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The Foundation of Healthy Family Relationships: Consistent Time and Communication


08Jun 2008

Much of life is not magic or spectacular. As one of my friends says, “Life is daily.”

And when we look at the goals so many of us have —

  • to be healthy physically— in shape and not overweight;
  • to be moving toward financial independence;
  • to have healthy family relationships — in our marriage, with our children, and among our extended family;

many of these goals are largely the result of daily actions and taking time each week to devote to these goals.

Exercising a few times a week, eating healthy and in moderation, and getting enough sleep — moves us toward physical health.

Working hard, spending less than you earn, using what you have versus buying something new, saving regularly, investing wisely, and learning to be content in your circumstances — leads toward financial independence.

Similarly, there are some foundational habits that lead toward healthy relationships in families. And in my work every week I see both: a) families (or family members) who say they want healthy relationships but consistently do not make the choices necessary to bring about the health they desire; and b) families who have strong, warm relationships with one another as a result of habits and structures they have built into their lives over the years (and continue to do so.)

This is true for young couples, young families with children, middle-aged parents with teens or young adults, senior parents with adult children and grandchildren, wealthy families and those lesser financial means.

Let’s look at some of those patterns.

1. Spending regular time to be in touch with each other’s daily lives. This will look differently depending on the life stage of the family. It may mean talking or emailing a couple times a week (for families with children out of the home), eating dinner together regularly, taking walks together in the evening and catching up on the day’s events.

2. Having regular leisure time together. Again, the format will differ. This might mean going on a camping trip once a year. Doing leisure activities together occasionally — playing golf, fishing, going shopping, going to a concert, playing cards or a board game, or eating out together — hopefully an activity that allows for interaction during the event.

3. Taking time to have significant conversations about meaningful topics. It is difficult to have “deep” conversations spontaneously — the circumstances rarely work out right (the other person is distracted, there are kids around, someone interrupts the time, etc.) I find that people who want to have significant conversations with others plan for them. They think through what they want to talk about; they let the other person (or persons) know they would like to set aside some time to talk; and they schedule a time and an appropriate place.

It is important to note that this is true in a variety of relationships: couples; parents / kids & teens; senior adults and their adult children; and extended families (matriarch/patriarch to the rest of the family).

4. Being available to listen when others want to talk. (By the way, this is my biggest personal deficit area.) One of the key components to healthy relationships, seemingly especially with school-age children and teens, is being available when the other person has a need to share what is on their heart. This is one of the benefits of moms being home after school when kids get home, the “travel time” to / from school and activities, running errands together, cooking meals together, or working on projects together.

Unfortunately, most of us who are in the parent role tend to focus more on what we want to communicate to our kids, and often do not ask enough questions and just listen (guilty as charged).

5. Working through tensions, miscommunication, and conflict. Healthy families realize that no one is perfect, that miscommunications happen, it best to work to resolve a conflict rather than avoid it, and forgiving others when you have been wronged works a lot better than holding a grudge. So much hurt, pain, and damaged relationships could be avoided if families would realize that problems occur in family relationships and it is best to take proactive steps to deal with them.

If I could make one request from many of the families that I meet (often in passing)— do yourself and your family a favor: build some foundational habits and structures in your family’s life that will foster healthy, close relationships that you will enjoy for years. I will close with a number of specific action steps you could take (depending on your life stage):

  • Sit down at the dinner table at least 3 times a week and eat dinner together, including some conversation about your day.
  • Hang out with your kids, either in their room or in your bedroom, at the end of the day and chat about the day.
  • Take a walk with your spouse after dinner and hear about their day.
  • Call or email your college-age or young adult and ask them what they are looking forward to in the coming weeks.
  • Schedule a family gathering for the extended family to get together, share a meal and hang out (keep it simple; it is more likely to happen, and don’t make it mandatory that everyone is able to attend before you schedule it.)
  • Have an annual family meeting to communicate how the business has done this past year, what new projects came about, challenges encountered, and the plans for this coming year (keep it global and topical, don’t share specific financial information.)
  • Offer to help your adult child on a project they need help on. Let them run the project; don’t offer unasked for advice, and just be their helper.
  • Think of your own application of these principles, and write it down here: __________________________________________.

Have fun!

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