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Was Your Family a Blessing or Not-so-much? Find out with a Family Genogram

Updated: Nov 2, 2022

A Family Genogram is a tool to reflect on what you brought with you into your relationship from the past.

You love each other, and vowed to make a healthy family together- different than your parents and grandparents. But the past doesn't stay in the past and the relationships you've known become the scripts for the relationship you are in.

Questions to ask yourself

  1. Were my grandparents marriages healthy? Would I be proud to have marriages like theirs?

  2. Did my parents have conflict that I had to watch and process as a child?

  3. What about my partner- What kind of marriages did he/she have in the family with grandparents, aunts/uncles, and parents?

One tool to reflect on with your relationships from your family history is a genogram. A genogram is just a picture of what your family's relationship history has been. It's full of symbols to reflect the kinds of relationships, and emotional content of those relationships.

Here's a brief video that describes what a genogram is and a demonstration of one genogram. Thank you to Bridgetown Church in Portland OR for creating this easy-to-understand video.

Couple Exercise: Create your Genograms

Each person create your genogram, going back to grandparents. Focus on the relationships, marriages and children created from those relationships. This set of symbols can help you reflect on the nature of the emotions between the couples in your family. If you don't really know anything about the nature of a relationship, just put a ? in the genogram.

This is a key to how you can draw the ties between couples in your family. What kind of emotional valence did the couples in your family have? You can also draw ties between other family members as you explore in more depth if you would like to.

Now its your turn. Take out a piece of blank paper and each partner draw your family tree with grandparents, step-grandparents, parents, step-parents, and siblings. If you would like to add aunts/uncles you can do that. If you aren't sure what to do, consider drawing the genogram with your counselor in session or search online for more help using "how to draw a genogram" as a search term.

Questions to discuss as a couple, or in couple therapy?

  1. Are there patterns of marriage, divorce, abandonment or commitment in your family? You might also note if there are patterns of psychological diagnosis, substance abuse, legal problems, poverty or other kinds of struggles.

  2. Are there patterns of emotions in relationships that we notice in our families?

  3. How did the patterns in your family influence you to be in this relationship? Did you follow the patterns of the family or did you try hard to do the opposite of your extended family?

  4. As you put your two pieces of paper together. How would you characterize the emotional nature of your relationship? It can be more than one symbol. Do you see it similarly, or differently?

  5. How can understanding the relational patterns in your families help you with your goals for your relationship?

This intervention is part of the exploring patterns unit within Hope Focused Couple Counseling.

Hope Focused Counseling

  • Intake and Feedback/ Conceptualization

  • Stabilization of conflict cycles (if needed)

  • Increasing bond by exploring patterns

  • Increasing bond by communication and conflict resolution skill building

  • Increasing bond by repair, forgiving and reconciling

  • Consolidating gains and planning for long-term future

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