How to Have Healthy Family Relationships With Less Stress

Families can be a life-giving force when they are healthy and relatively stress-free. When healthy, they can be one constant that you can count on—so much so that a healthy family relationship can have a positive impact on your health and well-being. 

Strong family relationships also are a source of comfort, guidance, and strength that you can draw on in times of stress. Likewise, they provide a sense of belonging and unconditional love you are not likely to find anywhere else.

Happy families support each other through stressful times.
Morsa Images / Taxi / Getty Images

But when these relationships are unhealthy or stress-filled, they can feel exhausting and emotionally draining. In fact, a highly-conflicted or toxic family relationship can cause a lot of damage.

Not only do these unhealthy relationships deprive you of support, but they also can create additional stress, conflict, and even health issues. For instance, research indicates that 10% to 30% of children grow up in families where their health and well-being are endangered or weakened by unhealthy family relationships.

What Makes a Family Healthy

Generally, people depend on their families in times of crisis for emotional and practical support. Sometimes they even depend on them for support when they're experiencing a financial crisis.

The family is a constant in a person's life. Families also carry your history and share your future. Who better than siblings, parents, and other close relatives to reminisce with about your childhood?

This connection to fond memories, support in times of need, and unconditional love is the unique way that families can bring happiness, stress relief, and a sense of well-being.

According to researchers, strong families all have six qualities in common. These qualities include appreciation/affection, commitment, positive communication, time together, strong coping skills, and spiritual well-being. Here's a closer look at each.

Appreciation and Affection

Healthy families help one another when they need it. They also keep their promises, support one another, and show affection when they are together. A warm embrace, a squeeze of the hand, or a pat on the back all are gestures that speak love and support to one another.

Commitment

Healthy families are loyal, supportive, and committed. They find it easy to trust one another with the details of their lives. They also share responsibilities and make decisions together and are there for you when you need them. No one has your back like your family.

Positive Communication

Healthy families often share regular meals together and enjoy talking about their lives and their experiences. What's more, criticisms, putdowns, name-calling, and other types of emotional abuse are rare.

Instead, families encourage and build one another up.

Time Together

Typically, healthy families have fun when they are together, smiling and laughing often. Whether their time is planned or spontaneous, strong families enjoy being around one another. They also share one another's interests and passions.

Strong Coping Skills

Resilience is a hallmark of healthy families. While dealing with a challenge or a crisis is never easy, healthy families encourage one another to remain strong and hopeful. They often look for the good in a bad situation and accept the things they cannot change. Going through a crisis together makes their bonds even stronger.

Spiritual Well-Being

Healthy families usually have positive outlooks on life. They also are filled with thankfulness and gratitude. Typically, these families share common values and may even share the same spiritual or religious beliefs.

Even if they do not agree on everything, healthy families are kind and respectful of other opinions.

Coping With Common Family Issues

Unfortunately, because family relationships are so complex, they're not always easy to navigate. In fact, dealing with difficult family members is downright hard. And even though it may be better for your stress level and your health to eliminate strained relationships from your life, it's not always that simple when the difficult people are related to you. To keep conflict at bay and reduce your stress level, check out these tips on dealing with common family issues.

Focus on Healthy Communication

Conflict is virtually inevitable in any relationship, but there are healthy ways of dealing with it. For instance, if you know that you and your family member disagree over religion or politics, try to stick to more neutral topics. Likewise, if your family member has some negative traits that really rub you the wrong way, focus on the positives instead.

Listening and being empathetic whenever you can is especially important as well. But don't be a doormat either. It's fine to be assertive and let family members know when they have crossed a line.

And, if the conversation is spiraling out of control, know when to take a timeout. With a little hard work, you may be able to have a respectful conversation with your family members, even when you don't see eye to eye.

Be Authentic

When people get together with their families of origin, it is not uncommon to revert back to old behavior patterns. But if you’ve grown beyond these old roles and they no longer reflect who you are, don't be afraid to be the person you are now. It may take some hard work to stay true to yourself, but in the end you will be glad you did.

When family members mention how much you have changed or tell you how much they miss the old you, don't feel obligated to be that person again, especially if you changed for a reason. For instance, if you were once a heavy drinker and the life of the party, it might be hard for family members to adjust to seeing you without a drink in your hand. But they will get used to it. You don't have to sacrifice who you are now to make other people feel comfortable. This is called people-pleasing and it's an unhealthy habit to fall into.

Address Family Prejudices

Typically, prejudices arise from a misguided or learned belief that certain groups of people need to be treated differently or with less respect and consideration. Some common prejudices involve race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexual orientation.

When you witness prejudice in family members, it's important to tactfully address it right away. Sometimes family members don't realize that what they are doing or saying is marginalizing and insulting. Talking about tolerance and acceptance is important. Just be sure to do it in a loving way.

If you get emotional, judgmental, or angry, your family members are likely to focus on those things instead of hearing what you're saying. And, if they are unwilling to be respectful, you may need to establish some boundaries with them. Being family doesn't give them the right to treat you, a significant other, or anyone else disrespectfully.

Deal With Family Drama

Sometimes families are filled with gossiping, backstabbing, and other types of relational drama. When this happens, it is best to shut it down or stay out of it altogether. Nothing good comes from throwing shade, talking behind people's backs, and pitting people against one another.

Even if you don't participate in the drama, just listening to the mean words communicates that you might condone it. Instead, try redirecting the conversation or walking away. You also can be more direct and indicate that you are not comfortable with the conversation.

The key is to let your family member know that you don't want to be part of the drama.

Address Adult Sibling Rivalry and Jealousy

Sibling relationships are complex, but even more so if sibling rivalry or jealousy exists. In fact, adult sibling rivalry can cause strained relationships, where siblings argue and struggle to get along.

If you feel your relationship with your family is strained because your parents favor another sibling, you may be surprised to find that you’re not alone.

Try not to take perceived favoritism personally or allow it to impact your relationship with the family. While it may appear your parent is closer to your sibling, this does not mean that it is true or that your parent loves that sibling more than you. And whatever you do, do not perpetuate these feelings by competing with your sibling.

A Word From Verywell

While you cannot control the types of relationships you have with your family members, you can create greater harmony in your relationships. Work toward strengthening and improving your family relationships. Be open, honest, and empathetic, but don't be afraid to set boundaries with toxic or abusive family members. You are not required to endure abuse just because you're related.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Thomas PA, Liu H, Umberson D. Family relationships and well-being. Innov Aging. 2017;1(3):igx025. doi:10.1093/geroni/igx025

  2. Poutiainen H, Hakulinen-Virtanen T, Laatikainen T. Associations between family characteristics and public health nurses' concerns at children's health examinations. Scand J Caring Sci. 2014;28(2):225-34. doi:10.1111/scs.12035

  3. Defrain J. Asay S. Strong families around the world. Marriage & Family Review. 41(1-2):1-10. doi:10.1300/J002v41n01_01