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Stress and the Family. Marriage and Family Interaction HPER F258 Kathleen R. Gilbert, Ph.D. Indiana University. For next class. Write a letter assignment at We will discuss this at the beginning of class on April 17.

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Stress and the Family

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Stress and the Family

Marriage and Family Interaction


Kathleen R. Gilbert, Ph.D.

Indiana University

For next class

  • Write a letter assignment at

  • We will discuss this at the beginning of class on April 17.

Functional and Dysfunctional Family Coping (Figley & McCubbin)

  • Developed from 4,000 studies of stress and coping in families

  • Both normative and non-normative stressors

  • Family focused, not individual (in fact, some things that are functional for family may or may not be functional for individuals (and vice versa)

Identification of the stressor

  • F = clear and acceptance, D = unclear and denial

    • They know what is causing the stress in the family and, at minimum, do not deny its seriousness or its reality.

    • Denial may be functional coping for individuals but is not for family as a system.

Locus of the problem/solution

  • F = family centered, D = individual centered

    • “Ours” vs. “yours”

    • Work together as a team

Approach to the problem/solution

  • F = solution oriented, D = blame oriented

    • Looking for ways to solve problem, resolve differences vs. getting “stuck” in looking for who to blame

    • Future orientation instead of past

    • More positive view

Tolerance of others

  • F = high, D = low

    • This is tolerance of differences within the family

    • Agree to disagree

Commitment to and affection for family members

  • F = clear and direct, D = unclear and indirect

    • Family is seen as of prime importance

    • Sometimes willing to treat family as more important than self

    • Affection = “Doing out of caring”


  • F = open and supportive, D = unclear and indirect

    • No mixed messages

    • Clear and focused on the issue

    • Not intended to manipulate

Family cohesion

  • F = high, D = low

    • The closer the family is, the better

    • Facilitates family working as a team to solve a problem or resolve an issue

Family roles

  • F = flexible and shifting, D = rigid

    • The more flexible the role assignments, the greater the likelihood that the family can adapt to deal with stress or disruption to the family system

Resource utilization

  • F = balanced to high, D = low to none

    • Availability AND willingness to use resources

    • Both internal and external resource are relevant, but if external not use, will deplete internal.

    • (Also possible that is a problem if resources used so that they do not take back control/responsibilities)

Use of violence

  • F = absent, D = present

    • This includes all forms of the use of physical pain for control

      • Includes corporal punishment of children

Use of drugs

  • F = infrequent to none, D = frequent

    • Seems obvious, but is not restricted to illegal drugs, also includes tobacco products and alcohol

    • Includes OTC (over-the-counter) and certain prescription drugs(as possible indicators of problems elsewhere)

Overall -- Movement toward recovery

  • this is in addition to F&McC's list

  • F = dynamic, D = static, regressive

    • The general view of the family is that they are not “stuck” at some point in the resolution of the stress, but are moving forward with it.

Small group discussion -- How your family manages stress

  • In your small group, discuss:

    • How does your family deal with stress in conflicts? Consider the following:

    • When is my family most 'vulnerable' to stress overload?

    • When is conflict most likely to occur?

    • How do I know tension is building?

    • Words or phrases that usually "set people in my family off?

    • Topics that we avoid to avoid conflict?

    • Things I say to myself when tension is building in my family?

    • How does my family respond in stressful situations

Final Thoughts on Lecture Material

  • Identify one point in the lecture that you could use to deal with stress you might experience in any current relationship (romantic or otherwise).

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