Blog by Miriam

Your Parents: Can They Help Your Marriage Improve?

 What Does Your Family History Have to do With it?

According to Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST), the most important and impactful relationship in your life is that which you have with your parents. Bowen demonstrated that when one can begin to understand one’s family history, and can begin to change their relationship with their parents, all of the other relationships in their lives will change-including the marital relationship. Unfortunately, through the decades since Bowen’s work, his ideas have been popularized, bastardized, and turned into a kind of blaming of parents for our own shortcomings and pain. From a BFST perspective, emotional maturity can be better achieved by exploring one’s family history in order to see parents more broadly and fully…less as “Mom” and “Dad” and more as people. When we are more emotionally mature, we can then approach our own marriages and children, etc. better.

Excerpts from the recording:

Miriam: “When the family can’t talk about these things and integrate past events, the ways that that passes the anxiety down INVISIBLY…across the generations…is profound! And if you are living with anxiety and you don’t know why or what’s going on and you can begin to pull out [your family history], it’s…wow!”

Kelly regarding one’s family history and its impact on our day to day functioning: “We don’t know what we don’t know!”

Kelly regarding people who may not think their parents have anything to do with it: “The biology is compelling.” “We don’t react to people who ‘don’t matter.'” “Getting straight with Mom and Dad…all other relationships fall from this piece.”

Books mentioned in this episode:

“You Can Go Home Again” by Monica McGoldrick

“The Family Diagram & Family Research” by Victoria Harrison


Webinar Series: Parenting and Bowen Theory

After a summer hiatus, Kelly and I are back to this series on marriage and family life from a Bowen Family Systems Perspective. The episode below is about parenting. We explore the idea of an emotional triangle in parenting–and the idea that what we do with our children is part of a much larger dynamic in our families. Whether we live in adoptive or step or biological families, whether parents are married or divorced, or whether we are grandparents raising our grandchildren, the emotional process of a triangle applies.

Bowen was able to observe a kind of anxious focus on children by parents, experts, and society alike, and he believed this anxious focus was perhaps the most significant contributor to how certain family patterns repeat themselves generation to generation. He was able to observe that less is more in parenting in direct opposition to today’s hyper focus on children. He saw this anxious focus as a way to dissipate the conflict or tension in a marriage to another relationship–to the parent/child relationship. Avoiding topics and avoiding taking a stand with spouse can bubble over into interactions with a child. As Kelly states in the video below, “If you are looking for real, solid, lasting change, then the parents are the ones who are going to have to get a hold of themselves.” So often, in our anxiety, we focus on the children, and we just can’t get around to dealing with our selves in our marriages. Our urges to fight, to run, or to freeze up can be so very powerful.

Have a listen below and let us know what you think in the comments.

You can find the Bowen site that we mentioned here.

The Chicago site is here.

Thanks so much and we hope this is helpful to you and your family.

Webinar Series: Infidelity Counseling

Join Kelly Matthews, LCSW and Miriam Bellamy, LMFT as we explore infidelity and infidelity counseling from the perspective of Bowen Family Systems Theory. Conventional approaches to infidelity counseling can encourage a process that can make things worse…the kind of emotional process that made the marriage vulnerable to an affair in the first place. We explore an alternate route.

Many couples, after the affair, experience a kind of honeymoon phase with high highs and low lows, with a lot of clinging to each other and then swinging to a lot of intense conflict. Once this begins to settle down a bit, couples are able to settle in and do some life changing work in infidelity counseling. But it takes more than date nights, “I” statements, trust checklists, and getting vulnerable.

Kelly states, “The work has to be more than just date nights and so forth.” She says couples will say to themselves, “We’re doing all the things the books are telling us to do…that conventional therapy is telling us to do, and it’s not enough. It’s not moving this ball enough.” Kelly says, “I think this is where the wisdom of Bowen Theory can come in.”

“If there is anybody,” Miriam says, “who understands that there has to be something more [than just date nights and trust checklists] it’s the couples going through infidelity. Because it just puts a couple right up against a wall…People have to be able to dig in and think about this differently if they’re going to make it through.”

In Bowen Family Systems Theory, development of one’s self is key. We call it Differentiation of Self. It means being yourself while in close proximity to family members (including spouse) where, for whatever reasons, it’s hardest for you to be yourself. Here is a cringy and then funny video a client sent me of a couple not being themselves with each other: 

Join Kelly and Miriam as we discuss the challenges of developing a self in marriage and family life, asking what vs. why, and what actually goes into the personal accountability of the cheating spouse.