10 Habits of Emotionally Healthy Families
As a young woman, I knew instinctively that I had some ground to cover if I wanted to one day live out my dream of being a part of a harmonious, happy family. My family gave me a great schooling in what not to do, but that left me very lacking and unsure about exactly what to do to one day have an emotionally healthy family of my own. Most of us have heard the statistics that over 50% of American families end up in divorce, and sadly that trend is not decreasing. So, it stands to reason that I have not been alone in my quest to understand how a healthy family functions.
When a person comes from a foundation of dysfunction, it can be easy to become so fixated on the dysfunction that one forgets to lift their head up and believe that there may be something better. Those of us who come from a place of longing for the safety and security of an emotionally healthy family because we’ve never known it, may want to know that it is possible to take concrete steps today. After over 10 years in various aspects of ministry and as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, I want to share with you what I have observed about the habits of those couples who succeed in creating a lifelong, healthy, loving, and emotionally healthy family.
Join a Faith Community Together
Let’s face it. Family life is tough. Men and women have multiple roles and juggling acts to carry on their own. We live in an age where support systems for families are no longer present the way that they used to be. It is important to have a refuge for families so that they are not standing alone in times of need or trouble, which we eventually all face. Healthy faith communities specialize in providing resources for the growth and edification of every member of the family from birth to the elderly.
Marriage is the Top Priority
This can be hard, with so many distractions vying for our attention. It is easy to put the marriage relationship on the back burner because frankly, marriage is a marathon and not a sprint. Newlywed bliss fades into hum drum and daily annoyances that prevail over the romantic gestures of yesteryear. But the state of the marriage has a trickledown effect on every member. Families who succeed at having emotionally healthy families place their marriages first and maintain this by practicing mutual submission (submitting to one another in love), honoring one another as individuals, practicing constructive communication, continuing to date, making a mutual effort to remain intimate, continuing to enjoy one another, and securing solid resources to seek help in areas of trouble.
The crux of much of the family dysfunction I see in the counseling room is often a symptom of poor listening and empathy skills. Arguments between family members can be diffused by choosing to listen and process instead of react. This can be especially true for families with teenagers, because teenagers often have opinions and views that can seem counter to the convenience and productivity of the family. Healthy families are able to give room and even celebrate each member’s individual and unique perspective, without feeling threatened, without shutting down the individuals feelings, and without those feelings becoming a trigger for a deeper disconnect.
Healthy families know that they need a roadmap, and that having a healthy family does not happen by accident or on autopilot. In fact, they have the wisdom to foresee that a family running on autopilot is sure to run into something that will cause great damage. To avoid harm to their family unit, they proactively and intentionally protect themselves by seeking out resources and support systems that are edifying to the family, and avoiding things that are not.
Healthy families practice healthy boundaries by saying no without apology. They have discussed ahead of time what is good and right for their family, and if something comes along that does not fall within the parameters of what works for them, they say no. Staying with this concept, healthy families also defer to one another in areas of question so that eventually (though it may take some discussion) husband and wife agree. Children do not always need to agree, so they get told and have to deal with ‘No’.
This can be hard to accomplish with our ever busying schedules, but it is especially important in families who have children. There are so many opportunities for bonding, encouragement, teaching, and training that present themselves during mealtime. Healthy families consider this time sacred and make the most of it. They use mealtime as an opportunity to teach children to participate and share by helping to prepare the meal. They assign chores such as setting the table, cleaning it off, and washing dishes. This can also be a designated time of prayer for the family before the meal, and during the meal mom and dad have a chance to encourage their children to talk.
Turn the TV Off
What goes in, must come out, and so healthy families are selective not only about what comes across their TV screen, but also are aware of how much screen time there is and they limit it. Research has shown that grades drop and behavior changes for the worse in children after just 45 minutes of TV per day. TV interferes with other priority activities like socializing, getting sleep, or getting outside for some fresh air. Parents of healthy families with children are aware that TV is infused with messages that can be counter productive when they are working to teach their children solid values. Couples who have no children are aware that what they watch has impact on how they treat one another and how they approach life.
Do not Label, Name Call, or Blame
Healthy families understand that they are one another’s biggest fans, and that their biggest mission is to be one another’s cheerleaders. They look for opportunities to encourage and lift up another member. They seek to bless each other and provide a solid foundation so that each member goes out into the world with their self-esteem intact and a soft place to land when they come home.
Trade more ‘stuff’ for more time together
The one thing every healthy family I observed had was a greater desire to spend time with one another than for material things. They worked in jobs that paid less but gave them more time. They chose to live beneath their means and to keep their finances in order, drive 10 year old cars and vans and live in smaller homes. In this way, they not only escaped the stress of keeping up with the Joneses, they also benefitted from being a living example to their children of what it means to place priority on character and relationship over ‘things’.
Laugh. And Pray.
It takes a sense of humor to be in any relationship over the long haul. It also takes a commitment to endure trials that weren’t evident in the beginning of the relationship, because no one can know what the future holds. Jesus said, ‘In this world, you will have trouble’. Every marriage and every family will endure some type of trial. Whether they make it out on the other side better for it is often up to each individual member’s ability to remain insightful, flexible, have a sense of humor, gather resources, and give support. That said, often the healthy families I meet have made it a priority to connect to the one who gives us the supernatural ability to keep our promises to love, honor, and cherish, until death do us part.
No family is perfect. Every family has trials. But if you find yourself struggling to create a happy, emotionally healthy home, don’t wait before permanent damage is done to seek help. Counseling is a confidential and safe venue for exploring and working through the challenges that families face on the road to greater emotional health. You can begin to turn things around, beginning today. Orlando Family Counseling is here to help you work towards a healthy family!