Forming a committed couple relationship marks the beginning of a new family. The make up of our ‘extended family’ changes and the number of people we are connected to widens.
Extended family refers to all those we are related to beyond the nuclear family. The connections and bonds between family members will naturally vary and can become even more complex when there is separation, divorce and re-partnering.
Our family of origin is at the core of our extended family and will have influenced and shaped us for both good and bad. Identity and a sense of belonging is first experienced in our family of origin, with each family having its own culture.
The rituals around forming new relationships, engagement, weddings and the celebration of shared enterprise, point to the significant transition that is taking place.
Couples are faced with the task of blending each others individual experiences, values and priorities to form something new and unique – although conflict and confusion can arise where our partner does not share what we had previously thought to be ‘normal’.
When couples aspire to create patterns that diverge from family expectations, conflicts of loyalty and difficulties in relationships can arise.
The amount of closeness and distance from extended family is another point of negotiation and will vary and change over time. Life stages and events such as the birth of children and death or illness in the family can bring strengths and vulnerabilities to the fore.
Extended family can be both a wonderful resource and focus for stress and tension. Strains and difficulties can show up around money, parenting, and who and what are given priority, as well as in less predictable places.
When such difficulties and conflicts arise, relationship counselling can assist. The relationship counsellor will be alert to the issues and endeavor to create a safe and supportive space where understanding can be increased and ways of addressing the difficulties explored.
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