Defining Family Communication and
It is often said that there are no individuals in this world, only fragments of families. This idea reflects the fact that interactions and experiences in the family shape the course of our entire lives and are forever carried with us. Shortly after most people physically depart from their family of origin, they initiate a new family of orientation. The family is therefore an unending cycle in which people are constantly involved at multiple levels.
The study of family communication has a long tradition. Some of the most influential works in the field were conducted around the time of World War II and are still influencing the way scholars think about families today. The past 15 years have witnessed more exciting new developments in the field of family communication that are fundamentally reshaping the way people think about functional and dysfunctional family interaction. New developments are providing badly needed information about current family problems. With recent attention and increased focus on problems such as divorce, child abuse, domestic violence, and mental health problems, scholars, therapists, members of the clergy, and students of communication have begun to realize that these problems are in fact communication problems. By better understanding the forms, functions, and processes of family communication, people hope to be able to comprehend how and why these problems exist, and perhaps begin to take steps toward preventing them in the future. In addition to concerns about family problems, people also hope to understand issues such as what makes for a happy marriage, what parenting techniques are associated with positive child outcomes, and how to maintain meaningful relationships with family members over the entire life span. These too are fundamentally communication issues.
Although personal experience is a valuable teacher, and there is often a kernel of truth in cultural folklore and media portrayals of family, we believe that answers to many pressing questions about family communication are evident, or emerging, from the scientific research conducted by family communication scholars. Indeed, as we illustrate throughout this book, the evidence from scientific studies regarding family interaction sometimes contradicts the messages people receive from the media or from their own cultural and family folklore. In this book, we carefully examine state-of-the-art research and theories, as well as classic research and theories that contribute to the understanding of complex family interactions.