Building healthy family relationships take years of intentionality, understanding, respect, and endless communication.
Ask any healthy family how they got to where they are now, and I guarantee you will never hear the words, “It was easy.”
It’s never easy. Relationships of any sort are never easy. Nothing valuable comes easy!
The truth is, family life can be hectic at times–most of the time. If you aren’t careful and intentional, the deep-set relationships that stand as the foundation of your family will begin to crumble or dissolve entirely.
Keeping your family together can feel like juggling chainsaws with no action plan or practical understanding of the complexities of positive family relationships. No matter how hard or long you try, someone always seems to get hurt.
So how do you avoid this? How do you maintain healthy family relationships without stress? There’s no one answer, but it all starts with understanding the why.
Why are healthy relationships important in a family?
This seems like a stupid question, but hear me out. Everyone knows that having a close-knit family is essential, but many are unaware of how life-changing it can be.
Put plainly, succeeding in life is infinitely more difficult without a healthy upbringing and a healthy (or at least somewhat healthy) family at your back.
Family gives people a sense of belonging and support in a world that sometimes feels unsupportive. It gives people something to fall back on when moving forward isn’t an option.
Perhaps the most world-changing thing you will ever do in your life is to build and nurture a healthy family.
Here are just a few statistically proven ways that being part of a healthy family benefits people (not only children).
- Mental health: alongside items like low birth weight, prematurity, and prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol, a healthy family structure is one of the top determinants of mental health. A healthy family environment is strongly linked to decreased depression, social anxiety, and even suicide rates.
- Behavioral problems: behavioral problems in children of all ages are almost always linked to unstable home life. Having a safe, comfortable place to return to after a day at school can be a difference in a child’s life.
- Physical health: strong families build physically strong people. Healthy family relationships produce healthy hormone levels in young people and parents and make everything easier regarding the body’s natural processes. The efficacy of exercise and muscle growth increases drastically, as does the body’s ability to burn excess fat.
- Lifespan: the healthier our families are, the longer we have to live. Statistics show that maintaining healthy family relationships can increase your lifespan by as much as fifty percent.
Those are some of the more practical ways healthy relationships within a family benefit people. Besides these, there are a plethora of more emotional reasons.
When it comes down to it, having a family is plain fun. It’s fulfilling. Gratifying.
It’s the most valuable investment you’ll ever make.
The most common family issues (and how to deal with them)
Knowing how to build a healthy family is important, but so is knowing what to look out for and what roadblocks you will likely face along the way.
Here are three of the most common issues that families tend to run into in the quest for perfection.
1. Poor Communication
Families tend to fall apart when people stop interacting altogether or turn to unhealthy means of conveying thoughts and feelings.
Practicing and teaching healthy communication skills will keep issues and disagreements out in the open and will help your family overcome things together.
The scary thing is, as a parent, it all revolves around you. Show your kids what it means to be a good communicator and they’ll follow suit.
Here are a few ways to do that:
- stay calm when you are upset (even if you’re in the right)
- be emotional, but not manipulative
- ask questions (even just to show that you understand)
- treat a dispute as a quest for truth rather than a battle between all sides
2. Unhealthy Habits
Unhealthy habits create unhealthy families.
Here are a few habits your family should stay far away from:
- Unhealthy food: An unhealthy diet does much more than add a few extra pounds. It throws off your body’s healthy balance of hormones and influences mental health in many unseen ways. Healthy food really does make happy families. Besides the obvious nutritional benefits, preparing and eating meals together can provide much-needed together time at the end of the day.
- Excessive screen time: Providing your children (and indeed yourself) with too many distractions takes away from time that could be used more intentionally. While views on the topic have a healthy degree of variance and depend on your preferred parenting style (phone vs no phone, TV vs no TV), too much is always a bad thing.
- Over-busy schedule: Filling your already full plate with more activities to keep your family busy or your kids out of the house will have negative long-term consequences. Your home shouldn’t feel like a military base whose sole goal is to provide its inhabitants with food and sleep, then send them on their way in the morning.
- Doing Nothing: In an attempt to avoid item number three (an over-busy schedule), some make the mistake of doing nothing at all. They put “family time” on a pedestal and give up everything else in order to get more of it. This leads to bored, strained children who can’t wait to leave the home.
- Late bedtimes: Late bedtimes make grumpy families. Grumpy families make bad decisions. Bad decisions make lots of arguments. In all seriousness, maintaining a healthy sleeping schedule is far more important than many would think when it comes to building healthy relationships. Good sleep decreases stress, saves time, and leads to healthy family relationships.
3. Lack of Intentionality
Families that lack intentionality ALWAYS crumble. It may take years, it may take decades, but it will ALWAYS happen. It’s a time bomb.
Approach your relationships with intentionality and they will be the most fulfilling aspect of your life. Sit back and relax, and they will dissolve before your eyes.
The four characteristics of healthy families
So now that you have your ‘why,’ let’s move on to the ‘what’ and the ‘how.’
What is the difference between healthy family relationships and unhealthy ones, and how do you go about building this well-functioning family?
Below are 4 of the main characteristics of healthy families.
The importance of honest and open communication within the family cannot be overstated. The healthiest families are those that talk the most.
Just like romantic relationships, family relationships are built on good communication.
Humans are social creatures who grow and build connections through interaction. Asking for others’ opinions and sharing our own helps us find practical solutions to problems, maintain trust in one another, and form strong bonds.
Positive communication also helps us feel encouraged, share insights, and set clear expectations for one another.
Without constant communication, families can’t function properly.
The word respect is thrown around lightly nowadays, and I fear much of its value is lost.
Respect is the second foundational element of healthy family relationships. Without respect between all family members, the family unit is weak.
When every family member feels respected, they feel like a valuable part of the group, and it makes them want to be a part. They think their words have weight and their own needs and decisions impact the group.
Something as simple as giving younger children space to speak and express their opinions cultivates respect and gives them the value that good relationships rely on.
Responsibility in a relationship is more important than many think. If every member of the family unit fulfills their responsibilities, the whole group benefits.
Giving your children responsibilities from an early age sets them up for their adult life and gives them a sense of purpose and value within the family.
When people feel like they are making a difference in a family, they get value from it, and they feel instrumental in its running. This makes them invest even more.
4. Healthy Marriage
Anyone who grew up in a household with a broken marriage knows just how important a healthy relationship between the parents is.
Healthy family relationships are built on healthy marriages.
If you and your partner aren’t able to work through your issues, it’s going to be impossible for your whole family to feel connected.
That said, maintaining your relationship with your partner can be difficult with hectic family life.
Here are a couple of the best ways to do just that.
- The 3×3 rule: the 3×3 rule in relationships is essentially a way of intentionally setting aside time for you and your partner to spend one on one together and completely alone. Each week, you set aside three hours to spend together away from the kids (this could be dinner dates, walks, etc.) and three hours to spend completely alone (solo walks, hobbies, sports). All this time must be leisure time, not work. Many new parents plunge headlong into raising a family and neglect their relationship. This rule helps you continue to grow your romantic relationship throughout the rollercoaster of parenthood.
- Not in front of the kids: to foster open communication and emotional vulnerability in a family, many well-intending parents sort through all of their difficulties and conflicts in front of their kids. While it is essential to exemplify healthy methods of conflict management in front of your kids, most relational struggles (especially mature or intense ones) are better kept behind closed doors. This helps the two of you express your feelings more openly and keeps your children free of unnecessary emotional burdens.
- Agree on one single parenting method: throughout my 10+ years as a men’s relationship coach, I have seen countless relationships crumble because of parenting disagreements. While the two of you will never see eye-to-eye on everything, choosing one parenting style and sticking to it is important for your children’s development. And yes, this does mean that both of you will have to flex.
5 things you can do to build healthy family relationships
1. Have a schedule
Without intentionality, you don’t get anything done in life.
Making a schedule for your family is a great way to be intentional in the nurturing of your relationships. Setting aside designated time throughout the week to spend as a family will always lead to a stronger family.
Maybe every week you have a family soccer game, a picnic at the local park, or even a Costco run (my favorite part of growing up on the west coast).
The business and mundanity of everyday life can make it feel like there is no extra time to spend as a family. You have to create time to spend together. Waiting for pockets of time to open up never works.
2. Lead by example
When it comes to things like respect and responsibility, the best thing you can do is lead by example.
Children are in their most malleable stages of life, so for better or for worse, they will follow what they see.
If you and your partner live out a tumultuous, conflict-filled relationship in front of your kids, that’s what marriage will be to them. If you support each other, show ample affection, and talk things through, your kids will do the same.
As in any area of life, you really must practice what you preach in order for your words to have any real value.
3. “It’s a family thing”
Make decision-making a family thing. This directly ties into the point on the responsibility I made above.
When you turn a decision into a family matter that includes every family member, you’re fostering a priceless connection.
Bringing your children into the decision-making process encourages teamwork, and intellectual development, and leads to healthier family relationships.
4. Don’t leave things unsaid
From a young age, we are taught the saying: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
This is possibly the worst piece of advice anyone could give.
Wisdom and respect is knowing when to say the “not so nice” things. A fundamental component of open and honest communication is knowing how and when to speak what’s on your mind.
Your whole family should feel comfortable sharing when they disagree with something within the family and proposing a better way.
Leaving things unsaid and disagreements unsettled leaves pent-up anger or resentment to simmer.
Enough of these small grudges and petty disputes can be the demise of even the strongest family.
5. Understand the importance of individual relationships
A car can’t run properly if the parts that make it don’t agree to work together. A family is only as healthy as the relationships that form it.
Understand that relationships between individuals are what ultimately lead to a functioning family unit.
Especially in large families, spending one-on-one time with each individual is key in getting the whole family to get along.
Strengthen individual relationships and watch the whole unit thrive.
In a world that seems to be advancing faster than any of us can comprehend, a few important things are being tossed aside and left to rot on the roadside. One of these is family.
Starting a family can be stressful and building and maintaining a healthy family is a difficult thing. It requires commitment from all parties, tons of communication, and endless intentionality.
If you’re looking to plant and nurture healthy family relationships and don’t know exactly where to start, we’re here to help!
Here at Knowledge for Men, we have dozens of experienced, highly-trained professionals waiting to help men just like you. We help you discover proven strategies for unlocking better connection, intimacy and romance in your relationship by helping your reclaim your masculine edge, power and purpose in life!