Exam Responses: Family Communication

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Exam Responses

Q1 – Systems theory is the study of systems, the idea being that the concepts should transfer to all disciplines of science. Family systems theory is based upon the assumption that a family is a system, and that it may be studied in a similar manner to other systems approaches from a scientific standpoint. The seven features that define a family system follow, each illustrated by a vignette from the film Monsoon Wedding.

Interdependence is apparent in a number of subtle ways in the film, such as the necessity of having all family members participating in the preparations for the wedding (some by staying out of the way). Also, the financial support Uncle Tej provides to his brother (the father of the bride) demonstrates this: Lalit is dependent on Uncle Tej to make the wedding he cannot afford to go off.

Wholeness is illustrated by the Verma family’s coming together from across the globe for the wedding. The feeling is that none of the relatives were invited; everyone simply expected to be there because each is part of the greater whole, and the whole family, which is greater than the individuals, was required at an event as important as a wedding.

The feature of Patterns/Self-Regulation is demonstrated throughout, as family members give feedback to one another on whether their actions meet the normally expected behaviors in the family. As a small but touching example, the matriarch of the immediate Verma family, Pimmi, quizzes her pre-teen son about whether he is wearing clean underwear. The conversation devolves into giggles, but the sending and receiving of the message that her standard (the family’s standard) is clean underwear are clearly demonstrated.

Interactive Complexity/Punctuation is the idea that there is not necessarily a cause-effect relationship between events, but that they are part of an ongoing flow of actions and reactions. It could be that the son, Varun Verma, is being threatened with boarding school by his father because he is lazy, or it could be that he is acting lazy because he dreads going to boarding school, or neither, nor both.

Openness is the exposure to influences outside of the immediate family system. In the case of the Verma family, it is shown by the way family members as they have reached adulthood have gone to places as far from India as the United States and Australia to get work or another benefit that could not be gained by staying solely within the family system.

Complex Relationships abound in Monsoon Wedding. An excellent example is the Verma parents, Lalit and Pimmi. During wedding preparations, Lalit is powerful and in charge, not overtly displaying vulnerabilities. As the stress of being the patriarch of his immediate family system overwhelms him, he allows himself to express it only within the subsystem consisting of him and his wife, when he curls up on Pimmi’s bed and sobs to her.

Social Constructionism is prevalent throughout the film. Although there are many outside cultural influences that affect the people and situations in the film, the Verma family is essentially built on the traditions of thousands of years of Indian culture passed on within their social community.

Q2 – In the coupling stage, the most central issue may be that each half of a newly married couple must adjust to a new family system. The combining of two family systems, and their differing norms for behavior, traditions, etc., may place stress on each person in the couple during this stage.

In parenting infants through adolescents, the most significant issue is likely that of assimilating another person into what has been the marital system. Developmental stress may be experienced as one or the other parent may feel neglected as the child gets the lion’s share of attention from his or her partner.

As grown children leave home and leave the nest empty, the couple must realign the family dynamic to include in-laws and grandchildren. This may cause stress upon the relationship as new subsystems are formed and potentially create tensions in the marriage subsystem.

As this occurs, the independence stage is being experienced by the grown children, and they are forming the basis for the following stages of their lives. A developmental stressor may be the lesser degree to which the family system provides guidance and support, causing the grown child to adjust to being more self-sufficient.

As the couple moves into the retirement/senior citizen stage, the major issue is likely to be the preparation for, and the death of, one half of the couple. This can cause developmental stress as the inevitability of separation from the partner and one’s own death are realized.

Q3 – The parent/child relationship between Pimmi and Varun, and that of Lalit and Varun in Monsoon Wedding are excellent examples of how it shapes identity and sense of self. This is best demonstrated in the scene, alluded to in a previous response, when Lalit, the father, is threatening to send Varun to boarding school, to make him more like Lalit’s version of a masculine young man. It is clear that Varun identifies more closely with Pimmi, and her positive expressiveness and encouragement of Varun’s artistic interests appear to temper Lalit’s stern, critical style. It is likely that the parent/child relationship between mother and son will mitigate whatever potential damage Lalit’s criticism could do to Varun’s sense of self, and he may reach adulthood with the idea that his interests and abilities make him who he is, more than the idea that his disinclination to be masculine makes him less than a man.

Adita and Ria, technically cousins, are raised as siblings after Ria’s father dies. Early in the film, they have an intense argument when Ria strongly criticizes Adita’s choices in her love life. The ability for the two to have such a heated and emotional conversation and maintain their close relationship speaks to the fact that they are more like siblings and less like cousins. Ria is badgered throughout the film about when she will marry, and her choices in that area compared to Adita’s, mainly by the elder women of the larger family system. Ria is learning from participating in Adita’s wedding what will be expected of her socially when it is her turn to marry. Adita and Ria see, via Ria’s disclosure of abuse by their Uncle Tej, what the social acceptability of something so heinous is in their family system. They learn, through this shared experience, how the elders of the family, which Adita and Ria will eventually be, are expected to handle themselves when confronted with such catastrophic news. Further, smaller everyday experiences, like how the parents of the house interact with the maid, demonstrate to them daily what the social standards are in society. This community of experiences, shared by the women raised as siblings, shape their social development.

Q4 – Applying System Perspective Theory, it appears that the individual family, while still being the most powerful system a person is in, may be weakened between now and 2040. The advent and growth of social media appear to be connecting more people to broader systems. Often, mother and son, for example, are Facebook friends with a similar group of people, due to one or the other “friending” the other’s contacts. Those friends have a certain number of friends they are connected to, and mother or son may have social interaction via Facebook with those friends of friends, with whom they may never interact socially. This likely results in more superficial social relationships between those people with added degrees of separation. A certain number of them, however, may develop into “family-like” relationships, somewhere between purely social and part of the family system. This looser, broader circle of family and “family” may serve to weaken the bonds of the smaller family system by eroding the amount of time and the quality of interaction family members have with each other. Further, it may result in the effective ostracizing of elder members of the family system, who may not use social media as readily, and so be ignored in favor of people in the system who are able to connect via electronic means. 2040 is a relatively short time from now, but the changes social media have brought have exploded so quickly that it is easy to believe they can continue affecting family systems via how much and how well individuals interact.


Galvin, Kathleen M., Bernard J. Brommel, and C.L. Bylund. Family communication: Cohesion and change. 8th ed. Boston: Allen & Bacon, 2012. Print.

Monsoon wedding. Dir. Mira Nair. Perf. Naseeruddin Shah, Lillete Dubey, Vasundhara Das. Mirabai Films, 2001. DVD.