Learning to Love Resilience

As a student of Marriage and Families, I have come to really enjoy learning about resilience in family life. Family life can be stressful, uncomfortable, exhausting, and painful at times yet so much joy can be found in families! Family is where we experience life’s greatest joys and sorrows and through it all we also learn so much! 

As a family develops through the stages of life, they reach milestones through which they gain new skills. From childhood to retirement and senior years, life can be so rewarding, yet sometimes there are experiences which, at first, seem unrewarding. Families experience heart wrenching grief, sadness, conflict, catastrophic stress (and related disorders), mental and physical health complications, or unexpected events like auto accidents, or a broken-down washer.


Stress, adversity, and trauma may leave us feeling angry, hurt, and confused – but we need to keep going. Think back to a time when you felt strong, intense emotions surrounding family life.  Maybe it was the pile up of a lot of different little stresses, or maybe a particular event. Did these emotions interfere with your ability to behave in a productive way, or respond in a way you would have liked to respond?  Mark Fraser in his book titled Risk and Resilience in Childhood: An Ecological Perspective suggests: 

“Hardship, tragedy, or failure can be instructive and can serve as an impetus for personal and relational change and growth. Resilience is gained when family members survey their experience and attempt to draw lessons from it that can be valuable in guiding their future course. In accepting what has happened and any persisting scars, they try to incorporate what they have learned into efforts toward living better lives” (2004).

Conflict Promotes Change

How can we turn stress or conflict into learning opportunities to promote change, or positive growth? May I suggest some general guidelines. First, understand that our belief system and the belief systems of our family is at the core of resilience. Meaning-making occurs as we construct narratives to make sense of what is happening around us. For example, our perception of the reason someone acted the way they did may be completely different than what the truth really is. These personal and family beliefs guide expectation and actions. 

Understand there may be errors or myths in your current beliefs surrounding stressors or crises. In times of great stress, it may be valuable to rely on a trusted friend or family member to help you decide where the errors in your belief system might be. Families are able to weather adversity if they have faith in one another and an abiding loyalty toward each other. When problems are viewed in the right context, perceived burdens disappear.

Look to the Future with Hope

We should avoid looking to the future with dread because we worry about what will happen to us and what can be done to improve the situation. 

“Our expectations, both conscious and out of awareness, are validated or disconfirmed in our daily lives and transactions. Assumptions that we will succeed or fail may lead us to take actions that fulfill our prophecies” (Frazer, 2004).

Hope is what is needed to sustain a positive outlook in the face of hardship or overwhelming odds. Hope is a future oriented belief, no matter how hard it is, we can imagine possibilities of a better future. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must accept finite disappointment but we must never lose infinite hope.”