Effect of Strained Family Relationships

Effect of Strained Family Relationships


By Pamela Oglesby

I spent 22 years in the nursing profession. I enjoy writing, reading historical novels, gardening, and helping people live a healthier life.

Importance of Family Relationships

Whether we like it or not, our family relationships are very important for our well-being throughout our lives. In the U.S. today, we have a large aging population, which means there are also concomitant diseases that are age-related.

The need for caregiving has grown, and, on the other hand, social ties in various domains, such as work, are often not as important to many people. Of course, if they are caring for an elderly parent, there are time constraints as well. People are generally waiting longer to marry and many just live together instead of marrying. For all of these reasons, family relationships have become even more important for many people.

Overall Health for Aging Family Members

A recent study at the Utah Southwestern Medical Center concluded that a difficult emotional climate in a family can negatively affect overall health. Strained relationships with parents, siblings, or extended family members were found to be more significant than an intimate relationship, which is contrary to previous studies. This included the worsening of chronic conditions that included strokes and headaches over a 20-year span of the mid-life years.

Quality of Family Relationships

Family relationships depend on many positive and negative factors, such as:


  • Providing love
  • Providing care
  • Giving advice


  • Arguments
  • One person always being critical
  • Making too many demands on a caregiver

A core component of family relationships is stress, which can undermine mental health. On the other hand, social support may act as protective care, according to L. Pearlin of Cambridge University.

How Family Stress Impacts Health

Previous studies have shown the detrimental effect of stress and strains in family relationships. Health-compromising behaviors may also occur due to stress. In addition, stress in family relationships can impair a person’s immune system; therefore, the cardiovascular system may be affected, and there is an increased risk of depression.


Many people become estranged from family members when the environment becomes toxic. This typically happens when the relationship becomes emotionally, physically, or financially abusive.

Some people are cut off from family members for other reasons, which include:

  • Religious beliefs
  • Addiction
  • Conflict
  • Betrayal
  • Mental illness
  • Criminal behavior
  • Other unhealthy behaviors

A lack of skills to resolve conflicts may also be a reason that family members are estranged.

Attributes of Good Family Relationships

Family members who have a supportive family relationship often feel an improved sense of self-worth. When the family members are supportive of each other, the result is that they encourage optimism, which has a positive effect and can improve mental health. In addition, some family members may somewhat regulate another’s behavior by providing information and encouraging them to behave in a healthier fashion and to utilize needed health care services.

2014 Family Research Survey

The Journal of Family Psychology published the study results from a survey that was completed for 2,802 participants that are in their midlife years. The average age was 45 years. Health was also measured based on the number of chronic conditions that occurred in the prior 12 months of the survey. They rated their health from poor to excellent. The vast majority of the people in the study did have living parents and siblings.

The goal of this survey was to compare family-or-origin relationships to relationships with intimate partners. The researchers asked questions about family support and family strain.

Some of the questions included:

  1. “Not including your spouse or partner, how often do members of your family criticize you?
  2. How much can you rely on [your family] for help if you have a serious problem?
  3. How often does your spouse or partner argue with you?
  4. How much does your spouse or partner appreciate you?”

Family Strain Is Associated With Chronic Conditions

The researchers found a strain in family relationships was definitely associated with a greater number of chronic conditions. It also found worsening health problems in the following 10 years and in the third round of the data collection.

Comparably, when the family relationships were positive, the health of the family members was very good. The researchers were surprised there were no significant associations between intimate partner relationships and declining health.

Final Conclusions

Health care providers should consider family relationships when treating patients for physical and mental health problems. Adults with chronic conditions who have to interact in a negative family climate may have an increased number of chronic health conditions. Some doctors have encouraged their patients to bring a supportive family member to their visits as this creates an open dialogue concerning their health problems.

A positive connection to family members offers social support that is not available from other people. If the family is not emotionally toxic, a family member can depend on another family member in times of need, whether it is for emotional support, practical support, or even financial support if the need is desperate.



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