Marriage and Family — 04 October 2005
The healing power of family

In good times we may recite our discontent with some of our family members. On occasion, we get annoyed, hurt, disenchanted and even distant from them. But in times of stress our family becomes the most powerful support system that helps us survive and cope.

The survivors of hurricane Katrina teach us this lesson well. Some of the hungry, wet, and forlorn individuals, who were interviewed by reporters, spoke not about their physical suffering, but about their concern for reuniting with their family. One man tearfully said: “I need my family, please help me find my family, I can handle the rest”. The comfort and security obtained from being together with loved ones seem to alleviate the deepest suffering.

Research has long documented the survival value of being with family members during extreme traumatic events. Perhaps it is the absence of added loss, or the responsibility to stay alive for the sake of the others, or the sharing of resources or perhaps it is the power of love that keeps us resilient.

Older people who are ill fair better when they are tended to with love and reassured that someone cares. Married men survive better than single ones who are in a similar state of health. People who lose the will to live often attribute it to loss of a spouse and loneliness.

Loving and being loved is life enhancing. When we are loved we matter and can overcome many odds more gracefully. When we love others, we breathe life, hope, and courage into them. The emotional and physical expressions of love are positive, life sustaining powers.

Family is often defined as a couple and their children. This is the nuclear family. The extended family embraces many relatives and their spouses and children. However, family may be defined as the circle of people who care about you, whom you trust, and who can be counted upon in good and bad times. All those who truly accept and love you and about whom you feel similarly- are your family. It is not about blood, it is about connection.

So who is in YOUR family circle? Please identify those people and view them as your treasures. You could not fair as well without their support, acceptance and unconditional regard. These are the people who enable you to live up to your potential and make life joyful and meaningful. If a pill promised you healthy survival and well being, you may be willing to pay dearly to acquire it. Well, you have it and it is free.

For many couples it is the spouse who is the strongest bond of family. If you are blessed to have this mate, cherish him/her daily. You need not wait to get into dire straights to realize that your partner is your best ally. Treat him/her with reverence and gratitude. Shower your partner with love, appreciation, compassion and adulation.

I see couples who get in touch with the love and loyalty of their mate only after an episode of forgiven betrayal, illness, grief, financial loss, grave errors, legal trouble or other trauma. They say: “I didn’t realize how much s/he loves me until this happened.”

Please do not wait for the catastrophic event to assure you of your partner’s (or other family member’s) love. Do not wait to feel guilty, shameful, remorseful, unlovable and unworthy in order to recognize your mate’s loyalty, devotion, caring and commitment to your health and happiness.

Lavish in the small blessings of love in your everyday life:

• Sense the joy of waking up with your partner by your side.
• Watch the pleasure in your partner’s smile as you succeed.
• Observe your partner’s worry when you are in pain.
• Be thrilled to have someone so wonderful with whom to share the joys of life.
• Cherish your spouse’s attentive ear and curious listening as you speak.
• Listen to the laughter you share- it is your real life music.
• Feel blessed by the warmth of touch and physical connection you have with your partner.
• View your children with awe, your friends with gratitude and appreciation, and yourself as a blessed individual.
• Be forthcoming with your love. Do not wait for your last moments of life to let your family members know how much you love them. Do it daily.

“No matter what you’ve done for yourself or for humanity, if you can’t look back on having given love and attention to your own family, what have you really accomplished?” Lee Iacocca

September 18, 2005

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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