Assignment Instructions

Assignment Instructions

Complete and upload to the appropriate assignment area by Sunday at 11:59 PM EST (Almost Midnight) of WEEK 2.
Write briefly in response to the following, using your text and one other reference (preferably from the APUS online library) and citing both in APA format. Your paper should be 1200 – 1500 words long, with no more than 50 words as direct quotes from a source.

Assignment 2:  Write two brief stories, or case studies, about couple making the transition to marriage, or a marriage-like arrangement.

In story #1, describe a couple who has struggled with, but successfully negotiated how they will handle their finances.

In story #2, describe couple who has failed to negotiate a way to manage household tasks.


Possible   grade

Student   grade


The   paper addresses the issues specified by the assignment



The   author shows insight and sophistication in thinking and writing



Two   academic citations were used



Paper   was well organized and easy to follow. Paper was the required length. Cover   page, paper body, citations and Reference list were in the American   Psychological Association format.



Few to   no spelling, grammar, punctuation or other writing structure errors







The Tasks of Early Adulthood



  • Transitioning from Adolescence to Adulthood
  • Defining Adulthood
  • Individualization
  • Challenges for Young Adults
  • Forming Relationships
  • Stage Theories
  • Relationship Development and Social Exchange Theory
  • Building A Relationship
  • Family of Origin and Mate Selection
  • Forms of Attachment
  • Developing the Marital System
  • Creating a Marital Household
  • Managing Conflict


All family systems move through stages as they experience the family life cycle. While the stages may be different for each type of family system (nuclear family, blended family, single parent family etc.), they go through stages nonetheless. The family experiences critical transitions and changes as family members develop and age and new strategies are needed to manage the tasks in the family. How the family handles these transitions and changes has a tremendous effect on family functioning. Over the course of the next few lessons, you will learn about how each of the developmental stages can impact a family. The first developmental stage that will be examined is the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

In this lesson, you’ll learn about the common steps involved in moving on from the family of origin, and the gradual progression from that stage to preparing to create a system and family of your own. This begins with a transition from adolescence to adulthood. This is a process of individuation that begins in early childhood and continues throughout life but is most important during this stage.

Young adults often begin searching for a partner or mate in early adulthood, with the goal of finding a lifetime companion. This lesson covers how people identify potential partners, what they look for when selecting a partner, and the factors that go into choosing a partner. In addition, you’ll learn about how relationships move from initial attraction to a committed relationship.

Finally, this lesson will discuss the steps taken by newly married couples, or any couple committed to a long-term, cohabiting relationship. These include forming a marital identity, defining boundaries, and negotiating household responsibilities. Couples must also learn how to effectively manage stress and conflict in their relationship. Topics covered include:

  • Transitioning from      adolescence to adulthood
  • Individuation for      young adults
  • Challenges common to      young adults
  • Selecting a mate
  • Building a      relationship
  • Developing a marital      system
  • Tasks of the newly      married couple

Transitioning From Adolescence to Adulthood

Young adulthood is a transitional period, and often a stressful or difficult one for both individuals and the family. During this stage of life, young adults typically transition out of the family home, develop a unique identity separate from the family, prepare for adult relationships, and navigate new relationships with parents and other family members.

Both the individual’s personal development and the dynamics and strategies used in the family impact the transition from adolescence to adulthood. This transition may occur differently depending on the individual, family or culture. Expectations, beliefs, and ideas surrounding transitioning from adolescence to adulthood may vary from family-to-family.

The family of origin is one factor in this transition. Other factors that can impact the transition from adolescence to adulthood include cultural norms, gender-role expectations, individual temperament, and community support (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2010, p. 93).

The transitional period between these two stages has increased significantly over time. The years between 18 and 29 are sometimes called emerging adulthood (Munsey, 2006). As the average age of marriage increases, many people spend more time in college, and more young people continue to live at home, the transitions to adulthood pose special challenges.

Common traits associated with these ages include:






Defining Adulthood

The transition from adolescence to adulthood is often defined in terms of dependence and independence. Dependence is associated with adolescence and greater independence with adulthood.

Here are two different situations, both involving a 22-year-old. In the first case, the young man is a college senior. He lives in the dorm during the school year and at home the rest of the time. His parents pay his tuition and most of his living expenses. In the second case, the 22-year-old opted for a two-year vocational training program after high school. He lives in his own apartment, pays all his own expenses, and has a serious relationship. He’s thinking of proposing marriage soon.

In the first case, the college student is clearly still quite dependent on his parents. He is very much still an adolescent. In the second case, the young adult is now financially and emotionally independent. He’s preparing to move onto a new phase of adult life.

This is a simplified example. In fact, adults typically exhibit independence, dependence, and interdependence in their relationships. However, for many young adults, independence is first defined as financial independence. Financial independence is often essential for developing other adult patterns of behavior, including forming healthy adult relationships and partnerships.

There are three different forms of autonomy. These can exist independently of one another, but all three are necessary for the transition to adulthood. Maintaining healthy, adult relationships with a significant other requires that one complete these steps to autonomy and independence.





Developing independence and moving from the role of a child or adolescent to that of an adult within the family and society requires individuation. Individuation is a developmental process in which the individual begins to view him or herself as a unique, separate and distinct part of larger systems, including the family and society (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2010, p. 93). This is an essential part of the transition to adulthood. However, it is also one that continues throughout life (Amsel, 2009). For most people, the individuation process begins during the teen years.


· Individuation requires that the teen begins to take over tasks previously managed by the parental subsystem, including approval, self-esteem, self-definition and standards of conduct (Lapsley & Stey, 2010). Difficulties with the process of individuation may lead to challenging behaviors during adolescence. Some of these are normal and temporary, while others may be higher-order disturbances, including the development of borderline personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder.

Challenges for Young Adults

Adolescence is a common time for difficulties. Young people may struggle with individuation and are typically experiencing additional stresses associated with identity, financial well-being, and life goals. While most teens and young adults complete this transition relatively successfully, there are some challenges that are most common during these years. These can continue into adulthood.




Substance use and substance dependence, or addiction, can be a problem during adolescence. Problems with substance use, including alcohol, marijuana and other drugs, are more likely for teens in disorganized neighborhoods with a high crime rate, teens who have poor school performance, and those experiencing bullying or negative peer pressure. Families experiencing significant conflict are more likely to have teens with substance abuse issues (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2010, p. 103).

In many cases, substance use or dependence is an ineffective solution to problems troubling the adolescent or young adult. He or she may be struggling in a high-conflict home and family, unhappy at school, or having difficulty due to the neighborhood. Drug and alcohol use provides a temporary remedy for those feelings and may provide the young person with the feeling of individuality and control over life.

Forming Relationships

Traditionally, one of the markers of adulthood was entering marriage. Today, that is less true than in the past. More adults choose not to marry and those who do marry, typically marry later. Nonetheless, for most people, finding a long-term romantic partner and developing an intimate relationship is a key task associated with young adulthood. While marhe task of finding and selecting a lifetime companion or partner is a challenging one. Different cultures have opted for varied means of matching up people. However, today in the U.S. and Western world, dating is the most common way to find a partner. As societies modernize, autonomous partner selection becomes increasingly important and arranged marriages less common (What-When-How, n.d.). Think of the dating process as trying out people for the eventual role of lifetime companion. Sometimes, it results in only a date or two, and it’s clear you’re not a match. Sometimes it results in a short relationship, and sometimes that relationship continues, paving the way for a long-term relationship, or even marriage.

Mate selection, of course, requires both parts of the couple to be interested, willing and able to join together in a partnership. This is not an individual process, but one that operates within the dyad, or couple.

There are two major types of theories as to how people choose a partner: stage theories of mate selection and social exchange theories of relationship development. These are not the only theories of mate selection, and both have some distinct weaknesses.

Stage Theories

Stage theories of mate selection assume a developmental sequence of relationship formation. Like other types of developmental stage theories, these stage theories assume that relatively similar stages are followed by all couples. There are a number of different stage theories of mate selection, each with their own definitions of the stages. However, they do share many of the same traits.

Robert Lewis (1973) has proposed six stages to the relationship development process. These are:


  • Similarities

The initial attraction to a potential partner occurs because of recognized similarities.

While stage models can seem logical, not all relationships follow these stages, and some theorists suggest that men and women experience different stages of relationship development. Stage theories also do not consider the role of a family of origin experiences or analyze how commitment and intimacy develop in the relationship.

Relationship Development and Social Exchange Theory

Social exchange theories of relationship development offer a sort of economic look at relationships or an analysis of relationships in terms of costs and benefits. In the case of social exchange theory, individuals in relationships wish to maximize their own profits. That probably sounds decidedly unromantic, doesn’t it?

Relationships should be interdependent, in that both parties should care about the well-being and happiness of the other. In that case, profits can be related not to the individual necessarily, but to the couple. You might have heard the old saying, “Happy wife, happy life.” This applies to social exchange theories of relationships. In order for the relationship to thrive, the couple needs to be getting benefits from the relationship that exceeds the costs of the relationship.

Establishing a healthy interdependent relationship maximizes benefits for both individuals in the relationships. If that interdependence is not established, then one party may not experience benefits from the relationship, or both parties may feel the costs of the relationship are too great.



Exchange theories attempt to explain the attraction to a partner in terms of costs and rewards. Costs are the drawbacks associated with a relationship. These are the negative aspects of a relationship or rewards that may be sacrificed when you enter the relationship. Rewards are the benefits of the relationship, including pleasure, satisfactions, and gratifications.

Building a Relationship

Relationships must move beyond initial attraction. The initial attraction encourages two people to get to know one another and express interest in each other. Four different factors are required to move from initial attraction to a lasting relationship: trust, commitment, love, and interdependence.





Trust is the belief that one’s partner will not exploit or take advantage of him or her. Trust provides security and safety in the relationship and allows both members of the couple to think about the future. In addition, the trust provides a degree of emotional resilience. For instance, if you believe your partner thinks positively about your relationship, you may forgive minor irritations. When a relationship is based on trust, both parties can be less self-involved and spend more time looking out for one another. Without trust, each party looks more closely for their own interests and is less willing to commit to the relationship.

Family of Origin and Mate Selection

For many people, their experiences in their family of origin impact how they choose a mate and how they function in relationships. Family experiences impact relationships and mate choices in two different ways. First, the family of origin shapes and forms the CL or comparison level. Next, the family of origin impacts the ability of an individual to form healthy attachments.

In developing an image or CL, individuals look for what they have seen modeled or look to avoid what they have seen modeled. This can be conscious or subconscious, as people may form their CL thoughtfully, with an idea of what they want and need, or with very little thought. Families of origin have shaped the thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs people have about relationships.

Consider the following examples:


Forms of Attachment

The ability to develop healthy attachments occurs in early childhood. When a child does not form healthy attachments with parents, forming attachments with romantic partners becomes quite difficult. There are three different forms of attachment recognized by specialists in human development. These are all formed by the ways caregivers respond to infants and young children.


  • Secure Attachment

Responsive, attentive and approachable caregivers promote secure attachment. Securely attached children feel safe exploring the world and have a healthy bond with parents and caregivers. As adults, they view relationships in a positive light and believe that relationships with others can be rewarding and successful.

Developing the Marital System

In order to understand marriage, we must first define it. For the purposes of study, marriage doesn’t refer to the legal institution, but to a “specific family subsystem comprised of adults from two different families of origin who have bonded together to form what they intend to be a stable and long-term cohabiting relationship” (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2010, p. 133). The intention is key here: the couple expects this to be a long-term relationship and they are choosing to commit to one another, with or without the benefit of a legal arrangement. This definition applies to both heterosexual and gay couples and can include couples who choose to marry legally, as well as those that do not.
Married couples form their own subsystem, either on their own or as part of a larger family. The marital subsystem is really a relationship subsystem, rather than one based on marriage. Committed, cohabiting couples have many of the same needs, issues, and challenges as married couples.
The marital subsystem consists of two people, committed to a romantic relationship with one another. Newly married couples have to form this new subsystem and create their own household and life together.




The tasks for the newly married couples, or newly committed and cohabiting couples, reflect those you’ve learned about in past lessons for families. Married couples must execute most of the same tasks as families, with the exception of parental tasks, unless the couple has children.

First, couples must execute identity tasks and begin to define themselves as a unit or a couple. For some young adults, this may require a clear separation from the family-of-origin identity. However, others may have more effectively individuated from the family. Even today, entering a long-term relationship is often the last clear marker of the transition to adulthood. When you marry or enter a comparable relationship, you’re expected to have figured out what you want out of life. When you enter a long-term committed relationship, you then need to define those goals in terms of both of you, not just one of you.

Couples need to, as part of their identity tasks, establish marital and family themes. These themes are consciously chosen and crafted. They may relate to social class, socioeconomic status, attitudes, values, and beliefs. Their own family of origin experiences plays a significant role in crafting family themes.

Creating a Marital Household

Developing strategies to manage the household can be one of the most challenging tasks for couples. These include negotiating household chores and finances. These two things trigger a great many marital conflicts, even in couples married for many years.




Several factors influence who does what in the home, including gender roles, areas of expertise, and allocation of resources. In many couples, women do more of the household tasks than men, even if they are working an equal amount. Women have been socialized to do these tasks and to accept responsibility for them. Areas of expertise or perceived ability may also direct household tasks to one partner or another, often along gender lines. Finally, women’s work, including employed work and women’s time, has often been devalued. Women’s time is, therefore, a less important resource and more likely to be used for household tasks. Conflicts over household tasks most often revolve around this sort of gendered disagreement. Men and women may disagree over the allocation of tasks.

Managing Conflict

Even the happiest couples are likely to experience some amount of conflict in their relationships. Learning to navigate and resolve conflict is essential for couples. Conflict resolution skills vary between couples. A close and loving relationship can typically manage conflict more effectively than one that is distant or already struggling.

Couples frequently manage conflict in the ways they have seen their families of origin manage conflict. This can be positive, with conversation, care, and compassion, or it can be quite negative, with yelling, name-calling or stonewalling. Four conflict-associated behaviors, called the Four Horsemen, are closely associated with significant relationship problems. These are:

  • Criticism or      attacking your partner as a person
  • Defensiveness or      defending yourself with a counter-attack
  • Contempt or mocking      a partner
  • Stonewalling or      refusing to discuss or engage with a partner

The presence of these conflict management strategies should be addressed quickly and corrected for the couple to succeed and learn to effectively manage conflict.


The first steps to forming a family and moving away from the family of origin occur during adolescence and the transition to adulthood. This is a slow and progressive transition, and for many people, includes seeking out a mate, and eventually, marriage.

In this lesson, you’ve learned about the factors that influence the transition to adulthood for young adults, as well as how people choose mates and move from the initial attraction phase to a committed relationship. You’ve also learned a little bit about navigating the early days of a long-term committed relationship like a marriage, and the tasks required for newly married couples.

Key Terms

· A

· C

· D

· E

· F

· I

· L

Anxious-ambivalent Attchment: Attachment style produced by inconsistent caregiving responses.

Avoidance Attachment: Attachment produced by inadequate caregiving.

· M

· P

· R

· S

· T

Marital Roles: Defined behaviors and attitudes within a marriage.


Amsel, B. (2014) Why can’t I be me: how parents can stifle individuation. Retrieved from

Anderson, Stephen A., Ronald Sabatelli. (2010) Family Interaction: A Multigenerational Developmental Perspective. London. Pearson Learning Solutions.

Lapsley, D & Stey, P. (2010) Separation-individuation. Retrieved from

Munsey, C. (2006) Emerging adults: the in-between age. Retrieved from

Net Industries. (2016) Mate Selection – Factors within the individual, factors in the relationship, sociocultural and historical factors. Retrieved from

Reis, H & Sprecher, S. (2009) Encyclopedia of Human Relationships. n.p.: SAGE Publications.

What When How. (n.d.) Mate Selection Theories. Retrieved from

Contextual Models of Family Functioning



  • Race, Ethnicity, and Culture
  • Defining Cultural Models
  • Racial and Ethnic Context
  • Class and Socioeconomic Status
  • The Impact of Poverty and Racism on Families
  • Acculturation and Families
  • Theories on Acculturation
  • The Impact of Ethnicity and Race on Family Strategies
  • Extended Family
  • Adult Children
  • Conflicts Between the Heritage Culture and Dominant      Culture


Families do not exist and function in a vacuum. The strategies families use to complete tasks are impacted by many contextual factors. Contextual factors include issues of race, ethnicity, and culture, and can be both internal, like cultural values and beliefs, and external, like racism or poverty. Understanding how context impacts families can improve understanding of minority families, and understanding of how family tasks, themes, and identities are shaped over time.

In addition, recognizing the cultural factors that affect the strategies and boundaries in families can help to correctly define family strategies as functional or dysfunctional. What may be appropriate in a family in one culture can be quite unusual with a family from another culture, or vice-versa.

In this lesson, you will learn about two different perspectives on contextual models and the impact of race, ethnicity, and culture on family functioning. The first of these is the multidimensional perspective, which provides significant insights into the function of an individual family. The second of these is the culture-specific perspective. The culture-specific perspective looks at cultural factors in general terms but focuses less on the factors impacting an individual and unique family. Topics to be covered include:

  • Race,      ethnicity, and culture
  • Contextual models of      family functioning
  • Cultural diversity
  • Class and      socioeconomic status
  • The impact of race      and ethnicity on families

Race, Ethnicity, and Culture

Contextual models of family function look at the relationship between race, ethnicity and culture and family functioning. To understand these models, you must first understand each of these factors and learn how these common words are used in the context of families.




Race refers to categories of people who share inborn, biological traits. These can be things like skin color, hair type, eye and nose shape or other physical features. While many people assume race to be a relatively simple classification, race may provide little information about culture or ethnicity, and can, in many cases, be difficult to determine.

In the U.S., people are often placed within just a few racial groups. Each of these groups may include people from many different ethnic groups and cultures, who may not look alike or share many traits in common. For instance, imagine an individual with tan skin, curly dark hair and brown eyes. Can you tell, based on that description, what race this person is?

Since race isn’t necessarily visible on the outside on a consistent basis, what connects people in terms of race? It’s not appearance, as we’ve already shown. Instead, the connection comes through experience, the experience of being identified as a member of that race, and living life in that role. This means that race is a social construction, as it exists because of the experiences of people in society. Race is important to understanding families because of the families’ own experiences with race and racial discrimination.

Race groups people based on biological features, even if those are inexact. Some groups share both race and ethnicity. However, two people can be of the same race and different ethnicities. For instance, both Vietnamese and Chinese people are identified as Asian—a racial identifier. However, they are ethnically either Chinese or Vietnamese. While these two groups may have some shared traits, like religious values, they are also likely to have a number of differences.


Defining Contextual Models

Contextual models of family functioning help you to understand the impact of race, ethnicity, and culture on how families interact and function. Different perspectives are used to provide a thorough understanding of each of these factors and their importance.
In this lesson, you will deal specifically with two different perspectives: the multidimensional perspective and culture-specific perspective. Each of these offers both benefits and disadvantages when understanding family functioning.




Both of these perspectives serve to better understand how cultural factors impact families and to be sensitive to those factors. To use these perspectives, you need to understand:

  • How      cultural factors impact the individual family. This must be learned      through discussion, observation, and communication. If you make      assumptions about an individual family, you may be relying upon      stereotyping, rather than information relevant to a given family.
  • How      cultural differences present in families. Depending upon culture,      functional boundaries and ways of engaging may differ, while still being      healthy and functional within a given culture. Those differences are only      dysfunctional if they impede the family’s ability to complete essential      tasks.
  • How      generalities can be applied, but should not always be applied.      Understanding generalities about cultures is helpful to enable you to      recognize both common ways of interacting with that culture,      and also how families differ from the usual strategies in their      culture.
  • How      generalities can be applied, but should not always be applied.      Understanding generalities about cultures is helpful to enable you to      recognize both common ways of interacting with that culture, but also      how families differ from the usual strategies in their culture.

When relying upon contextual models, it is essential to remember that variation within a culture is more important than differences between cultures. While these perspectives are helpful, they are one tool for understanding families and should be used alongside others.

Racial and Ethnic Context

While there may be cultural tendencies that result in certain family themes and strategies being more common than others within each ethnic group, it is important to recognize that each family is unique, a product of not only its ethnic heritage but also its intergenerational themes and legacies, its level of education and socioeconomic status, its present living conditions, its level of assimilation into the majority culture, and many other factors that define the family’s current social context” (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2010, p. 78).

What does this mean? It means that a variety of factors impact how ethnicity shapes the family, and how closely cultural tendencies apply to an individual family. Cultures are not monolithic, and families may behave and interact in different ways depending upon each of these various factors.

In order to effectively understand the role race and ethnicity play in families, you must also understand how different factors, including class, socioeconomic status, education, occupation and acculturation impact the family, and the family’s experience of their own race and ethnicity.

Class and Socioeconomic Status

The American Psychological Association or APA, defines socioeconomic status, sometimes abbreviated as SES, as “the social standing or class of an individual or group. It is often measured as a combination of education, income, and occupation” (2016). SES impacts access to resources, privilege, and power. It is not the same as the social class. Social class refers to a category of people with similar income, education, housing, lineage, and occupational status. Some individuals change their SES by gaining education, income and improving their occupation. They may retain many of the ideas and behaviors associated with their original social class. Social class is a general category and may be much broader. SES is a specific, research-based term.




Race and ethnicity can play a significant role in SES and these factors are closely enmeshed. Many communities are segregated by a combination of race, ethnicity, and SES. In these neighborhoods, living conditions may closely resemble those of less-developed countries, rather than the standard of living expected in the country as a larger whole.


  • Lower      educational attainment.
  • Poor      health outcomes in comparison to populations outside the neighborhood or      community.
  • Low      economic development.

In these communities, continuing patterns associated with low SES impact the entire population of cities or countries. Improving health, education and economic development in these segregated areas provides benefits for the larger population (APA, 2016).

SES must be considered alongside cultural diversity. Cultural factors are likely to play out differently in families with different SES. The experience of, for instance, a wealthy and well-educated Asian American family is quite different than the experience of a family that has recently immigrated and is struggling financially and culturally.

The Impact of Poverty and Racism on Families

The social context of the family, and particularly the many problems and stressors associated with poverty, impact that function of the family, as well as the organization of the family in a number of different ways.


  • Poverty Level

The poverty level is quite low. In fact, many programs for lower-income families allow families to receive benefits up to a percentage well over 100 percent of the poverty level. In 2016, the poverty level for a family of four was $24,300. The federal poverty level is significantly higher in both Hawaii and Alaska (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2016).

Acculturation and Families

Acculturation is the process by which families integrate into the dominant culture. They combine their ethnic or minority identities with the ideas, beliefs, and practices of the surrounding culture. It is a process of adaptation. Attitudes, values, and behaviors can all change as part of the acculturation process. Some cultural attitudes, values, and behaviors may be retained during the acculturation process and others lost or given up. Acculturation is ongoing and occurs over time, and may move forward and back depending upon life events.

The acculturation process impacts a wide range of different factors in family life. Language, food, child rearing practices, jobs, customs, attitudes, holidays and rituals are all impacted by the process of acculturation. You may find it helpful to think of acculturation on a continuum.

At one end of that continuum is the family that maintains its language, customs and traditions even within a new environment. At the opposite end is the family that quickly adapts to their new environment. Many families fall in the middle. They may adopt some elements of their new culture while preserving elements of their old culture. These families can be called bicultural. In some cases, the introduction of new cultures by immigrant populations can also change and shape the dominant culture.

Three different adjustment patterns appear in immigrant and minority families with regard to acculturation with the dominant culture. These are: becoming as much like the dominant culture as possible as quickly as possible; withdrawing into the old culture and resisting the new way of life or any changes to the traditional values, attitudes and behaviors; trying to build a “cultural bridge” between the original culture and the new culture (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2010, p. 83).

Theories on Acculturation

Theories on acculturation can be divided into two different groups: unidirectional acculturation and bidimensional acculturation. Bidimensional Acculturation suggests that there are four possible strategies families can take: assimilation, marginalization, separation and integration.

Variations in acculturation can have a significant impact on individual family strategies and tasks, as well as family functioning.







The Impact of Ethnicity and Race on Family Strategies

Cultural themes impact many different parts of family functioning. Understanding these family themes can support understanding of the family, but may also be misleading. A strategy or theme could be the result of a cultural influence, but could also be the direct result of another factor or issue in the family’s life. Understanding cultural influences requires a great deal of sensitivity, thought, and awareness of the family as a unique entity, both impacted by and separate from the cultural identity.


While many different factors impact family strategies, cultural factors are shaped by history, language, religion, and tradition. Cultural themes may affect who lives in the home, the closeness of extended family relationships, and boundaries between relatives. These can also impact roles within the home and family.

It can be helpful to look at individual factors separately, as these can shed light on how cultural themes shape different families.

Extended Family

Western discussions of the family typically define families as two parents and their children, or perhaps as a biological parent and his or her partner and their children. Discussions of the family are unlikely to include grandparents, aunts, uncles or adult siblings, yet in some cultures, these people are often very much a part of the family dynamic and family strategies.

Non-white and Hispanic families are more likely than white families to share a residence and household with extended family members. These members of the extended family often become part of the parental subsystem, playing a substantial role in family interactions. For instance, in Italian families, power rests with the male patriarch. However, the family is often centered around the mother or grandmother in the family.

In African American families, reciprocity, or helping others in the extended family, is a lasting value. In addition, informal adoption, in which extended family steps in to care for or raise the children of other members of the family, is relatively common (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2010, p. 85). Kinship ties, which may extend beyond blood relatives to a larger network of extended family, relatives by marriage and close friends, form an essential part of the social and support network for African Americans.

Adult Children

In some cultures, it is less common for young adults to move out of the home. They may live with parents until or even after marriage. This is true for both male and female children, but may be more likely with daughters than with sons. For some adult children, this may limit their ability to become independent, and families may resist efforts at growing independence.

Autonomy, or the rights of self-determination for the individual, is a common cultural difference found in many groups. Western cultures, including the United States, Canada, and Europe, typically value autonomy. Other cultures, including both South Asian and East Asian, place a much lower value on personal autonomy and a higher value of duty to family. These cultures may have strong expectations of ongoing in-home parental care as parent’s age.

Hispanic and African-American adults are less likely to move out of the parental home and are more likely to move back to the home than white young adults. However, studies are not clear about the reasons for this difference. While cultural factors may be one part of this difference, SES may play a larger role (Lei & South, 2016).

Conflicts between the Heritage Culture and Dominant Culture



For some minority or immigrant families, conflicts between their heritage culture, or the original culture, and the cultural values of the dominant culture cause significant family struggles. These are particularly true as younger people become more acculturated, particularly if older family members are not (Lou et. al, 2012). Family allocentric, or collectivism at the family level, is highest in families of Asian origin, and these families are most likely to strongly pass down their own values and to be relatively intolerant of differences.

These conflicts can take several different forms, including:

  • A      teen who wishes to be able to go out with friends or date, with a heritage      culture that does not tolerate that level of autonomy.
  • A      young adult who wants to move out of the family home before marriage.
  • A      child, teen or young adult with little interest in family traditions or      customs.
  • A      lack of interest in or refusal to speak or learn the family’s traditional      language.
  • A      loss of interest in religions, rituals or customs associated with the      heritage culture.

For some families, these may be transient issues, like the teen who has no interest in family traditions may find them nostalgic as an adult and a parent herself. In other families, they may be a progressive, fading toward assimilation into the dominant culture.


The primary models used to describe and analyze family functioning assume Western models of family function. These are based on studies of and work with predominantly white, American and European families and reflect the values, beliefs, attitudes and strategies of these families. Contextual models, including the multidimensional and culture-specific perspectives, provide the tools to better understand other models of family functioning, and how their strategies are shaped by both their culture and their experiences as part of that culture.
In addition to cultural values, beliefs, and attitudes, family strategies and experiences are impacted by the world the family lives in. Class and socioeconomic status both shape the lives of families and their values and attitudes. Issues of racism and poverty have a dramatic impact on family organization, structure and function.
When using contextual models, you do need to remember that they have some flaws. The experiences of each family are unique, and may or may not be directly impacted by racial, ethnic or cultural factors in their lives. If you opt for a multidimensional model, the information may not generalize effectively. In a culture-specific model, you may find that you are overgeneralizing or not seeing families as unique.
Contextual models are only one tool in a range of available tools to study and understand families. They can be used alongside and with other models of family functioning to better understand racial, ethnic and cultural minorities, immigrant families, and bicultural families.

Key Terms

· A

· B

· C

· E

· H

· I

· K

Acculturation: Adjusting to the dominant culture.

Allocentrism: Collective view of the family, with the family as the dominant priority.

Assimilation: Fully accepting the values and beliefs of the dominant culture.

Autonomy: Self-determination of the individual.

· M

· P

· R

· S

· U

Marginalization: Distancing from both the heritage and dominant culture.

Multidimensional Perspective: Looking at a variety of different factors, including race, ethnicity and culture, but also gender, SES, and class to analyze a family.


Anderson, S.tephen A. &, Ronald Sabatelli, R. (2010). Family Interaction: A Multigenerational Developmental Perspective. London:. Pearson Learning Solutions.

American Psychological Association. (2016). Ethnic & racial minorities and socioeconomic status. Retrieved from

Guigere, B. (2012). Making the decision to move out: bicultural young adults and the negotiation of cultural demands and family relationships. Retrieved from

Lei, L. &and South, S. (2016). Racial and ethnic differences in leaving and returning to the parental home: The role of life course transitions, socioeconomic resources, and family connectivity. Retrieved from

Mollborn, S. et. al. (2011). Who matters for children’s early development? Race/ethnicity and extended household structures in the United States. Retrieved from

Ngo, H. (2008). A critical examination of acculturation theories. Retrieved from

Ryder, A et. al. (2000). Is acculturation unidimensional or bidimensional? A head-to-head comparison in the prediction of personality, self-identity and adjustment. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2016) U.S. federal poverty guidelines used to determine financial eligibility for certain federal programs. Retrieved from

Lesson 1



  • The Family as a System
  • What Is a Family?
  • Traits if Family Systems
  • Structural Properties of Families
  • Essential Family Tasks
  • First-order Tasks
  • Politics of the Family
  • Family Strategies
  • Identity Strategies
  • Coping


In this course, you’ll learn about the different ways families interact, both with children and without children. Some are the traditional family made up of two married parents and their children, but there are several different and varied family types. These include single-parent families, stepfamilies, and same-sex couples and families.

Regardless of the type of family, all families must complete some family tasks and develop the skills and foundations necessary to complete those tasks. These common tasks are essential to the function of every family. However, the ways they are completed are unique to each family.

In this lesson, you will learn to understand how the family functions as a system, as you develop an understanding of family systems theory. You’ll learn about family tasks, and the strategies different families employ to complete those tasks. Topics covered include:

  • Defining the Family
  • Family Systems
  • Family Tasks
  • Family Strategies

The Family as a System

Family systems theory, developed by Dr. Murray Bowen, states that the individual cannot be understood outside of the context of the family. The family is a single, functional emotional unit, and all parts impact and change one another. All types of families, both traditional and non-traditional, function as systems.






What is a Family?

Families today, sometimes called the postmodern family, including traditional families, families with two working parents, single-parent families, divorced and remarried families, families formed through adoption, and families based on domestic partnerships. There are even families based on long-term, platonic relationships.

Today, only 24 percent of families are made up of a married couple with their shared biological children. Some 26 percent of families with children are headed by a single parent.

“In an expanded look at the structure of the American family the U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2007, of the nearly 74 million children under the age of eighteen living in the United States, 67.8 percent lived with married parents, 2.9 percent with two unmarried parents, 25.8 percent with one parent, and 3.5 percent with no parent present”
(Anderson, Stephen, & Sabatelli, p.4).

As of 2006, more than 60 percent of women worked outside the home, and divorce rates have increased significantly. Around 40 percent of people will go through a divorce in their lifetimes. Divorce is correlated with many concerning factors, particularly for children. These include economic instability and poorer educational outcomes.

Several key struggles plague families today. These include child abuse and neglect, as well as intimate partner violence. These problems are more prevalent than many people expect or believe and are often not reported. Lack of reporting of intimate partner violence and child abuse has an ongoing and detrimental impact on families today.

Knowledge Check

Traits of Family Systems

To understand the family in the context of family systems, “the family can be defined as a complex structure comprised of an interdependent group of individuals who (1) have a shared sense of history; (2) experience some degree of emotional bonding; and (3) devise strategies for meeting the needs of individual family members and the group as a whole” (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2010, p. 6). The family system is defined by two parts.



In a family system, the most important factor is how the different parts of the system relate to one another. For a traditional family, this might mean the marital relationship between mom and dad, relationships between parents and children, and relationships between siblings. These all matter more than who the individuals in the family are, or how you might define the individuals in the family.

For instance, consider a two-parent family. Mom and Dad are married to one another and both are employed. They have three children, ages two, four and six. Imagine their daily life for a moment. Now, consider how your perceptions change if you’re told that Mom is a neurosurgeon. Dad works part-time from home. Does their daily life look different than you assumed when you first thought about it?

You probably imagined that either the couple shared parenting and home tasks equally, or that Mom carried more of those tasks than Dad. When told that Mom works an intense job, and Dad has changed his work schedule to accommodate the children’s needs, your image of this family changes. When you only knew the composition of the family, you had a poor understanding of how it functioned. When you learned about the rules that governed the family and recognized that the distribution of responsibilities was not what you expected, your understanding of the family changed.

Structural Properties of Families

Families are characterized by several distinct structural properties. The structure of a family includes both its composition, or members, and its organization, or rules. In the example above, you realized how the organization of a family could change or alter what you expect of the family.

While the structure is made up of composition and organization, family structures are characterized by a number of distinct properties.





Essential Family Tasks

Every family system must accomplish a range of different tasks. The rules in the family facilitate these tasks or enable them to be executed. Tasks vary widely. Keeping the home clean is a task, but so is socializing the children. Some tasks are shared by all families, known as first-order tasks. They exist regardless of race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. Other tasks are more specific to individual families and family cultures and are known as second-order tasks. To execute tasks, families must be prepared to adapt their strategies over time. Families with higher levels of adaptability will more effectively be able to manage stress and change.

In this section, you will learn about each of the tasks. The strategies to complete or execute these tasks will be discussed in significant detail later in this lesson.

First-order Tasks

There are several different types of first-order tasks. As mentioned above, first-order tasks are tasks that must be executed by all families. These include identity tasks, boundary tasks, maintenance tasks, and tasks associated with managing the emotional needs of the family.





Identity tasks develop an identity for the family and the individual. There are three different and interrelated identity tasks essential for every family system. These are:

Constructing family themes. These themes become organizing principles for family life.

Socializing family members in biological and social issues. This includes gender roles.

Establishing a congruence of images of the family members. These impact the self-image of the individual.

While not a positive part of the identity tasks associated with family systems, some families may also establish family myths. Family myths are identity tasks that don’t match the image presented or interactions with the outside world.

Second Order Tasks

Second-order tasks are responses to stress or changes in the family system. The family system has to adjust and shift to adapt to both internal changes and external changes. Changes that trigger second-order tasks, like adaptability can be positive, negative or neutral. Examples of triggers for change, or for second-order tasks could include developmental changes in children, the birth of a child, death or divorce.



· Adaptability

Adapting to change in the family is the fundamental purpose of second-order tasks. Openness and responses to stress are essential to adaptability. Openness means that the family system adjusts based on external input and changes. Stressors can vary widely and may be internal or external. Changes in the family stress the strategies in place to execute tasks, and the strategies have to change to accommodate the changes in the family system.

Politics of the Family

When you think of the family, you likely think in private terms. You may think that the family largely impacts individuals, rather than society. While a common assumption, in fact, the stability of the family, and even the definition of the family, is also of significant importance to society at large. The government is involved in families in a variety of different ways, so there are clear political interests in the family.



You’ve already learned about the definition of a family for family systems theory. This is, “a family exists whenever a group of individuals regularly interact with one another over time, experience some degree of emotional bonding, share a common history and legacy and together devise strategies for the accomplishment of family goals and tasks” (Anderson, Stephen, & Sabatelli, p.16). Most of the time, families are formed through blood or marriage, but they don’t have to be—they can be formed through domestic partnerships or even very close friendships.

Family Strategies

All families must develop strategies to execute tasks, and all families must execute similar tasks. There are three distinct and interdependent aspects of the family system. These include the composition of the family, the tasks associated with the function of the family, and the strategies essential to accomplish those tasks.



Identity Strategies




Identity strategies  are family themes that let the family define itself, both internally and externally. Family themes are purposefully chosen. Sometimes, traits people identify as cultural are part of these family themes. For instance, if asked what you think of an Italian family, you might picture boisterous family meals, close relationships, and shared religion. Family themes can be positive or negative, shared by the family of origin of one or both parents in the family.

Family strategies are often based on these family themes. In this case, the themes may support positive behaviors or may repeat negative behaviors. Identity strategies can impact how members of the family see themselves and how those outside the family perceive the family.

Boundary Strategies

There are two different types of boundary strategies: external boundaries and internal boundaries. External boundaries define the family in relation to others outside of the family. Internal boundaries exist within the family, between different individuals or subsystems.



External boundaries divide and define what is inside the family from what is outside of the family. These boundaries can be quite varied. External boundaries may exist between the family and people who are not family, but also between the immediate and extended family.

In some cases, external boundaries take a physical form or are represented by a physical form. Imagine inviting a new acquaintance into your home. You probably sit in the living room or dining room, and you don’t invite them into your bedroom or other private spaces. This is an external boundary. Your best friend, who you think of as family, on the other hand, would follow you into your bedroom without a second thought.

These boundaries can also be set out in how physical spaces are defined. Think about two different neighborhoods. In the first, neighbors often sit out on each other’s porches, visit with one another, and have open yards. Children run from one house to the other in different yards. In the second, each house has a large privacy fence. Some homes even have fenced front yards. All the houses have alarm systems, and people rarely visit with one another. In the second neighborhood, external boundaries are much more significant than in the first neighborhood.

External boundaries can be quite open or tightly closed, as you can see in the neighborhood example. Different families have different external boundaries. The middle of the range of boundaries is the healthiest. Permeability defines how open or how closed the family’s external boundaries are.

Maintenance Strategies

Maintenance strategies are all those things that are done to provide the family with necessities, like food, shelter, healthcare and education. Maintenance resources are the time, energy and money used to complete maintenance tasks. There is a range of different options in terms of maintenance strategies. These options may reflect priorities and decision-making.

In addition to financial resources, maintenance strategies include how the home and family are managed and organized. Who cooks dinner, does the laundry, and pays the bills?

The level of organization or disorganization in terms of these maintenance strategies may vary. If the system for completing maintenance tasks is extremely disorganized, bills may not get paid. The family may not have groceries for dinner and meals may not be served on time. The family system is more likely to be chaotic. In a family with very rigid maintenance strategies, groceries are bought, bills are paid, and meals are cooked on time, but the rigidity may pose challenges in the home or family—for instance, children may not be allowed creative play because it’s messy.

Family systems are considered adequate if they successfully complete maintenance tasks. However, you do need to remember that maintenance strategies and the rules used to implement them often reflect the rules, values, and priorities of the family. For instance, in a family that stresses individuality and creativity, a much higher tolerance for mess may be acceptable.

Emotional Management Strategies

Healthy family systems provide the members of the family with support, nurturing and love. These promote security within the family for both children and adults. For most families, this is a goal, but not all families succeed.


Stress Management Strategies

According to Anderson and Sabatelli, (2010, p. 33), “Stress, from a family systems perspective, is the degree of pressure exerted on the family to alter the strategies it employs to accomplish its basic tasks.” There are two different types of stressors in families: normative and non-normative stressors. Normative stressors are expected developmental transitions in the family, like having a new baby or a child moving out as a young adult. Non-normative stressors are unexpected events, like the sudden death of a child, or a devastating and destructive event to the family home.

Stressors can also be divided into horizontal stressors and vertical stressors. Horizontal stressors are stressors that occur over time. Vertical stressors are specific to how families relate and function with one another from generation to generation. Multiple horizontal stressors at the same time can lead to significant dysfunction, but even minimal horizontal stressors can be a serious problem for a family with extensive vertical stressors.

Coping Strategies

Adaptations are the ways in which families cope with various stressors. Coping is the use of strategies to reduce stress and maintain family functioning. Coping strategies include cognitive coping strategies and behavioral coping strategies. Coping resources are the skills and attribute the family has available to reduce and manage stress. Some families may have more coping resources than others, and may, therefore, better manage stressors. Coping efficacy is the success with which families can employ coping resources. Families that cope well with stress are considered resilient. Resilient families share a number of traits.





Cognitive coping strategies are the way individuals frame stress. For instance, a child moving out of the family home can be thought of as positive and exciting or negative and frightening. While not all stressors can, in any way, be framed in a positive light, some can. Even negative stressors can be talked about, and strategies developed to support the functioning of the family.


Family systems theory provides a framework for understanding how families function, both in terms of shared traits of all families and unique qualities of each family. Family systems theory requires that the individual is understood in terms of the family. They are part of the overall system. The structure of the family includes its structure and its organization. Every family develops strategies and rules to complete tasks. While these tasks may be the same or similar from family to family, the strategies may differ widely.

Key Terms

· C

· E

· F

· H

· I

Composition: Who is a part of the family.

Coping: The use of strategies to manage stress.

· M

· N

· O

· R

· S

· T

· V

· W

Maintenance Strategies: Strategies to accomplish essential tasks for daily living.

Morphogenesis: Processes that encourage or embrace change.

Morphostasis: Processes that resist change.


Anderson, Stephen A., Sabatelli, R. (2010) Family Interaction: A Multigenerational Developmental Perspective. London: Pearson Learning Solutions.

Dominguez, M. (n.d.) Performance competence framework: theory and practice. Retrieved from

Hardmann, A. (2016) Parental stress. Retrieved from

Kerr, M. E. (2000) One family’s story: a primer on Bowen theory. Retrieved from

Life Enhancement Counseling Services. (2013) Healthy boundaries. Retrieved from

Missouri Department of Social Services. (n.d.) Family systems theory. Retrieved from

Morgaine, C. (2001) Family systems theory. Retrieved from

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