Problems in Family Relationships: A Guide
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) is an association for UK-based counselling professionals. It supports practitioners, enabling them to provide a better service.
Most families will experience some hurdles at times. There are many ways in which relationship problems can occur. We are emotionally complex beings. Every individual has their own opinions, ideas, responses and feelings and it is common that we should disagree with each other at times. Relationship problems and negative emotions can often spiral and worsen and can lead to further difficulties for yourselves and others.
The important part to know is that we can learn how to cope and manage with difficult situations and disagreements. There are many ways in which you can try and improve your relationships with your partner and family and how to find resolutions to your relationship problems.
Many individuals will know when they are experiencing problems with another member of their family. Some signs of family relationship problems include:
- Anger/ frustration
- Rethinking/ ruminating about conversations you have had
- Feeling lonely
- Feeling upset
Many people cope with such outcomes in negative ways. When family problems seem to have become serious or out of control, many individuals can resort to damaging behaviours. These can include substance use and self-harm, used as a way to cope with feelings. People can also develop mental health problems caused by stress and heightened emotions. Research demonstrates that relationship problems can lead to problems such as depression and anxiety disorders.
Research has also shown that relationship problems can lead to struggles in other areas of life including education, occupation, social adjustment, and individual self-esteem.
There are many factors that can negatively affect relationships in families.
Awkward household dynamics such as living in close proximity to others can cause tension and negativity. When seeing someone so often, you may be able to notice their habits and routines that may cause you annoyance.
Changes to the family
Other factors include a change in family dynamics such as moving house, the arrival of a new baby or new resident in the home.
Differences of opinion
Conflicts in interest, opinion and feelings are also suggested to be a leading factor of relationship difficulties. Many family disputes may start when one individual partakes in activities that other members disagree with.
Control issues can be another common way for disputes to begin. Some individuals may be territorial or particular about the environment in which they live in. Arguments can be started about the positioning of belongings and messiness in the house. Research also suggests that many adolescents feel as though their parents can be over-controlling which leads to many family disputes. However, research says that many parents feel as if their children do not respect boundaries.
When someone has a mental, neurological or physical health problem, this can cause strain on a household. Stress levels are increased as there may be a high focus on recovery and management of illness. High levels of anxiety may occur along with limited focus on other aspects of life that individuals may also deem important.
Occupational problems such as someone losing their job can bring added stress to not only the individual, but also the household. Also, ‘bringing work home’, can be an added stressor. It is important to maintain a healthy balance between work and home life.
Trust issues can be a cause of relationship problems. For example if an individual has had an affair in the past but the couple decide to try and work through this, the partner or rest of the family can hold anxiety about this happening again. Feelings of resentment may also lead to further problems.
When an individual suffers with addiction in smoking, drug taking, alcohol, shopping and gambling, this can lead to the partner or rest of the family being affected. It can be painful to watch a loved one be addicted to something. It can also be confusing for others with limited understanding. The addicted individual may lie, be short-tempered and spend a lot of money on his or her addiction.
Research suggests that financial struggles are a common reason for why relationship problems occur. This increased stress and can limit the amount of enjoyable activities within a household.
Emotional and physical abuse can be a problem within families and couples. Abuse can lead to high stress levels and many further negative feelings in the victim and others. Feelings such as guilt, anger, loneliness and anxiety can be onset. It is also important to note that some people have a high conflict tendency. The reasons for this can be complex.
Attachment issues can also play an important role in relationships. The relationships that we have at a young age can influence us later in adulthood. Attachment theory suggests that our relationship with our parents/ caregivers at a young age can influence our social and emotional development. Unhealthy relationships when young can mean that an individual may struggle to form healthy relationships when older.
In addition, if an individual has experienced a negative relationship in the past, they may hold anxiety and scepticism that their current relationship will be negative. This can lead to false expectations, frustration, trust issues and further relationship problems.
There are many ways in which you can try to improve things. Individual differences will play a part in what methods will suit you best. Also the cause of the problem/s will influence the best method or treatment.
- Being mindful of everyone in the household is important to a healthy dynamic. Consideration of how others might feel is helpful for a harmonious household. Spending a healthy amount of time with others is important. To reduce negative feelings of annoyance it may be useful to spend less time with certain people. You may be able to notice a positive difference in your relationship if you are not ‘living in each other’s pocket’.
- Negotiation can be an important part to healthy relationships. It is completely natural to conflict with others, yet negotiation can be a simple resolution to an issue.
- Stress management: In general, many of the causes of relationship problems lead to feelings of stress. The way in which we deal with stress can impact on a relationship.
- When a loved one is going through a bad experience it can be very helpful to support them. For example if someone has lost their job they may benefit from positive encouragement or tips on CV writing, rather than blaming them for financial struggles.
- When a loved one suffers with an addiction it can be important for the others who are affected to learn more about the addiction. There are many ways in which an individual can get help for their addiction. The NHS provides many useful articles on addiction.
- When a household is struggling financially, try to learn to enjoy life for cheaper while planning on how to raise your household income. Focusing on the positives can be very helpful when in times of struggle.
- When someone says something hurtful try to put yourself in their shoes. What are the reasons why they may have said what they did? Remember that quite often, you will not be the problem. For example ‘They have been very stressed at work and could be taking out their frustration on me’.
Some useful self-help books include:
- Counseling Techniques: Improving Relationships with Others, Ourselves, Our Families, and our environments, Rosemary Thompson (2005)
- I Hear You, But... Communication & listening skills Tips for improving all relationships, Rick Goodfriend (2009)
- Overcoming Low Self-Esteem - A Self-Help Guide. Melanie Fennell (1999)
Sometimes, seeking psychological help may be the best way to improve your relationship with your partner or family. We are adaptive beings yet sometimes we could use some help in adjusting.
An important understanding of human behaviour is that we learn through our own observations and experiences. This leads to the development of our assumptions, ideas and morals. For example, a child who lives within an argumentative household is more likely to have an argumentative household when they are older. We model and imitate behaviour of those around us and misunderstand that certain behaviours are the norm.
Individual psychotherapy and counselling can help individuals to identify unhealthy relationship patterns. It can help you explore and make sense of how you feel and why you behave in certain ways.
One evidence based therapy technique is Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). This focuses on the relationship between the emotions, thoughts and behaviour associated with your relationship. This can be a beneficial technique that aims to change the way one responds to the situations that provoke relationship problems.
Some therapists may focus on problem solving, relaxation and mindfulness skills. These can help an individual to engage in a conflict with a calm attitude.
Communication skills are important to know and can be learned. It is important to be able to express yourself. At times, a lack of communication skills can lead to relationship problems.
Training those who are insecure can also be a beneficial for improving relationships. Boosting self-esteem can be a good way to help relationships that are suffering.
Family or couple therapy can be a great, systemic way of helping all those involved in understanding and improving the relationship and dynamics. Quite often the best approach is to include everyone involved in the problematic relationship.
There are now many counselling and therapeutic services and organisations available. There are many trained professionals who will be able to support you such as Counsellors, Psychotherapists, Psychologists and Psychiatrists. Here are details of available services:
The NHS- seeing your GP and asking for a referral to see a specialist.
Local charities or organisations may provide support groups, therapy and advice in your local or near-by area. See their websites for further details.
Counselling and psychotherapy clinics and services- Search through online directories or contact your council for organisations that offer can therapeutic help. (Harley Therapy is one of these kinds of clinics)
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- Bowlby, (1988) A secure base: parent-child attachment and healthy human development. Basic Books, New York.
- Bradbury et al., (1998) Optimizing the research for understanding and preventing marital dysfunction The Developmental Course of Marital Dysfunction., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 279–311.
- Corcoran and Mallinckrodt, (2000) Adult attachment, self-efficacy, perspective taking, and conflict resolution. Journal of Counseling and Development, 78 pp. 473–483.
- Creasey and Ladd, (2004) Negative mood regulation expectancies and conflict behaviors in late adolescent college student romantic relationships:The moderating role of generalized attachment representations Journal of Research on Adolescence, 14 (2) pp. 235–255.
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- Saavedra et al., (2010) Clarifying links between attachment and relationship quality: Hostile conflict and mindfulness as moderators. Journal of Family Psychology, 24 (4) pp. 380–390.
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Harley Therapy Ltd. “Problems in Family Relationships • A Help Guide”. Harley Therapy, 13 Sep. 2019, https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/family-problems-help-guide.htm. Accessed 18 Sep. 2021.
Harley Therapy Ltd. (2019, September 13). Problems in Family Relationships • A Help Guide. Retrieved from https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/family-problems-help-guide.htm
Harley Therapy Ltd. "Problems in Family Relationships • A Help Guide." Last modified September 13, 2019. Accessed September 18, 2021. https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/family-problems-help-guide.htm.