Normative and Nonnormative Family Stressors
All families experience stress from time to time. Stressors may cause the family to increase their interactions with each other in order to cope with the event and to reorganize their relationships. In some cases, Stressors pull family members away from each other physically and psychologically, thus decreasing their interactions. In either case, family Stressors are a powerful force in shaping family communication and relationships. As discussed in chapter 9, family Stressors can be roughly organized into those that are normative, or predictable, versus those that are nonnormative, or unpredictable. Earlier we noted that this distinction is somewhat imperfect as certain “nonnormative” family Stressors such as divorce are fairly common and predictable, whereas other “normative” family Stressors such as raising and launching children do not happen in every family. Nevertheless, this distinction is prominent in the family science literature and provides a useful framework for organizing and understanding the unique aspects of different family Stressors.
In this chapter we review several normative and nonnormative family Stressors. In so doing, we will attempt to answer questions such as “What are the major Stressors that families experience?”, “What are some of the factors that lead up to or follow these Stressors?”, and “What is the role of communication in the experience of different family Stressors?” This analysis will show that family Stressors each have their own unique qualities and challenges. At the same time, some phenomena are common to most family Stressors. For example, most family Stressors cause a shift in roles and interactions within the family. Additionally, the family's functioning before the stressor is usually the best predictor of their functioning during and after the stressor. Stressors amplify problems that are already present in troubled families. Families that function well during times of relative harmony usually weather Stressors better than families that have a great deal of conflict and contention. We start this chapter with an analysis of normative family Stressors that are associated with the family life cycle. This is followed by an examination of several nonnormative, but still fairly common, family Stressors.
Normative, or predictable, family Stressors can be thought of as stages in the life cycle of the family. All families progress through various stages of development, and the transitions through these various stages are often times of great stress for family members (Carter &