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Family systems theory suggests that the behaviors of individuals can be best understood in the context of the whole unit or system of interrelated family members.

Understanding family conflicts and change

Family systems theory maintains that changes in the overall family system will affect the behavior of individuals within the family system. This helps to explain how and why individuals may change -- and how conflict may arise and be resolved. In some instances conflicts with an individual may be solved more quickly if the family unit changes rather than focusing on the individual.


A key concept within family systems theory is the concept of triangulation. This concept states that if there is a conflict between two family members it is likely that a third member will become involved. A common example is when two parents are fighting and one of their children becomes involved in an effort to take their parents' attention away from the problem between the parents. Even though the third member becomes involved it is still up to the two members with the conflict to resolve it. Triangulation can lead to poor family relations.

Understanding family dynamics and interactions can help to make family businesses more successful. The family unit is an important part of the family business. Understanding theories around family systems can allow for family businesses to approach family situations in a manner that will allow them to be more successful.


Poza, E.J. (2007). Family Business, 2nd Edition. Thompson South-Western.

Article Contributors

Andrew R. Wood

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Categories: Family Functioning