Dating Wisely 1.7: Apply Family Systems Theory

Bowen Family Systems Theory

Yesterday, I mentioned Psychologist Dr. Murray Bowen, family systems pioneer, whose goal was to teach people how to study themselves and their families so that they could become experts in living well. Sometimes we just need better information to implement than we’ve had before, and that’s what I hope I’ve been offering here…information that I’ve put to use in my own life and found that it does indeed provide a wonderful way to understand relationship dynamics. That understanding can then help manage the anxiety and stress that relationships inevitably bring with them.

Over the next several posts, we’re going to apply Bowen Family Systems Theory directly to the endeavor of dating wisely.  We’re going to raise the level of discourse a bit to include some theory, but don’t go away, the concepts are simple to understand, although they’re not easy to practice if you’ve been using faulty information that left you operating with ineffective relationship patterns that are now habitual and/or subconscious. In fact, once you know these principles, you may wonder why everyone doesn’t know and practice them (it would be a really cool world if we did), and you may feel the urge to tell everyone (which doesn’t usually work, I’m sorry to say).

The Concepts

Bowen’s Theory includes eight interlocking concepts, so it’ll take some time to get through all of them, but we can’t be in a hurry if we want to date with wisdom. I’ll list them here and then get started on applying them directly to the activity of dating wisely tomorrow:

  1. Differentiation
  2. Triangles
  3. Nuclear Family System
  4. Family Projection Process
  5. Emotional Cut-off
  6. Multigenerational Transmission Process
  7. Sibling Position
  8. Emotional Process in society

Team Family

The first thing to understand about Bowen Family Systems Theory is that it takes an unconventional approach to relationships and personal growth. From its vantage point, we’re all part of an emotional system called a family, and how that family managed the emotions of the relationships within it has far-reaching impact on how we manage ourselves and our relationships throughout our lives.

Bowen Theory doesn’t see an individual’s problems as problems only in the individual, but as problems that reflect the entire family system of which that individual is a part. Whenever there’s a problem in the family, it’s understood as a everyone’s problem, to which everyone’s contributing, like a team. For the problem to be resolved, then, everyone must do his or her part to disentangle it.

Bowen’s Theory helps each individual identify what part he or she may be contributing to the overall problem so that each can modify his or her contribution to it. How effectively each person does so will determine how successfully the problem is resolved. Gone is the idea that one person in the family is the “identified patient” and if that person would just get his or her act together, everything and everyone else would be fine.

Applied to Dating Wisely

Applied to dating wisely, this means that you and your date bring your entire family systems with you into the dating arena. Yes, that’s why relationships are so damn difficult sometimes. But armed with the information I’m about to share with you, they don’t have to be a mystery, and you don’t have to go blindly into the future of your relationship, crossing your fingers, hoping against all statistics that you’ll beat the odds. That’s how most people do it (which probably explains why the statistics are abysmal), but you don’t have to.

We began this series over a week ago by acknowledging that anxiety naturally accompanies the dating process; the stakes are high for the potential of joy and/or misery. Alleviation of anxiety was a core goal of Bowen Theory, so this information should help you put into practice some principles that’ll decrease your stress level as you date.

It’s an unconventional approach, but since conventional approaches don’t have a great statistical track record, I hope it comes as good news that there’s another way. As you try it out, you can decide for yourself whether it’s a better way for you. What do you have to lose?



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