Improving Family Communication
and Family Relationships
During the life span of most marriages and families there will be times when family members are not communicating effectively with each other. Consider for example a husband and wife who slowly grow distant from each other after years of marriage and begin to simply exclude each other from their day-to-day activities. Sometimes parents have a hard time getting through to their children, especially when those children reach adolescence. For example, an adolescent child might start wearing “strange” clothes, listening to punk rock music, and associating more with friends and less with family. Parents of such children often try many different tactics to maintain contact with and control of their child, often to no avail. Earlier in this book we examine research findings that show that some of the ingredients for eventual marital distress are already evident in the communication behaviors of premarital couples. Some couples progress with wedding plans despite the incidence of domestic violence in their relationship. Is there any hope or help for such families and couples?
In this chapter, we try to answer a number of key questions about the possibility of improving family communication. Because there is no such thing as a “perfect” family, it is assumed that virtually everyone can benefit from efforts to improve family communication. But can families actually improve their communication and relationships? If so, how is this achieved? Are efforts to improve family communication only for distressed families who seek therapy? Is there anything that can be done to help couples who are planning to marry so that their communication patterns do not lead them down the road to divorce? Can communication training help parents do a better job of raising their children? These are just some of the issues that we explore as we review examples of the more organized and documented techniques and programs to improve family communication.
In this chapter we examine programs for improving family relationships and interactions. These efforts cover an interesting range of activities such as premarital counseling, parent training, and family therapy. A theme that is common to many of these efforts is improvement of family communication patterns. It seems as if family communication is viewed, at least implicitly, as either the cause of some family problems or the route to a cure. For example, interviews with 50 couples' counselors revealed that many clients seek their services for what are essentially communication problems (Vangelisti, 1994b). These therapists and counselors indicated that the most common communication problems presented by couples seeking help are not taking the partner's perspective when