Family Communication

By Chris Segrin; Jeanne Flora | Go to book overview

CHAPTER NINE
Models of Family Stress and Coping

Stress is an inevitable part of family life. Although there are few certainties in the modern family, it is safe to assume that all families will experience stress and that coping with stressors will be an ongoing activity in all families. Why is stress such a ubiquitous part of family life? In some cases, families generate stressors of their own through problematic interactions among themselves (Pearlin & Skaff, 1998). Most parents who have raised an adolescent child and most people who can remember their family interactions during adolescence have experienced such stressors. In other cases family members encounter problems in their roles outside of the family boundary (e.g., student, employee, and friend) that can adversely impact relationships and activities within the family (Pearlin & SkafF). This happens, for example, when a parent gets laid offat work. For reasons such as these, it has been argued that “All stressors either begin or end up in the family” (Olson, 1997, p. 261).

In this chapter we attempt to answer a number of fundamental questions about the role and impact of stress on family relationships. For example, what are the different types of stressors that families must deal with? Do all stressful events have a negative impact on the family? Through examining various models of family stress we attempt to explain the process by which families respond to stress. Questions about the role of communication in addressing arid managing stressors are taken up as well. There are also a number of important questions about the family's response to stress. How do families cope with stressors? Exactly how does social support from the family help to deal with stressful experiences and situations? The answers to these questions reveal complex and intriguing associations between the family and the stressors they face.

When studying the effects of stress on the family, it is important to distinguish stress from stressors. Olson, Lavee, and McCubbin (1988) define family stressors as “discrete life events or transitions that have an impact upon the family unit and produce, or have the potential to produce, change in the family social system” (p. 19). On the other hand, family stress is the response of the family to the stressor; it involves the tensions that family members experience as a result of the stressor (McCubbin et al., 1980). When do stressors produce stress? According to family systems theorists (see chap. 2) families develop a requisite variety of rules of transformation (Burr & Klein, 1994). This means that families usually have enough rules for how to handle different situations that they are able to transform inputs (e.g., stressors) into outputs in such a way that their basic needs, functions, and goals can be sustained. The family experiences stress when they

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