I think we come across the word dysfunctional far more than we do the word functional when it comes to families. My own little nuclear family here has two major things working against us:
~ We have too little support.
~ Our stresses are serious, and ongoing.
Generally speaking, I would say that families can get through much turmoil, whether ongoing or temporary, if only they have adequate support, but what about when that's missing? Is there any hope for those families? What can make the difference? What characteristics separate the healthy families from the dysfunctional ones, even under less than ideal circumstances, such as chronic illnesses, mental disorders, and other issues?
My non-scientific observations and opinions, open to discussion, are as follows:
Five Characteristic of Functional Families
1. Healthy Families Are Not Afraid of Conflict
They don't push problems under the rug to keep the peace. They live in truth. Keeping feelings inside, hidden, is living a lie.
John 8:31-32 … So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
The truth sets us free spiritually, and in our interpersonal relationships too. Healthy families believe this and get it all out there in the open, and discuss it, if not always in even tones, at least not in brutal, disrespectful tones. Be angry, but don't sin in your anger. Healthy families may fight, but they fight fair. They keep the cussing and character assassinations out of it, and the divorce word out of it. If anything regretful does slip, it's apologized for promptly, within minutes.
It's easy to keep the fighting words out of it, if things aren't repressed. If someone has offended you, put it out there promptly, but not at 12 AM preferably. The more problems are held inside, the more violently they come out when the flood gates are finally opened.
Don't give resentment time to build, for I think most family therapists would agree that resentments are the beginning of the end. They become so entangled and ugly over the years, that no one save God can get the knots out, and many people don't feel that God moves fast enough. Because really, doesn't God only move as fast as our own pride moves aside?
We all know what a stumbling block human pride can be, and that leads us to number 2.
2. Healthy Families Are Full of Humble People
Psalms 18:27 For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.
Change in any family starts with, not the other people, but with yours truly. We have to be willing to look inward and recognize and pray for the removal of our own sins. The Holy Spirit is trying all the time to point them out, but He needs our cooperation--our humble, teachable heart. The family prayer circle should always include a plea for humble hearts.
3. Healthy Families Are Full of Grace
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you
It stands to reason that if each family member is in touch with his own personal sinfulness, he's going to be more willing to apply grace to another member's shortcomings. Not holding grudges is key. Each day should bring everyone a clean slate, for isn't that what our Heavenly Father does for us, giving us new mercies every morning? If you wake up and can't give your family members a clean slate, pray for a clean heart.
4. Healthy Families Are Thankful
If you think about all the reasons you're doomed as a family, then...well...you're doomed. Take time at least once a week, hopefully more, to count your blessings. Take life one day at a time. The Bible tells us that each day has enough trouble of its own. Don't borrow trouble from another day. Pray through today's trouble, and give thanks. Psalm 118:24 This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
5. Healthy Families Are Sacrificial
No one person in the healthy family is out for personal glory. Personal goals are weighed against the good of the whole family unit. If Dad's career, for example, is taking him away three quarters of the month, is it worth it? Can the family be without its spiritual leader this long and still be healthy? If mom's work or side activities are distracting her from the children and/or the home, are they serving the family well? Are Susie's Olympic gymnastic goals going to bring enough glory to God to make it worth the sacrifice to the whole family, financially and otherwise? What is Susie really after? And the family?
Any glory in a family belongs to God alone. As soon as ego interferes, an imbalance permeates and threatens the health of the family unit.
A Bonus # 6
This goes without saying, but healthy families worship God together. He binds them together. He covers their iniquities and ensures that they succeed, for his glory.
So gather round, open that Bible, hold hands, and pray together. You can't afford not to. Yes, it's messy with littles around, but do it anyway. Keep it short at first, and longer as they can handle it. Numbers 1 through 5 will fall into place if number 6 is strong.