Lesson 5 of 7 - evolve a high-nurturance family

Three Levels of Family
Relationship "Problems"

Which do you focus on?

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/fam/problems.htm

Updated 03-21-2015

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      This brief YouTube video provides perspective on what you'll read in this article: The video mentions eight self-improvement lessons in this Web site. I've reduced that to seven.

      This is one of a series of Web articles on evolving and enjoying high-nurturance families (Lesson 5). The series exists because the wide range of current social problems suggests that most families don't fill the primary needs of (nurture) their members very well. 

      All families (like yours) have "problems" - i.e. conflicting and unmet needs. This article summarizes three levels of common problems in typical intact biofamilies. See this similar article if you're in a divorcing family or a stepfamily - or you may be.

      Most people focus on reducing their surface problems, so their underlying primary needs go unfilled and surface symptoms often recur. Once aware of this, family members can work together to identify and resolve their primary problems, improve their relationships and health, and raise their family's nurturance level.

      First, see how you feel about these...


all personal and social "problems" and "issues" are unfilled needs (psychological + spiritual + physical discomforts); ( I Agree /  I Disagree  / ? (It depends on...)

all families and relationships exist to nurture (fill personal needs). Some nurture better than others.   (A  D  ?)

most people (like you?) aren't trained distinguish between their surface needs and the unfilled primary needs that cause them - i.e. they don't know what they don't know.  (A  D  ?); and...

typical family members have three layers of concurrent problems (unfilled needs): surface, intermediate, and primary: (A  D  ?) For example:

Level 1) Typical SURFACE Problems over...  

  • addictions and unhealthy compulsions

  • "moods," like depression

  • excessive fears, anger, or apathy

  • one or more psychosomatic illnesses

  • conflicts among family adults and kids

  • impasses and relationship cutoffs

  • family role (responsibility) conflicts

  • interpersonal rules, boundaries, and consequences

  • asset and debt ownership and management, including saving vs. spending, insurance, and estate plans

  • personal, couple, and family privacy

  • excessive social isolation

  • personal health issues

  • home decorating and maintenance

  • buying and maintaining appliances

  • geographic relocations

  • relations with relatives and friends

  • work and career problems

  • leisure and socializing choices

  • parenting stressors

  • balancing work, play, and rest

  • family vacations, holidays, rituals, and celebrations

  • family conflicts over religion, politics, and healthcare

  • neighborhood and community activities

Level 2) Underlying INTERMEDIATE Problems 

  • adult ignorance (lack of knowledge) of...

effective communication basics and problem-solving skills; and of...

healthy-grieving basics and how to spot and finish incomplete mourning; and...

relationship and family basics; and...

the difference between surface needs and primary needs; and...

typical kids' needs, and effective-parenting skills; and...

  • unwise cohabiting, courtship (commitment), child conception, and job decisions; and...

  • adult inability to spot and resolve...

    values conflicts, including priority clashes;

    boundary clashes and violations;

    loyalty conflicts; and

    stressful relationship triangles;

    significant barriers to satisfying relationships; and...

  • lack of informed family, community, and media support, including uninformed churches, clinicians, and legal professionals

 Level 3) Unseen PRIMARY Problems

  • Individual adults' psychological wounds + unawareness of the above problems, promoted by...

  • public and media unawareness of the pervasive [wounds + unawareness] cycle and its toxic effects. This results in legally allowing...

    • unwise courtship and cohabiting choices,

    • unqualified child conceptions and adoptions,

    • ineffective (low-nurturance, toxic) parenting, and...

    • widespread child abandonment, neglect, and abuse, (trauma) and resultant psychological wounding.

      Do these three problem-levels seem realistic?

  Learn something about yourself with this anonymous 1-question poll.


      If your family members have significant "problems" (level 1 above) they are probably unaware of what's really causing them (level 3). If so, efforts to solve the surface problems and/or to hire unaware others to help you solve them (like counselors) probably won't fill your primary needs for long.

      If your adults don't commit to learning the level-2 topics above and how to ''dig down'' below surface problems to discern your primary needs, then...

  • the nurturance level of your relationships and family will be lower than they could be, and...

  • your wounded kids will leave home not knowing how to identify and resolve their primary problems.

  • This will spread the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle, and weaken your family tree and your society.

If you're used to being controlled by well-meaning, short-sighted false sefves you risk achieving far less than your true potential as a worthy, talented person and  dying prematurely.

      If you don't alert other people - specially parents and their older kids - to these three problem-levels, who will?


      To make this three-level concept more real...

  • read these examples of couples "digging' down" to discover their primary needs.

  • think of a significant relationship problem in your present family, or with a friend or co-worker. Include problems with kids.

  • apply the dig-down technique to this problem with the levels above in mind, and see what you discover.

  • option - discuss this level-concept with all people affected by the problem, and invite them to do and discuss these steps.

      For more perspective on how to use this concept, read about analyzing and solving relationship problems, and on improving communication effectiveness with adults and kids.


      This article illustrates three levels of typical family relationship problems: surface, intermediate, and primary. Few people are aware of these levels, so they focus on trying to solve surface issues rather than what causes them.

      This unawareness is part of the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle that stresses most people and families. Recognizing these levels is part of learning communication process-awareness skill in Lesson 2.

      Pause, b-r-e-a-t-h-e, and reflect. What are your personality subselves saying now? Did you get what you needed from reading this? If so, what do you need to do now? If not - what do you need? Who's answering  - your wise true Self or ''someone else''?

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