Change is one of those love/hate necessities of life that, right now, I don’t like very much. It really messes with my environmental predictability engineering!
To explain, I switched health clubs a couple of weeks ago because the new one has a lap pool. From 7th grade through college I have been on swimming teams; so, naturally, I have been excited.
However, the change has meant more than a simple adjustment in wardrobe. Because they don’t rent lockers I now have to carry all of my gear to the gym every time. Forget one thing and you have to make a decision about whether to continue on without that one thing or go home.
We dislike change because it means we have to do things differently. Some of us find adapting easier to do while others will fight and resist to the bitter end.
The key is that, at some point along the way we usually adapt to the change and make it part of our daily routines. Then life becomes, once again, predictable. This is nice because it means I won’t be forgetting things as much and that my routines will help me mindlessly stumble through packing my bag and getting dressed at 4:30 in the morning.
Families go through natural, predictable changes and adaptations over time. Family life cycle examples include when a couple marries, has children, changes locations or jobs, deals with aging parents and struggles through their own aging and health issues. At each of those points of adaptation (among so many countless other adaptations we are called upon to make) every person in the family must go through the tension of new situations. This includes their attempts to deal with them, the attempts of other family members to deal with them, and their final acceptance of the changes that were required.
Some do well with the changes while others struggle with their own attempts to cope…which requires that the rest of the family figure out how to cope with the one who has had trouble coping. As a result, an open ended, system failure begins to heighten the tension and remove the balance for which everyone is striving.
In Family Therapy we call that the struggle for homeostasis. Like a thermostat that turns on the air conditioning when it’s too warm in the house or turns on the heat when it is too cold, so, also, interpersonal relationships go through the same struggle to maintain a ‘normal’ environment. When people start pressing through the boundaries things can really get uncomfortable, troublesome and terribly dysfunctional. In families, not only does the one who has started coloring outside of the lines create problems but the family’s attempts to control the family member can lead to problem behaviors as well.
This dynamic is all part of marriage and family systems theory. While there is value in trying to understand the genesis of a family member’s ‘bad’ behaviors, how they got started, how they maintain themselves, families usually are most interested in making them stop…or change…or adapt so everyone can get on with life. Marriage and Family Therapists specialize in helping families work through these transitions, overcoming the obstacles that often arise. The goal, of course, is helping everyone move to the new level of functioning so that predictability can emerge and people can be liberated to reach out for their potential once again.