18. Expression Areas Cult Differences - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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18. Expression Areas Cult Differences

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > All Relationships MultiCult

All Relationships and Therapy are Multi-Cultural- Family and Cross-Cultural Complications
by Ronald Mah

As the therapist holds the conceptual convergence between family experience and political/societal dynamics, it becomes easier to address the great diversity of possible client presentations.  Without the conceptual foundation, it becomes overwhelming to identify all or even a significant portion of the possible cultural differences that exist among different people, or even between two people such as the partners of a couple or among two or more members of some other relationship.  However, the therapist and other professionals can be aware of areas where cultural differences tend to be expressed.  By identifying the expression areas of cultural differences (between two members of a couple, among a diverse workplace populations, and so forth), the therapist can be better prepared to anticipate possible differences in a relationship, couple, or family, both problematic and beneficial.  Honest and respectful inquiry can lead to mutual cross-cultural communication ("What do mean by, 'I'm tired?'"  "How can I tell you need some help?"  "What is the best way to let you know I want something done differently?").  There can be both similarities and differences in various cultural perceptions and habits within and among many of the following areas listed below.  This section is not intended to be comprehensive.  The therapist should consider other areas that may be relevant to the individuals, couples, families, and groups the therapist might work with.  Also, the therapist need to differentiate between gender, individual, family, cultural roles/expectations and for variations among members or sub-groups of a larger group or community.  For example, among lower class, middle, and upper class, among members from different regions, among children, adolescents, adults, and elders, among professions, among specialties within professions, and so forth.

Each society has different traditions regarding the open expression of intimacy depending on the safety or vulnerability such expression invites or exposes.  In societies such as the United States and the democratic European countries, where there is more support and protections for open expression, individuals tend to be freer with all forms of expression: touch, facial expression, speech, and writing.  In societies such as feudal Europe, various countries with totalitarian governments, Nazi Germany, rigid authoritarian and abusive households, and other areas without traditions valuing human rights and life, individuals tend to be extremely withholding of expression.  Honest verbal or written (print and now cyber-print) expression if it were to displease powerful individuals could bring forth dangerous consequences.  The amount and frequency of touch also varies from among countries and communities.  Touch is a form of profound and depth communication.  It too may depend on the social-economic-political history.  For example, Asians have had harsh experiences for centuries of very high infant mortality.  Chinese families do not celebrate the birth of a baby until one month has passed; Koreans wait 100 days.  Bonding (including touch) may be experienced as dangerous emotionally and psychologically when the infant may (with high probability) die on you.  

Hugs and other affectionate touching are overt expressions of affection and connection.  Physical touch is probably the most extremely revealing form of communication.  Gender differences in feeling safe with vulnerability predict the response.  Girls and women are often acculturated to nurture, especially since they may need to compensate for boys and men are often socialized to avoid nurturing.  An African-American professor of education presented an interesting nuance to touch.  She said that African-American children quickly glance at their parents as strangers approach them with affectionate touch to see if it is permissible.  If the parent responds with a signal (nod or smile), then the child knows it is safe and okay.  This is an example to show that although touch is a universal human form of connection, intimacy, and affection, there are cultural nuances and differences among different people.  Asian traditions are more restrictive about social touch, probably due to issues about vulnerability in the feudal society.  Mainstream European-American (especially Californian) tends to be freer and open with affectionate touch due to relative safety regarding open expression.  Other cultures, Latino and Italian are stereotypically more physically affectionate than others such as British and German.  Safety and vulnerability issues apply to smaller communities including families predict individual comfort with touch.  

The therapist should consider not only whether affectionate touch is common based on an individual's ethnic or other culture, but also whether openness or aversion to affectionate touch may have come from rigid authoritarian and abusive households.  There may be significant differences in familiarity, comfort, and forms of affectionate touch.  For different individuals, it may be essentially or exclusively sexual in nature, frequently and casually manifested in many forms for establishing and maintaining intimacy, or somewhere in between.  Some individuals may have experienced touch as sexually at developmentally inappropriate ages by betraying intimate authority figures- that is, they were molested.  Their experience of touch may be much more defined by the molestation than any gender or ethnic modeling.  Therapy may be directed to discover the style, form, frequency, and meaning of touch for different individuals and to negotiate a common "touch culture" in the relationship.

OPEN VERBAL COMMUNICATION (Direct vs. Indirect Communication)
Communication is often emphasized in relationship dynamics.  Communication problems are probably the most common reason couples give for coming to therapy.  Communication between individuals may be misunderstood, poorly expressed, misinterpreted, withheld, hurtful, or shaming.  Therapy itself begins with communication between clients and the therapist.  The therapist may expect clients mandated to attend therapy by authorities because of domestic violence, crime, probation, or work/academic behavior or performance problems, or children or adolescents brought by parents to therapy might be reticent about open communication.  They may expect that deeper or more painful information may be held until greater therapeutic rapport has been developed between self-referred clients and the therapist.  However, the therapist often assumes that self-referred clients will be forthcoming and disclose relevant information to them.  In couple therapy, it is not unusual for one partner to initiate therapy with a significantly more resistant partner.  Sometimes, the initial contact by telephone, the intake process, or the first session often suffices to determine the resistance.  

The therapist needs to be aware that there may be additional cultural factors that affect open disclosure or communication.  For example, African American couples who present for therapy are sometimes burdened by family secrets and may have difficulty discussing sensitive topics and sharing life details with those outside of their family and community network (page 348, LaTaillade, 2006).  "African American males in particular may be more likely to adopt a 'cool pose'—a mask of composure that obscures their true feelings—in response to experiences of racism and similar stressful events for fear of being seen as a stereotypical 'aggressive Black man'" (page 351).  In this country and others, mental health professionals and other social and political institutions have been utilized to discriminate against marginalized people.  Soviet bloc countries utilized mental health professionals and institutions to squelch political protest.  African-American history includes experiences of discrimination at the hands of mental health researchers and practitioners.  In a particularly egregious example, in 1851 Dr. Samuel A. Cartwright in described drapetomania as a supposed mental illness that caused black slaves to flee captivity.  These kinds of historical experiences have fostered a collective mistrust of therapists and therapy among some African-Americans.  The therapist may find mistrust and resistance to open disclosure from other people with trauma experiences within families, or in societies such as refugees from Bosnia, Serbia, El Salvador, Rwanda, and other countries that suffered genocide.  Issues of power and privilege may manifest between the therapist and clients that can cause clients with previous experiences of subtle to profound disempowerment to feel vulnerable and threatened by therapy.  As trust from a strong therapeutic alliance develops, secrets and difficult feelings or experience will probably be revealed over time. The therapist who naively expect immediate disclosure or rapport may be offended by the lack of immediate trust.  When individuals, couples, or families present with concerns regarding disclosure, the therapist should focus on fostering the therapeutic alliance by adapting initial assessment concerns with respect to the clients' level of comfort.

Individuals from any ethnic group may present communication problems with differing emphases when paired with someone from outside the group.  Between Jewish and non-Jewish partners, "a problem over conflicting communication styles might be reframed as the Jewish preference for verbal expression versus the nonverbal ethnic approach of the other partner.  To help the partners maintain flexibility around culturally based behaviors, their position in cultural transition can be emphasized as well as the commonalities and complementarity between them…" (Eaton, 1994).  Good communication as opposed to poor communication facilitates the healthy or unhealthy relationship functioning.  Good communication is also effective and clear communication.  In the example above, communication is effective when the recipient clearly understands what the conveyor of communication has intended.  This most readily happens when the both the conveyor and recipient share the same style- for example if they share a preference for verbal expression or conversely, share a preference and familiarity for some common nonverbal approach.  Expression of needs, negotiation, and adjustments matched to the partner's receptive awareness makes for good communication.  Ishiyama and Westwood's (1992) explanation of cross-cultural adjustment and communication between an immigrant and others in American society are applicable to that between members of a couple or two individuals in some invested relationship in its cross-cultural dynamic.

"Communication skills and social sensitivities are essential to cross-cultural adjustment… Interpersonal difficulties and cultural disorientation are common among immigrants from distant cultures… It is necessary to understand and use social metaphors, customs, languages, and value sets to achieve academic, vocational, and social success in the host culture… Nevertheless, ethnic persons' native ways of relating to others, expressing ideas, and accessing and processing information may prove to be ineffective or inappropriate.  Lack of autonomy may result from not fully understanding what is going on and from becoming dependent on cultural and language interpreters.  Clients' future success thus can be blocked because of a lack of culturally appropriate skills and knowledge.  Such individuals may feel frustrated, inferior, self-critical, trapped, and hopeless.  These feelings need to be acknowledged by the counselor."

Partners in a conflicted couple may feel disoriented or disconnected.  They may not know how to effectively communicate with their partners and feel "frustrated, inferior, self-critical, trapped, and hopeless."  American society has a lot of expressed legal protections for individual self-expression.  Freedom of speech is a constitutional guarantee for all citizens.  Political leaders can be criticized without fear of retribution, including the President, the Chief of Police, the Army, Navy, and Air Force!  Societies that lack a tradition of individual democratic rights, where life, property, freedom, and security can be snatched away by powerful individuals or forces including and sometimes especially, the government (recent history of the Philippines, Haiti, communist bloc countries, and Columbia are but a few examples), promote a culture of hiding feelings and thoughts.  You can die for looking at someone wrong, for disagreeing, or for having a contrary thought, opinion, or political preference!   The therapist should consider whether harsh punishment for free speech from totalitarian societies or if punitive treatment for violating secrets in a client's dysfunctional family-of-origin have created individual inhibitions to open communication.  Indirect communication, although it may have complications of misinterpretation may become the style of choice and necessity where direct communication of needs, likes, and dislikes may be met with dangerous consequences.

The person, partner, or family member who is most powerful and secure is the one most likely to use direct communication.  Direction communication exposes vulnerability in the speaker, and also may create obligation in the recipient.  Both can be dangerous.  Presenting what one wants directly gives the other person knowledge of your needs, which can be exploitable by rivals.  It also gives the other person the opportunity to possibly invalidate your desires.  That can highly distressing as a basic existential denial of one's right to feel or to be ("How could you ask for that?  Who do you think you are?").  In addition, when a person is asked for something, it can create danger in two ways.  First, it can overtly acknowledge the power inequity of the asker to the asked.  In societies where being acknowledged as having more power, status, or resources labels one as different and/or the object of envy, this distinction may be accompanied by a greater danger of being targeted by the less powerful.  Secondly, when one is designated as the more powerful, the person in control, it can create obligation for the more powerful to serve the supplicant whether or not he or she wishes to.  Using cultural values of obligation to manipulate more powerful individuals is dangerous.  From observations of babies and children in early childhood programs, it is clear that newborn infants are entirely egocentric and totally expressive and demanding of all their needs from all-powerful adult caregivers.  By three or four years of age however many children have been socialized to stop asking directly for things.  It becomes dangerous to ask.  Strong emotionally threatening reprimands may result ("You know better than that!"  "What? Do you think I'm made of money!?") in the family.  Physical punishment or incarceration may result in totalitarian societies.  In the family, indirect communication becomes the safer method ("I like that" or "Judy has one like that" instead of "I want that"; "I'm hungry" instead of "Feed me!"  Or, a silent sullen look or other passive aggressive behavior instead of "No, I don't want to."  In a totalitarian society, silence or very very careful indirect communication or passivity is safer than presenting an overt grievance.

"That's a nice dress.  I have shoes and a belt that match that dress.  I haven't gotten a new dress in a long time.  Is there going to be an office party this year at your work?" Such stereotypical female to male communication could be expressed instead as a direct request or statement, "Can we buy that dress?" or "I want to buy that dress."  By asking indirectly, however the woman avoids humbling herself by acknowledging that she does not have the power or authority herself to make the decision (acknowledging her inferior economic power relative to the man in this patriarchal relationship).  By asking indirectly, the woman avoids putting her husband on the spot to please or disappoint his mate.  Since much of his self-identification as a loving husband may be culturally defined according to his ability to provide for his mate, indirect communication allows him to deny the request without verbalizing actual denial ("Uh huh.  Let's go look at the stereos.") and avoid being humiliated in admitting his impotency in pleasing his mate.  Or it allows him to safely express benevolent generosity or "love" by saying "Why don't you try it on?  If it fits, let's get it!"  This dynamic may be duplicated but with reversed gender roles (male indirect communication with a female with greater power) or in gay or lesbian couples as well, depending on relationship dynamics, the cultural legacy, and/or the family-of-origin experiences of individuals.  Indirect communication is less frequent and becomes less necessary when there is equity in the power and control relationship between couples.  There may also be functional equity available in the relationship decision-making process, but members may fail to activate it and unknowingly carry forth the cultural traditions from previous experiences or the families of origin.  The therapist should examine how power dynamics or inequities may be embedded into the communication style within a couple from family-of-origin and/or cultural experiences.  

Societies that require appropriate (obedient, conforming) behavior with the threat of extreme consequences for failure (death, punishment) tend not to reward as much for appropriate behavior.  The focus is on avoiding forbidden behavior and forcing appropriate behavior through the threat of punishment.  If more powerful and life-dominating individuals or institutions require immediate compliance, loving parents of any ethnicity may not have the luxury of a developmental theory of behavior modification.  Developmental processes require time.  Classic conditioning of reward and punishment, with the emphasis on punishment becomes the most time-efficient discipline.  While arguably effective and efficient, punishment (corporal and other) also can be destructive of will, hope, and self-esteem.  While parents may rue such harm, their first priority has to be the physical survival of the child.  

Affluent and democratic societies can afford moving to more positive reinforcement oriented discipline- that is, developmental forms of discipline.  Also, American discipline often includes theories based on self-esteem; that is, praise promotes self-esteem which motivates positive behavior.  Totalitarian traditions does not allow parents the time for that!  In fact, individuals from totalitarian traditions (African-American coming from slavery, Jim Crow, and racist communities, or recent immigrants from less democratic societies, for example) can be vulnerable to maintaining corporal punishment orientations even though other more developmental (self-esteem, authenticating) may be available and appropriate given changing social situations.  The therapist may fail to note cultural issues (personal issues and those of the individuals, couples, and families they work with) when interacting with parents and families regarding discipline techniques around children and how partners may discipline one another with praise or punishment.  Therapeutic techniques that emphasize promoting the self-esteem of the other person (whether a child, family member, partner, or another in some relationship) versus negative or positive reinforcement may be well received or dismissed depending on the personal and/or cultural experiences of the individuals.

In a California Association for the Education for Young Children (CAEYC) conference workshop on March 20, 1993, John Eaglesmith described the conception and experience of time for Native Americans.  His definition of the Native American sense of time fit children and all earth-bound nature-responsive peoples.  He defined Native American time by where (a place) people gather (a community) together for a common purpose or experience (a process) that includes a closing ritual.  Until the process is complete, "time" stands still.  When does the pow-wow begin?  Not 10am, but when the drummers arrive.  With the drummer's arrival, the community has formed in a place.  When does the pow-wow end?  Not 12 noon but when the last dance is done.  The process has finished and the last dance, which is the closing ritual conducted.  Time becomes defined by the task, or the work is not up if the prey has not been brought to ground.  Time is not up if the storm is coming and the harvest is not in.  Time stands still as children are enmeshed in play in the sandbox.  Time both flies and is non-existent online at the computer keyboard.  And, even when the process is completed, time is still not finished without a closing ritual.  The closing ritual may be offering of the entrails of the butchered beast to the gods, the harvest thanksgiving, the knocking over of all the sand creations, or backing up the document files.  Children and people of color often function with this sense of time.  It is a natural (non-concrete) sense of time.

Concrete time is a consequence of the Industrial Revolution.  In an agrarian or nature-defined society, time is more fluid.  What matters is that the task is done completely.  Labor was not distinct from tasks and goals.  Start and finish times were not as relevant as completion of the task or mission.  Starting at 6am or 5:30am or 6:47am is not relevant as long as all the chores are completed before nightfall.  However, with the Industrial Revolution if the factory assembly line was set to start at 7am, then every worker on the assembly line had to be already there at his or her station ready to work at exactly 7am.  Mindless repetitive labor on the assembly line, which is a component of the overall task and goal for the factory worker must begin and end together for the assembly line to function.  Socialization of the proletarian work force to follow concrete time becomes essential.  This is a major goal of the American educational system.  Natural earth-bound time is the antithesis of industrial factory time.  

The multi-cultural teaching of time both understands and respects natural time as it reflects experience and cultural heritage.  It understands and respects situations where concrete time is appropriate.  The therapist may need to examine how time was experienced and conceptualized by members of a relationship.  Individuals, a couple, or a family may be best served to recognize and apply time concepts cross-culturally from context to context.   Annabella's experience of time in childhood revolved around the rage of her mother and father trying to get everyone to church on time on Sundays.  For her time or more specifically "being on time" had the implicit threat of "or else!"  As a result, unaware of the legacy of her father's obsession and rage about timeliness, Annabella would rush and harass her husband to "be on time."  In actuality, unconsciously she was avoiding being late and getting punished for it… again.  There was actually no one to punish her aside from her internalized critical parents.  Functionally, this meant her very stressfully rushing herself and her husband to engagements so that they were always 15 to 30 minutes early.  Not surprisingly, Annabella's husband didn't take kindly to being nagged and rushed just so that he would have to sit in the car for 15 to 30 minutes outside whatever event or function.  They could not go in, the event or function would not start for another 15 to 30 minutes!  Only by discovering this archaic survival mechanism and then addressing whether if it was still necessary as an adult and in her new intimate relation in the couple, could this point of contention between Annabella and her husband be resolved.

In all societies, the reception of a gift, service, or aid creates a debt that requires reciprocity.  The recipient is obligated to give or do something in kind to the giver.  The degree of debt varies according to whether the gift was expected or exceptional or not.  The degree also varies considerably from society to society (from giving verbal appreciation to incurring a blood debt), especially varying in a dominant hierarchal relationship versus in a relationship based on equality.  The consequences of not honoring the debt (reciprocating) are more extreme in less democratic, more feudal societies, especially for individuals with lesser status.  This is also true in families for the less powerful members such as children or an abused spouse.  In a society with democratic rights and effective and available legal guarantees (to property, life, expression, etc.), the citizen has a realistic entitlement to those rights.  In functional families, every family member also has rights he/she realistically asserts.  Reciprocity is developed through modeling and is expected from all members of the group whether the most powerful or the weakest.  Reciprocity is mutual rather than an obligation of the more vulnerable while optional for the more powerful.  In democratic societies violations of reciprocity are not as much an issue.  Even if one doesn't say "please" and "thank you," an American citizen is guaranteed the right to vote, receive certain medical and health benefits (if you have insurance!), the right to drive, to own property, to be educated (in public school up to community colleges) and so forth.  A child or spouse who fails to reciprocate in a functional family will be guided and if necessary, fairly disciplined to learn the behavior.  

In totalitarian and authoritarian societies status and power are determined by hereditary, force, military might, religious affiliation, and other standards often unavailable to common people.  Whether or not one is able to access the minimal requirements for survival, much less the benefits of the community often becomes dependent on arbitrary determinations of connected individuals, or even merely of others in the community- friends and neighbors.  The "right" to food or shelter, for example, is not guaranteed whether or not there are "legal" guarantees.  Access becomes dependent on who you know, who you can bribe, who has the influence, who is owed a favor, your ability to "purchase" your rights.  Reciprocity determines access in such societies.  Rather than being a mechanism to smooth social interactions, reciprocity in totalitarian or feudal societies become obligatory for the lesser classes.  From a less severe perspective, when failure to reciprocate may create a potential arbitrary consequence of gaining or losing access.  The need to express proper appreciation remains great.  Reciprocity may take on very rigid formalized forms in order to prevent inadvertent gaffes that may endanger future relationships and access.  

In a society such as the United States, citizenship primarily (non-citizens who formerly were given greater access due to their status as human beings, are currently losing access) creates access.  Reciprocity involves for most citizens, the payment of taxes, participation in the democratic process (ideally), obedience of the laws of the land, and possible conscription for the common good (jury duty, military, and other service).  Practically speaking, Americans can and many times have, avoided reciprocity without the severity of consequences experienced in totalitarian societies.  In dysfunctional families especially overtly abusive families, there is no functional right or guarantee to fairness or appropriate responses.  Instead, there are often arbitrary reactions based on the volatility of emotionally, psychologically, cognitively, or substance affected problematic parents or spouses.  The therapist needs to be aware of how obligatory or egalitarian are reciprocity, acknowledgement, and appreciation messages and actions between or among the members of the relationship, couple, or family.  In particular, the therapist can be prompted by clinical observations or communications of the individual, couple, or family.  The cultural norms of any individual should be examined with respect to another to see if the messages or actions are mutual or are primarily from a lesser status individual to a more dominant person.

In most societies, men are more likely to be confrontational when necessary.  Or, more willing to be confrontational in general.  It is the function of the male as warrior to confront and fight to protect his family.  Due to the traditionally weaker, more vulnerable position of women in most societies, women were often required to take less confrontational approaches to problems.  Maintaining harmony and cooperation (even pseudo-cooperation) is often a huge restraining value when individuals (women, especially traditionally) are faced with problems.  It is relatively safer to confront in American society because of individual safeguards (for example, the Bill of Rights).  While often questionable in practice, in theory and principle, each citizen of the United States usually holds the same rights as any other.  Marriage equality for same-sex couples remains an unfortunate exception in many states.  Even though American society has a lot of legal protections for confronting inequities, experiences both from outside American society and within American society greatly qualify the security of individuals to express disagreement or opposition.  In America, authority figures that hold power can be criticized without the degree of fear of retribution as compared to less democratic societies.  Societies (such as traditional Asia) or oppressed segments of society (such as African-American or Native American communities) or families (such as in a patriarchal totalitarian and abusive home) that lack a tradition of individual democratic rights, where life, property, freedom, and security can be snatched away by powerful individuals or forces (including the government, or a parent), promote a culture of avoiding confrontation.  You can lose rights, property, and even life.  You can die for confronting the wrong person!  The American radical commandment of the 60's of "Question Authority!" would be foolhardy in many families, communities, and societies.

Equal rights place individuals in a conflict ostensively on an equal basis, theoretically neutralizing inequities or differences in social status, class, education, economic power, gender, physical power, temperament, social alliances, and so forth.  As a result, the resolution of the conflict is decided based upon the relative merits of the conflicting perspectives.  Resolution of the conflict is restricted to the issues around the conflict itself.  Moreover, the resolution is not to be allowed to create other physical, economic, social, and other consequences.  In other words according to American culture, confronting someone such as the spouse or supervisor for forgetting to call regardless of the outcome is not to result in retribution against the spouse or supervisor.  The compliant will not be humiliated, insulted, struck, or rejected, that is fired or divorced.  In societies, communities, relationships, couples, and families, individuals without such rights- that is, protections may suffer mild to terrible retribution, regardless of the merits of the case or of its resolution one way or the other.  In the mixture of two cultural heritages and cross-generational transmissions from two families, the therapist should examine the tradition and habit of safe or unsafe confrontation between individuals including intimate family members.

For some individuals, confrontation is in of itself considered aggressive.  Aggression is a very human trait.  It can be perceived as having no intrinsic positive or negative moral value.  In some contexts where there are limited resources and a highly competitive situation, or where a passive presence creates vulnerability, aggression can become an extremely critical and valued survival trait.  However, one of the consequences of aggressive behavior can be a breakdown in cooperation and functional coalitions.  Relationship expectations, agreements, and boundaries may be violated.  Competitors, especially unsuccessful competitors can become antagonistic.  As aggression becomes a predominant trait in individuals and in communities that faced historical and present contextual demands for survival, it can become an impediment when differing contexts arise.  In other words, individuals and communities steeped in a culture where aggression is valued and functional may be incapacitated when situations arise where passivity or cooperation is the relevant survival trait.  In working with individuals or communities from relationship dynamics where aggression has been a desirable and functional trait, it becomes imperative that the aggressive value not be disrespected, but accepted as logical for the original context.  From that acceptance, the next step is to help those individuals or communities examine if aggression is a functional trait in emerging and/or alternative contexts.  Emerging and alternative contexts would include the twenty-first century, an increasing multi-cultural and multi-national community, the adult work world, the mainstream society, and ethnic communities different from personal experience… and, the couple or family relationship.

When training educators at a Jewish school, the teachers (a mix of non-Jewish and Jewish individuals) complained to the facilitator/therapist about parents who aggressively confronted them about their children's needs.  From the least to the most, the teachers rated the parents.  Non-Jewish American parents were the least confrontational and aggressive, Jewish-American parents in the middle, and Israeli parents the most confrontational and aggressive.  The staff agree with a hypothesis that these distinctions were a consequence of survival, culture, and history.  For hundreds and thousands of years after the fall of Jerusalem and the Diaspora, Jewish people and communities have often lived as the most despised and most oppressed in every country and community they resided.  Aggressive mechanisms for survival became part of the fabric of this existence.  While there are qualifiers to this principle (passive behavior could also be prudent in the face of oppression in some cases), the history of the nation of Israel reflects a highly aggressive and confrontational stance.  It is notable that when Israel did not counterattack during the Gulf War in 1990-91 to the Scud missile attacks into Israel, it marked the first time as a nation that the principle of an eye for an eye was not applied.  From its inception, Israel has evolved from being a highly vulnerable member of the Middle East nations susceptible to extinction to a mature country with a significantly more stable national security.  Israel may benefit from a fundamental cultural shift in its survival strategies as negotiates with the Palestinian people and other nations in the Middle East.  However, Israel continues exhibit significant aggressive and confrontation tendencies that some (including within Israel) feel is no longer be necessary.  The therapist needs to determine if there are similar cultural legacies that individuals bring around confrontation and aggression that may not be functional in a new relationship's dynamic.

Power and control issues often complicate relationships.  While individuals, the couple, or family may manifest power conflicts from individual issues, they may be also acting from larger social expectations and norms.   Therapy often becomes a negotiation for power and control moderated by the therapist.  Therapy with a narcissistic client may become a battle for power and control between the therapist and the client.  Negotiation between members of a couple may focus on principles and proposals of give and take, gain and loss, or credit and debt that dominate the discourse such that affection and attachment become negotiable as well.  And, are withheld and given or deposited and withdrawn in an emotional accounting system.  "I did that for you."  "You haven't taken me out for months."  "I get less sleep (appreciation, free time, attention, money, gifts, choice, and so forth) than you do."  Rosenblatt and Rieks (2009) describe this as exchange theory.  "Exchange theory comes from a culture in which many things are commodified, many things can be priced, a what's-in-it-for-me perspective is appropriate moral thinking, and where people want good value for their investments of labor, energy, money, caring, and time.  There are other cultures in which this kind of thinking makes little or no sense.  For example, there are cultures in which family loyalty or moral obligations are dominant values.  In cultures like those, there may be much less possibility of finding an appropriate exchange for, say, acting contrary to one's family or to cultural morality, and hence much less possibility of finding an exchange-based compromise on those issues" (page 201).

The exchange within a couple is individually and culturally is often defined, especially in American society as supposedly equitable.  In male dominated societies, the exchange is often still considered equitable.  In both more egalitarian and more male dominated societies, rather than a one-to-one reciprocal expectation, the exchange allows for in-kind behavior or comparable worth.  Traditional deference to males as head of the household is balanced by the honor and respect afforded the female bearer and care of children for example.  Hard work and denial of stress (and perhaps, humiliations) is countered with lavish compensatory gifts and vacation.  If one partner fulfills his or her roles or tasks in the couple or family, the other partner is even more obligated to fulfill his or her roles or tasks.  Failed obligations from infrequent reciprocal emotional or physical deposits lead eventually, however to distress and resentment.  Power and control is included in the exchange.  While the patriarch may have ultimate authority over the family, the wife/mother has day-to-day authority over the household and children.  While the single income earner makes major decisions on significant or expensive expenditures, the partner manages the daily budget.  While these definitions may be socially and culturally defined, actual practice may be very different despite overt homage to tradition.  A therapist told me at a diversity workshop I presented that, "I'm Polish-American.  I remember my Polish-born grandma emphatically telling us, 'Never forget… Poppa (her husband) is the head of the family.  Remember, he's the head of the family.  And, the family always does what he tells us to do.   Never forget… Poppa is the head of the family.  And, we always do what the head tells us to do… AND, I'm the neck and I tell the head which way to turn!'"  While professing the social and cultural traditions that their family was an expressed patriarchy, it was a functional matriarchy.  This story can be and has been told by numerous individuals from a variety of supposedly patriarchal family cultures.  As a Chinese-American with Chinese immigrant parents, I can testify to its relevance from my family despite Chinese traditions of family patriarchy.

For inter-racial couples, racial definitions of power and privilege along with gender definitions (if heterosexual couples) may be carried into their dynamics.  "'Normalizing truths' about social relations between men and women, and white people and people of color impose imbalances of power and privilege, and constrain possibilities for alternative narratives that can lead to more satisfying interaction in people's lives.  Dominant discourses shape our lives and relationships and we are frequently subject to their power with or with our awareness…  For example, dominant discourses of gender and race relations tend to obscure how females and blacks occupy subordinate positions and males and whites occupy privileged positions in the hierarchies of race and gender.  Such categories of difference reflect complex relations of power and are not neutral" (page 604, Killian, 2002).

Social power hierarchies often preclude individuals from disparate power classes from intermingling, especially from marrying.  Race and gender may be seen as alternatives to or as forms of other class distinctions.  Social race hierarchy potentially adds another layer of power complications for interracial heterosexual couples.  Killian in "Dominant and Marginalized Discourses in Interracial Couples' Narratives: Implications for Family Therapists," where 10 African-American and European-American couples where interviewed notes that some interracial couples may simultaneously subvert and comply with the dominant, hegemonic discourse of homogamy by de-emphasizing their differences on race, gender, and class.  Instead, they stress characteristics they share.  Killian described two interracial couples that saw themselves as normal and ordinary, speaking as if racial and ethnic differences did not exist at all.  One couple felt the media over-emphasized and sensationalized interracial couples, while asserting that they were no different than any other couple (page 606). One couple where both partners were raised as Jehovah's Witnesses, thought their minority religious affiliation was the primary source of any unwanted social attention or discrimination rather than race.  Their racial and cultural differences were pushed to the side in their self-definition, while religion became a major organizing principle of their couple and social relations (page 607).  Another couple asserted that family values were not ethnic values.  This inexplicably would mean that families exist individually and outside of sociocultural and historical contexts.  While they admitted cultural influences on the couple and family, they "suggest that they have entered into their relationship devoid of history and ethnicity… Removing themselves from a stream of racial and ethnic continuity, interracial couples can also comply with the liberalist discourse by seeing themselves as individuals 'on their own' instead of parts of larger family systems and a larger sociocultural history" (page 612).  

Despite such attempts to deny or minimize the impact or relevance of race in their relationship and social experiences, in their study, "All 10 couples discussed incidents in which the couple experienced negative attention in public, from subtle cues of avoidance, to exclusion from conversations, to more obvious behaviors, such as people staring in restaurants and turning around on the street to get a second look.  These narratives of resistance in their social networks constitute a subordinate discourse about the effects of the prevailing ideology of homogamy on heterogamous couples' lives" (page 608).

Dealing with race and societal discomfort to rejection of interracial couples as negatively exceptional resulted in strategies to deal with loss in power, privilege, and safety.  Whether their partners understand and validate their experiences of racism, African-American partners remain vigilant and invest energy to monitor incidents, including managing ambiguous acts that occur in a racist society.  A stressful and exhausting strategy, African-American partners see it as necessary to real danger while whites see it as hypersensitivity (page 614).  Such strategies by people of color may lead to them being labeled beyond hypersensitivity to paranoia- that is, they see racism everywhere.  Strategies by other victimized or vulnerable people could be likewise labeled that they as overly sensitive or paranoid.  The therapist who rejects or minimizes race issues may diagnose minorities as hostile and susceptible to conspiracy and persecution anxieties.  Killian noted that all 10 couples agreed that African-American spouses were more likely than white spouses to notice and be emotionally affected by negative public reactions.  

White partners said that they "don't look for," "don't notice," or are "oblivious to" negative public reactions to the couple.  Implicit in the phrase, "don't look for" is an accusation that African-American partners were hyper-vigilantly looking for offensive treatment.  White partners were unawareness of their African-American partners' perceptions of different social spaces, such as their work environment, and their sense of safety in those spaces.  They were surprised to learn that their interracial relationship could offend fellow workers and threaten their partners' job security (page 608).  White partners often held more optimistic perceptions of society without awareness of the privilege that their African-American partners did not have.  In a personal conversation, a gay Latino described how his white partner also did not initially notice discriminating looks and actions directed toward him- the brown partner.  Once alerted and sensitizes, the gay white partner began to recognize their different treatment, including his white privilege within both straight and gay communities.

"One such discourse is that of liberalism or individualism.  Liberalist understandings promulgate a social reality composed of autonomous individuals possessing equal opportunity and access to institutional power and success, as long as they work hard.  When black partners like Anita and Hillary voice their frustration and pain around incidents of racism and discrimination, their subjugated knowledges are discomforting to white partners because they fly in the face of the prevailing liberalist ideology that everyone can "make it" in this society if they only try hard enough" (page 610).  Conversations about race and racism may become reminders of privileged status compared to a partner.  It also challenges the illusion that the white partners are accepting, positive, and anti-racist.  Two white male partners were quick to judge their partners as "irrational" or "paranoid."  Asserting their partners racial hypersensitivity along with asserting their male rationality as opposed to their overly emotional female partners shows how racism and sexism work combine two systems of oppression (page 610). The white partners' worldviews and possibly their views of themselves as non-racist were threatened by their African-American partners' discourses about unequal power and privilege.  

The therapist needs to be aware if he or she also may hold perspectives that are challenged by or if he or she is uncomfortable with conversations about racism or other social injustices.  The therapist needs to consider if he or she has internalized a negative ethnic or racial identity, or possibly universalistic identity that everyone is the same, that "we are all humans."  This denies race and ethnic differences as being relevant to the therapy or relationship.  The therapist who experiences discomfort when faced with ethnic or racial differences may deny the importance of differences as a way of avoiding their own negative reactions (page 615).  This is comparable to the therapist who is threatened by and subsequently, implicitly discourage client disclosure about difficult history such as sexual molestation.  The therapist who denies the potential relevance of race and racism may align with the white (or privileged) partner to pathologize the African-American (or less privileged) partner as over-sensitive.

"The tremendous power of normalizing discourses… can influence interracial couples and family therapists to consciously or unconsciously collude with one another to the extent that the dominant discourses… are privileged while others are avoided, minimized, or dismissed in the therapeutic conversation… In both what is and is not talked about in therapy, family therapists implicitly and explicitly support dominant cultural discourses of homogamy, history's insignificance, and minority hypersensitivity.  For example, a therapist who subscribes to the liberalist discourse might agree with a white partner's assessment that the black partner is exaggerating an incident of discrimination.  In such an instance, the discourse of hypersensitivity subtly, or not so subtly, would organize the dialogue among the participants.  The black partner's position and power as author and agent are eroded, and his or her marginalized narrative, which arouses discomfort in the partner and the therapist, is further marginalized in the therapy room.  Rather than pathologizing clients of color with a diagnostic label of 'paranoid,' therapists could support them by placing their experience in sociohistorical context and stating that their concerns reflect a legitimate, "healthy suspicion" of social relations between whites and persons of color" (page 614).

LaTaillade (2006) in "Considerations for Treatment of African American Couple Relationships" echoes many issues for interracial and same-race African-American couples that Killian discussed.  In addition, LaTaillade discusses how the highest levels of marital satisfaction were in husband-dominant couples.  African-American couples may view husband-dominant relationships as the societal ideal, while considering an egalitarian power structure in actual marriages being from economic necessity rather than personal choice.  The therapist should take care not to make assumptions based on stereotypes or cultural standards that any heterosexual couple holds traditional male-dominant, female-dominant, or egalitarian couple models (or that, gay and lesbian couples are egalitarian).  The therapist cannot be sure how individuals may integrate or reject among a myriad of cultural models and expectations.  African-American women have been socialized to conflicting ideals of self-reliance, while also believing in a model of male economic dominance.  African-American women often have achieved greater educational and occupational advancements than African-American men, while still making less money on average than African-American men and white men and women.  "…popular literature has drawn attention to the diminishing pool of status-compatible male partners.  This status discrepancy may set the stage for eventual disappointment and conflict over the male partner's inability to fulfill respective ideals of financial leadership."  While both African-American men and women are often acculturated to embrace patriarchal ideals, African-American men have been historically denied access to economic resources essential to reinforce this ideology (page 344).  Failing to understand and incorporate as appropriate this social/historical knowledge into therapy, may add moral disempowerment to financial and social disempowerment in the couple's dynamic to African-American men so affected.  

The therapist often needs to address both experiences of powerlessness and oppression external to the couple relationship and manifestations of power differences within the marriage.  The therapist needs to remember that, "it is not uncommon that Black couples, in response to racism and other social stressors, turn their frustration against each other by engaging in mutual blaming that increases distress and perceptions of powerlessness" (page 351).  In times of economic distress with high unemployment and significant under-employment, for many people (in particular, those socialized to be financial providers such as men in general), a sense of moral failure and humiliation for unemployment or under-employment can be further exacerbated by insensitive therapists.  While the therapist should encourage individuals, partners, and couples to hold one another to personal responsibility and personal choice, the context of where and how responsibility and choice must be taken into account.  

By overtly addressing issues of power and injustice due to race (and other social group designations including gender, sexuality, religion, class, and more), the therapist socially and culturally confirm clients' experiences rather than hold them as individual idiosyncratic orientations.  Only then can the coping mechanisms and strategies be examined for their relative effectiveness or ineffectiveness in the current couple's functioning.  While the energy is validated as logical within the context of an individual's history and experience, it is further critiqued for how well it works with the partner.  Then new more effective strategies that may incorporate elements of the prior mechanisms and strategies can be explored and adopted (Killian, page 615).

Abuse can be defined in terms of the violations of personal boundaries. Physical abuse is the violation of the boundary that asserts one's right not to hurt or be intimidated or terrorized with inflicted physical pain.  Psychological or emotional abuse is the violation of the boundary that asserts one's right to not to be humiliated, to have self-esteem and to feel good about oneself.  Sexual abuse is the violation of the boundary that asserts one's right to determine access to one's sensuality and sexuality.  Sexual abuse or rape of adults by other adults violates the requirement of mutual agreement required for consensual sexual intercourse.  Children developmentally cannot make appropriate judgments on whether to give consent to sex.  The decision to be active sexually is inherently the decision of a mature adult.  Intrusion sensually or sexually by adults on children becomes automatically abusive, since children are always in a lesser position of power. Children cannot give permission by a true free will or from a developmentally mature psyche.  

Males that come from environments where accumulation of property and power are emphasized and especially, where women and children are seen as men's property can lend to greater propensity to violations of sexual boundaries.  The European-American economic system (entrepreneurial capitalism) promotes such accumulation of power and control (especially among men, "having the most, and being the best").  Other social and economic systems that promote similar or more extreme values may also have increased propensity to boundary violations or alternative definitions of boundaries.  Rape and molestation has clearly been recognized as manifestations of power with a secondary sexual content.  Soldier rape of conquered women is a common tactic of warfare.  "Having" women sexually in high numbers accrues status and power for men in some social circles.  Fathers "give" their daughters away on their wedding days to another man.  

In American culture and in many other cultures, power and property may be compelling themes when men consider women.  With appropriate boundaries, a patriarchal family model has been the idealized traditional European-American family.  With poor boundaries in any family in any culture that with a domineering man intolerant of shared family power and the lesser status of women and children, the probability of controlling behavior or domestic violence, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse increases.  Ricardo resented the time his wife, Flo took to have her girls' night out and would emotionally punish her with the silent treatment when she came home.  He felt her friends were taking "his wife" and his time with her.  His perspective came from two places.  Ricardo was of Hispanic background and professed that wives were supposed to cater to their husbands' needs.  In addition, all during his childhood he watched his alcoholic father dominate and intimidate his mother into fearful compliance.  After eliciting these two complementary value systems, the therapy addressed whether his attempts to enforce them worked in the marriage with Flo, his European-American businesswoman wife.  Ricardo could own that his behaviors were not functionally effective and eventually through the therapy, came to accept that Flo's behavior was not intended to be emotionally rejecting.  Therapy began to address both their needs underlying their behaviors: her need to spend time with friends and his need to not feel emotionally abandoned.  They began negotiating how he could have her attention, energy, and commitment without "owning" or controlling her time and activities.  

The therapist must assess for boundary definitions and expectation relative to power and male "ownership" of female partners including but not limited to sexual access, affection, time, and energy.  Similarly, the therapist should also assess for whether there is contention over ownership of children in general and males or females in particular.   Similar issues may exist to ownership and domination partners as well as in gay couples and lesbian couples.  In such cases, there may be a greater likelihood of the dynamics occurring not so much as a result of heterosexual cultural traditions but from psychodynamic experiences or family-of-origin modeling.

The "definition of 'family' differs greatly from group to group.  The dominant American (WASP) definition normally focuses on the intact nuclear family.  African-American families often focus on a wide network of kin and community.  For Italians, there is no such thing as the 'nuclear' family.  To them family means a strong, tightly knit three- four generational family, which also includes godparents and old friends.  Chinese go beyond this and include in their definition of family all their ancestors and all their descendants" (McGoldrick, 1982).  The basic socio-economic unit for survival is the unit necessary for an individual to be part of that favors survival.  To not be part of this unit created risks for survival.  The basic socio-economic unit for survival for European-Americans is the nuclear family in modern U.S. history (early or mid-twentieth century on).  The American continent is abundantly rich in natural resources that have been well exploited by American economic strategies.  The American economic system has flourished to the point in the middle of the twentieth century that many American families could survive and even flourish as nuclear families.  In fact, individuals could survive alone economically without significant family ties.  Thinking of or looking out for the welfare of one's family, can be as a result, restricted to considering the effects of decisions only for the nuclear family.  Going against the wishes or traditions of the parents of the adults or the in-laws, or matriarchs or patriarchs would not place the nuclear family in jeopardy socioeconomically- emotionally, perhaps but not necessarily financially or socially.

In most other societies, including during earlier European-American history, the basic socio-economic unit for survival has always been the multi-generational extended family.  Asians' concept of family including ancestors and descendants creates much greater responsibility to family.  Failing at school lets down the whole horde of the family!  Under this type of intense pressure not to fail the family, not just the nuclear family, Asians and other similarly stressed groups are vulnerable to feeling overwhelmed, defeated, depressed, and even suicidal.  Quitting and rejecting the family entirely becomes a viable and an even attractive alternative.  In times and places other than modern America, individuals and nuclear families were hard pressed to survive without the physical, economic, financial, and political support of their multi-generational extended families.  The therapist often hears complaints about individuals not respecting, spending time or communicating with the family without necessarily knowing what conglomeration of "family" is being referenced.   In addition, the relative obligation to respect or obey family may vary significantly as well.  The therapist should assess individuals, couples, and families for cultural definitions or idiosyncratic family concepts from unique and/or fluid family dynamics or compositions that were problematically transposed into the relationship.

LaTaillade  (2006) discusses how African-American couples employ common coping strategies shared by all racial and ethnic groups, but they may more readily or more vigorously draw upon familial, kin, and community support; religiosity and spiritual beliefs and practices; and positive ethnic identity (i.e., a positive self schema about being African-American to counteract negative stereotypes).  African-American churches have not only served as places for spiritual support, but also for practical and emotional support to African-Americans.  They have, among other things provided programs for emotional, educational, economical welfare; conferred status within churches that have compensated for a lack of occupational and educational status in American society in general; and promoted political organization, activism, and resistance against oppression and discrimination (page 346).  Other ethnic-focused churches have performed similar roles for other ethnic groups, while mixed or predominantly white churches may not have had the same functions, or not to the same degree, importance, or urgency.  For African-American couples, extended families and non-blood kin may be sources of support during times of stress.  This may be more extensive or not as available depending on the traditions of other groups in society.   Subsequently, the unavailability of these traditional African-Americans support systems may be harmful for relationship satisfaction and stability.  Outside social support is related to couple relationship functioning and may buffer against relationship distress.  Specifically, African-American wives who maintained contact with extended family members were more likely to be in stable marriages (page 345).  These supportive or buffering systems may not only be more culturally prevalent and readily accessed by African-Americans, but may be more functionally available.  

When presenting about cross-cultural issues for Cambodian parents at a day treatment program in San Francisco, I asked them, "Who did you turn to when you were still in Cambodia, when you needed money? food? job opportunities? medical help? educational opportunities? help with security issues? influence with institutions?"  The answer to all these questions was the family, but not the nuclear family, but the multi-generational extended family.  Since many of them lost family members in the Khmer Rouge killing fields and also disconnected from others by immigrating, the biological extended family did not exist for them in San Francisco.  When I asked them who they turned to in the United States, they answered, the bank, the food program, vocational agencies, Medi-Cal and County Hospitals, the public school system, the police, advocacy and community agencies.  The day treatment program at the Richmond Area Multi-Services (RAMS) they attended had become the closest thing they now had to the extended family for many of them.  

The breakdown of the patriarchal single-wage earner nuclear family as a viable model for economic survival, may actually be from an overall societal perspective a return to the predominant historical model for economic survival throughout human time- the multi-generational extended family.  This would make the recent brief ascendancy of the nuclear family an historical anomaly rather than the cherished cultural ideal of the family preservationists!  As the nuclear family has begun to show greater and greater failings in meeting its members' needs, social commentators have taken on a traditional African proverb- "It takes a village to raise a child."  Traditional neighborhoods that were true functioning mutually supportive communities of people have become places where people sleep in their houses, but do not come out to interact.  Instead their social life is at work, or a distant mall, club, or church.  Perhaps, this "village" is a modern day return to the traditional functioning of the multi-generational extended family through new social institutions and mechanisms.  

The availability of multi-generational extended families for its members has been rendered impractical through lack of proximity as technological changes have often spread families hundreds if not thousands of miles apart.  The Cambodian parents revealed that prior to immigration, they and their ancestors had lived for generations within a twenty-five mile radius their entire lives.  The extended family had always been available.  However, with immigration they had to turn to new social structures such as the day treatment program for support.  Head Start, day treatment programs, community medical clinics, country clubs, food banks, the Rainbow Coalition, self-help groups, gangs, the public schools, and other places of gathering and social service programs can be seen as modern American society's attempts to replace the functioning of the lost multi-generational extended families.  African-American and perhaps, certain other groups and specific families may have greater or lesser tradition and success in maintaining traditional multi-generational extended family support.  However, it may be that recent societal changes have diluted such traditional support regardless of cultural patterns for most people.  The therapist needs to get clarity of what "family" constitutes when individuals, couples, or families bring up "family" issues or problems in therapy.  LaTaillade included non-blood kin among the support utilized by African-Americans.  Activities, places, functions, and groups of individuals where the couple or a member of a couple affiliates may have important roles comparable those previously addressed by multi-generational extended families.  This can be a formal institution such as a church, a casual but socially fulfilling tail-gate party with fellow football fans, fellow drinkers at the bar, or a weekly yoga class. These may be the new non-blood kin- the "brothers" and "sisters," community "aunties" and "uncles," the new elders now called mentors supporting individuals, couples, and families.  If the therapist focuses on the nuclear family and managing its dynamics, he or she may be missing important family members, influences, and requirements in the extended family or the surrogate extended family.  The therapist needs to take care to closely monitor ethical issues as he or she may become seen as part of the client's "family."  

Mainstream American culture encourages individuation, since the economic abundance and democratic protections of American society allows and supports independent behavior.  The individual can survive and even flourish by him or herself in American society.  In most other societies and in other eras, taking care of family or community first was how one took care of oneself, since only the family or community could provide security.  While males may have had more freedom to explore individual aspirations, females have historically been much more limited to explore individuation.  Even in modern times as women are encouraged to explore fulfillment beyond traditional female roles, there is often an expectation that they do so while continuing their historical primary roles as caregivers and as subservient to male partners in heterosexual relationships.  

In almost all other eras, the family (usually the extended family) was primarily an economic unit.  Families had family businesses or family work.  In feudal times, caste restricted families even more to their hereditary work as serfs, merchants, soldiers, etc.  When the family is primarily an economic unit, then each of its members is a worker in the family economy.  Due to physical differences, especially as the member who bears and births children, roles for women were often restricted.  In addition, as soon as a child is able to contribute to the family work, he or she begins to work.  As the child reaches full physical capacity at 12 to 15 years old, then he or she performs all the physical work of an adult.  Advanced academic or intellectual development, finding and reaching one's potential are often counter-indicated to taking on one's role in the family work force when work was primarily physical in nature.  Taking care of oneself first would result in the disintegration of the family and self-destruction since individuals could not survive alone.  This would be particularly divisive in couple or family models with restrictive traditional female roles.

However, it has become possible for individual self-interest not to be automatically against the best interests of the family.  As the American nuclear family is able to obtain enough economic resources through the work of a single parent (or with the spouse in the two income family), the family is no longer primarily an economic unit.  Instead, it can become a child development unit.  The family as a child development unit, does not require its children to participate in income or subsistence production, but can focus on creating advanced economic and social opportunities for its children through a nurturing developmental process involving intellectual, psychological, emotional, and social stimulation, advanced education, accrued experiences, and gradual increases in responsibilities.  Since the family is not dependent on each child as a worker for the family's survival, it can promote the individuation of one, some, or all (depending on the overall resources of the family) of its children.  This would potentially promote the success of the family not only in the present, but also for successive generations.  

The terminology of "the farmer and his wife and their children" would have been more accurately phrased in previous times as "the farmer and the farmer and the little farmers" where all were intimately and critically involved in the family economy of farming.  With modern economic situations, individuals, the couple, and the family may still operate economically interdependently under one household budget.  There can however be different models such as with one primary income earner and one primary caregiver, or two independent income earners holding separate jobs with one primary caregiver or joint collaborative caregivers.  Children, especially older children may still be part of the economic structure and perform work or acquire income for the family.  Other non-nuclear family members may also reside in and financially contribute to the household.  However, this may be less common and certainly, not the preferred mainstream model anymore.  Thus, it may be "the farmer and the banker and the developing children."  Each partner's economic advancement would add to the overall family coffers.  As such, one or both of the partners may stress individual growth (education, job or career advancement for example) without threatening the economic viability of the family.  Independent progression may, however threaten the emotional or psychological health of individuals or the couple or family dynamics.  Individuals, couples, or families may present for therapy to enlist the therapist to help them explore and readjust the balance or imbalance of individual needs versus the couple or family balance.  The therapist should examine the relationship for potential conflict and cohesion among cultural traditions, family-of-origin models, and evolving societal development and requirements that may have contributed to imbalance.

In communities, relationships, couples, or families, where there is scarce resources, rights, or access for everyone, then there may be a requirement to promote the entire group.  Sacrifice is one directional- for the family.  Sacrifice by the group for the individual is frowned up and potentially deadly for all.  On the other hand, an affluent and secure family can promote its individual members to meet their own needs, affluent and secure communities can promote its members similarly.  However, in non-affluent and economically and politically insecure communities, each member often is given the responsibility of the entire community to carry in his or her affairs.  Jackie Robinson for example, carried the burden of representing all African-Americans, as he became the first African-American to play major league baseball.  He subjugated his personal needs to face racism in order to promote the needs of his community.  Role definitions of the partners in a relationship often come from traditional heterosexual models and historical economic models that may no longer be functionally compelling.  The therapist may need to determine the relevance of and the potential conflict among traditional and historical models for the relationship, couple, or family, the family-of-origin models for them, and their current needs.  There may be implicit or explicit requirements for individuals to subjugate personal needs for the relationship, couple, or family functioning that need to be reviewed and re-examined.

3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
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