. Such mindsets provide family members with an orientation to family life that transcends the individual and supersedes each family member’s immediate desires and preferences. It’s getting at “us” and what is required to make the family one desires a reality. The four items we used to assess Cohesive Family Mindset were: 

  • Our family has a strong sense of being a team
  • As a family, we are on the same page with a lot of things
  • It makes me happy to make other people in my family happy
  • My family is worth the investment and sacrifice it requires.”

You will already be at the punchline: “how were individuals in these family profiles different across these 11 variables? Somewhat to our surprise, only one variable significantly differentiated all three groups. That variable? Our newly developed measure of cohesive family mindset. Individuals in the improved family functioning group following the pandemic reported a higher score on this construct compared to individuals in the stable and worsened family functioning profiles (i.e., had the most amount of agreement with the Cohesive Family Mindset items). Additionally, individuals in the worsened family functioning profile reported a lower score on this measure compared to individuals in the other two family profiles (i.e., had the least amount of agreement with the Cohesive Family Mindset items).”

Much of our work at FLiP involves supporting families through the change of family separation – another stress factor.   Many of our clients see separation as a failure and a loss – but so often what we see – and perhaps what they come to see is continuity – that beyond the bounds of the formal tie of the relationship and cohabitation there is still a family and the commitment to family and the care that family members can have between themselves (the sibling bonds and the parent-child bonds are the obvious ones) can very much survive and sometimes build in the chapters beyond separation. Yes, and there can be connection and strength too between the co-parents.

And what a glorious way of expressing those values we are given here:

  • Our family has a strong sense of being a team
  • As a family, we are on the same page with a lot of things
  • It makes me happy to make other people in my family happy
  • My family is worth the investment and sacrifice it requires.

That sounds like it could be an excellent start for a route-map into the future for some.

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