Lesson 5 of 7 - evolve a high-nurturance family

Resolve Problems Among
Family Relatives

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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

Updated  03-23-2015

      Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Other links will open  an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost.  

      This YouTube video previews what you'll read in this article. It mentions eight self-improvement lessons in this Web site. I've simplified that to seven.

      This is one of a series of Lesson-5 articles on how to evolve a high-nurturance family. In this article, "relatives," "kin," and "kinfolk" mean all the parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins of each minor and grown child related by genes and parental commitment. This includes all people related to any pair of ex mates who have one or more living kids.

      This article includes special considerations and options for stepfamily kinfolk. Related articles focus on improving relations between stepparents and stepkids, stepsiblings, and ex mates

      From 36 years' clinical research, this article proposes:

  • typical surface problems among relatives in any family,

  • the primary problems that cause them, and...

  • options for avoiding and resolving these problems in all families

      The article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Web site, and the premises underlying it,

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 5
    (or 1 thru 7 if you're in a stepfamily)

  • requisites for satisfying relationships

  • why family relationships can be specially stressful, and...

  • options for analyzing and resolving most relationship problems 

      "Problem solving" starts by defining who needs what now?

Typical Problems

      Human problems are unfilled needs. They range from surface (superficial) needs to underlying primary needs. "Relationship problems" are universal, but your expectations and priorities of genetic and marital relatives will be unique. Typical surface relationship problems include...





values conflicts
























      The primary problems that cause all these surface relationship stressors are also the same in any family:

  • ignorance and denial of inherited psychological wounds - specially of "false self" dominance; and...

  • personal and social unawareness; and...

  • ineffective thinking, communicating, and problem-solving; and...

  • unfinished grief over prior losses (broken bonds); and...

  • unrealistic expectations of self and others - e.g. role confusions; and...

  • lack of informed help to reduce these primary problems.

      If you're (a) a divorced parent, (b) you're now in a stepfamily, and/or c) you care for someone who's "in step," read the following. Otherwise, skip to here.

Stepfamily Relations...

      Relations among stepfamily kinfolk can be specially stressful because...

  • Typical stepfamilies are a mix of three or more multi-generational biological  families with different ethnic backgrounds, values, rituals, and customs.

  • Some genetic and legal relatives may not know - or may deny - that they are a stepfamily. They then mistakenly use biofamily norms to decide how to treat each other.

  • Structurally and dynamically, typical multi-generational stepfamilies differ from intact biofamilies in up to 60 ways. This means that expectations among step-relatives are often unrealistic because the adults are unaware of these differences and what they mean.

  • One difference is that stepfamilies may have up to 15 alien family roles, many of which have no accepted social norms (e.g. what is a "good step-uncle?").  This promotes confusion and conflicts about (a) what to call (title) each other, and (b) how to behave with each other.

  • Some kids and adults may disagree on who is included in their stepfamily ("I don't see her ex mate's sister-in-law as a relative of mine.")

  • Most stepfamilies follow one or more mates' divorces. Divorce often results from inheriting ancestral unawareness and psychological wounds. This raises the odds that ex mates and their kinfolk will have some of these relationship barriers, and won't know how to reduce them.

  • Some members of typical multi-generational stepfamilies may never meet each other. However, adults may feel obligated by tradition and courtesy to include them in family announcements and events like holidays, graduations, weddings, and births. Conversely, new stepfamily relatives may expect to be included, and feel resentful at being ignored or excluded.

      Finally, relations among stepfamily kinfolk can be specially stressful because..

  • Merging several biofamilies with significantly-different values, rituals, customs, and expectations causes complex values and loyalty conflicts and relationship triangles. Typical stepfamily adults and supporters don't know how to recognize and resolve these concurrent stressors.  

Different Problems

      What's different about stepfamily relationship problems is:

  • they occur more often, among more related people;

  • there are three or more co-parents and six or more co-grandparents, other relatives, and many young people in an average stepfamily;

  • there are more prior-divorce and co-parenting problems (e.g. child custody, discipline, visitations, support, and holidays) than in intact biofamilies;

  • merging several biofamilies into a new stepfamily causes new losses for adults and kids to grieve - perhaps before prior losses are fully accepted (mourned); and...

  • widespread ignorance about stepfamily norms and realities promotes (a) unrealistic expectations of yourself and each other, and (b) little knowledgeable help locally and in the media.

      Bottom Line: relationships among average stepfamily kinfolk are more complex, conflictual, and confusing than those in typical intact biofamilies. There are no social norms to guide people in resolving these stressors, so each stepfamily must evolve its own strategies for managing them. 

      Lesson 7 in this Web site offers a wealth of experience-based resources for stepfamily adults, supporters. and students. Lesson 7 builds on all 6 prior lessons.

      So what can you do if you have a significant "problem" with one or more relatives?


      These options apply to all families. There are additional options for stepfamily relatives at the end of this section.

      Assess whether you and/or your problem relative are being controlled by false selves (psychologically wounded). If you are, use online Lesson 1 to free your true Self to guide your personality. This will have many short and long-term benefits - specially if you're a parent or grandparent!

      If your relative is psychologically wounded, invite him or her to learn about ''Grown Wounded Children'' (GWCs) and wound-reduction. If s/he refuses, balks,  or procrastinates, use these wisdoms and see these options.

      Review these options for...

      If your "problem relative" is a child, study these options for communicating effectively with kids and this article on relating to a "problem child."

      Clarify your current life-priorities to check whether you're giving too much (or too little) importance to this relationship problem. If you are, suspect that well-meaning false selves are promoting that. See Lesson 1.

      Review this article on resolving values and loyalty conflicts and relationship triangles. If appropriate, ask your relative to read and discuss it with you.

      Review these Q&A items about losses and healthy grief. Then assess your "problem" relative for incomplete grief - specially after a death or divorce. If you feel s/he isn't done mourning, invite the person to study Lesson 3 and these options, and avoid trying to rescue her or him. 

      If you feel that addiction to a substance, activity, mood, or relationship is part of the problem, see this.

       For more perspective and options, see if any of these Lesson-4 (relationship) articles are relevant.

      If you're not interested in stepfamilies, skip to here,

Options with Difficult Stepfamily Relatives

      In addition to the options above, admit that you all are a normal multi-home stepfamily, vs. "we're just a regular (bio)family." If you don't, none of these options will work well for you.

      Check to see that your relative/s accept your stepfamily identity. If they minimize or deny that, see these options. Resistance to accepting your step-identity usually indicates psychological wounds and ignorance.

      Adopt a long-range view, and ask your "problem" relative/s and any supporters to test their stepfamily knowledge with this quiz. Then invite them to study at least Lesson 7 here. Lessons 1 thru 7 is better.

      Review these common stepfamily myths to see if your expectations of yourself and your relative are realistic. Using biofamily expectations will cause or amplify your stress. 

      If you seek advice on improving your relations with this "problem relative," review these articles on choosing effective stepfamily advice and materials.

+ + +

      Pause and notice what you're thinking and feeling. Did you realize how many options and resources you have to improve (or accept) your "problem"  relationship? All these options depend on your wanting to make major progress with online Lessons 1 (free your true Self) and 2 (effective communication) here. 


      Family relationships are specially important and impactful to typical kids and adults. This Lesson-5 article outlines common surface relationship problems among typical kinfolk, and the primary causes of such problems. Then it proposes specific options for people who have one or more "problem" relatives. The article includes  perspective on, and resolution-options for, conflicted stepfamily kinfolk

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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