What Is the Number One Trait of a Healthy Family?

What do you think is the most important trait of a healthy family?

How does your answer coincide with Dolores Curran’s survey?

In a recent post, I shared what Dolores Curran reported in her 1980s book, Traits of a Healthy Family, were the key reasons for families to even exist prior to the 1950s.

These reasons focused on the family as a way to provide protection from the outside world and to achieve some kind of status among other families. The actual goings-on within the family were not even considered.

I suspect survival itself was challenging enough for families (probably since the beginning of time). People did not have time to stop and think about their emotional life and well-being let alone what they needed and should have been giving relationally to others. I think our grandparents—or at least our great-grandparents—would find our emphasis today on relationships and emotional health confusing.

But Curran’s survey says…

…In her research, after surveying over 500 professionals who worked with families, asking them to share what they thought were the healthiest traits, the resounding number one trait of a healthy family was communication.

What and how family members communicate with each other on a day-to-day basis and how much communication nurtures and supports the individual members of the family was viewed as the gauge of healthier versus less healthy families.

For many of us this is not a big surprise.

Most of us know how important it is to feel emotionally connected to others and to reciprocate. Human beings starve for connections with each other. We need to feel loved, and we need to offer love to others and have that love be cherished.

For today’s families, there are not significant concerns for issues around survival. Most families are confident they have sufficient shelter, food, clothing; most other basic physical needs are easily met. Therefore, attention and energy can turn to the need to feel emotionally safe, connected and valued.

In each of these—emotional safety, a sense of connection and a sense of being valued-occur as a result of experiencing messages that support each person.

  • You are a valued member of this family. We love you and need you.”
  • “You can trust that we will all be here for you. We will keep you safe and nurture your growing sense of self.”
  • “We want to hear what you are thinking and feeling. Each of these matters to us.”
  • “We genuinely love and appreciate each other. We take time to be together. Laughing together, talking together, planning together, sharing each other’s successes, challenges and failures. The knowledge that we are a special family because we are so connected unites us, gives us purpose and nurtures our souls.”

Curran reported that up until the 1950s, communication was not even mentioned in books about families and marriage.

It was not considered important and certainly not something to be taught, acknowledged or emphasized.

Strengthening a family back then meant a counselor or therapist would promote ways to maintain outward appearances, clear and traditional roles and responsibilities for each member so the family could externally demonstrate compliance with expectations and adherence to appropriate and acceptable standards.

Fast forward to the current generation.

Then consider what healthy communication looks like in today’s family.

Curran raised some concerns about the impact television viewing might have on healthy communication. Today, many experts are extremely worried about the impact of all the screen-time being viewed, time in which people are somehow engaged with a mechanical device and not engaged with other humans.

Assuming communication is still the hallmark of a healthy family, what are the responsibilities of today’s parents to promote healthy communication?

Do we experience genuine and loving connection between family members that involves fully focusing on each person, tuning into them, sharing on an authentic and transparent level and building a sense of belonging to one another?

To what extent are we in danger of creating a whole new, unhealthy trait of a family in which it is a place where people can be physically in proximity to each other but relationally disconnected because the connection is now with a mechanical device.

Communication needs to occur between people, not between people and things.

Children need to experience genuine, meaningful communication with their parents and other family members to grow in emotionally healthy ways. In a world where the importance of human interaction seems to be diminishing, how much are our children feeling isolated and alone, unimportant and unnecessary?

There is research that indicates  emotional neglect can be even more insidious than physical abuse. How many of today’s societal ills— drug and alcohol abuse, violence, suicidality, obesity and bullying- relate to the lack of healthy, loving connections through healthy communication in families?

Perhaps human connection through human communication is the key antidote for much of the emotional pain in today’s world.

Healthy communication is essential, and I think still is the number one trait of a healthy family. Healthy communication is not just about words, it is about all the ways we interrelate. It is something worth working on, something our children need and deserve. It is something that can be learned, nurtured and enhanced.

Your children deserve it and so do you!

Invitation for Reflection

  1. How would you describe communication in your family when you were growing up? Was there a sense of openness, acceptance and respect for one another’s thoughts and feelings? Were people encouraged to share with each other?
  2. How do you think your family’s style of communicating impacted you and your family today?
  3. To what extent do you think the communication in your family nurtures and invites connection?
  4. What are some things you can actively and intentionally do to improve communication in your family? What do you need to do to learn more about healthy communication?

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network

Photo source: http://www.comstock.com/00004174-2.jpg, and  http://www.comstock.com/00004123-1.jpg