Just once in a while let us exalt the importance of ideas and information.
-Edward R Murrow
Did you know that planets and their galaxies are formed out of space dust? Maybe this is old news to you…I’m pretty sure scientists figured this one out a few decades ago. I’m a little slow…OK I’m really slow on all things outer space. But I was watching “How the Universe Works” on the History Chanel over the holiday break and learned all kinds of cool stuff.
After one of the episodes I started wondering: How do scientists figure this stuff out? How do they know where to look in the vast expanse of space, and how do they know how to understand the bright and not so bright bursts of light here and there, or the seemingly random movements of countless celestial bodies, or the mysterious dark spots that galaxies appear to orbit? It helps, of course, to be terribly brilliant and have a Ph.D. in Physics, but still… How do they do it? How do scientists make sense out of such vastness?
It occurred to me that most people have the same questions when it comes to the vastness and complexities of relationships. How do we figure them out? How do we identify the anomalies? Quasars? Black holes? How do we know where to look in the relationship when things don’t feel so great…or when they feel like chaos, or like they just don’t make any sense? It seems that if we are to have any understanding of how the relational universe works, we’ve got to have something to guide the exploration, something that scientists have: Theory.
The scientific quest for knowledge is one part creativity, one part observation of actual events, and one part having a solid foundation in theory. The quest for an improved relationship requires the same: Creativity, Observation, and Theory. All three are important, but most of us haven’t thought in terms of theory.
For a scientist, it’s critical to have a theory or theories that are comprehensive… something like the Theory of Relativity or Quantum Mechanics or the Big Bang, each being a theory that explains, not just one anomaly, but many. It is the same when it comes to relationships. But is there a psychological theory that exists that is comprehensive enough to shed sufficient light on the enormous complexity and variability of relationships? One that can guide your regular old married couple who’s just trying to figure out how to get along better?
I believe there is. Bowen Theory was developed over the course of several decades (1950’s through the 1980’s) by physician and psychiatrist, Murray Bowen. It changed the course of the field of psychiatry and counseling. It is a comprehensive theory and approach, offering logical concepts that go a long way toward explaining many different relational phenomena and patterns—and not just for human relationships. Bowen theory has been applied in many fields of science and across species. Foundational to Bowen Theory is the idea that if you understand better, you can be better.
Bowen Theory consists of eight simple concepts:
- Nuclear Family Process
- Family Projection Process
- Multigenerational Transmission Process
- Emotional Cutoff
- Sibling Position
- Societal Emotional Process
If you’d like to learn about it there are tremendous resources out there. If you’re just getting started in Bowen Theory, check out www.thebowencenter.org and click on “theory.” If you’ve already begun looking into Bowen Theory and you can take some relatively dense reading (only for the truly curious) check out “Bringing Systems Theory to Life” eds. Ona Cohn Bregman and Charles M. White. Their collection of essays describes how Bowen Theory has been applied to education, biology, primatology, international relations, business leadership, literary criticism, and even myrmecology (the study of ants!).
Whatever you do to improve your relationships, it’ll help you tremendously to have a comprehensive theory guiding you along the way. No scientist would be without one, and no husband or wife or parent should be without one either!