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Peer group to focus on healthy relationships

Family tree

Explore how your family system impacts work and relationships and learn practical methods to bring calmness to life when feeling stuck or anxious.

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Relationships are important to us. They are intrinsic to being human. But then there’s conflict, or we feel stuck or anxious, and we wonder how to resolve the dis-ease. How do we bring our best selves to every relationship and stay centered, whether with family, work, or church?

Beginning on Thursday, September 28, you are invited to join a peer group of individuals seeking clarity in their lives and working toward positive well-being in their relationships, personal and professional. The group will meet monthly, spending each session exploring aspects of family systems theory and then working through how the concepts translate into everyday life.

The Family Systems Co-Learner Peer Group, sponsored by the Michigan Conference, will be facilitated by United Methodists with years of experience leading groups through the eight concepts of Dr. Murray Bowen’s theory of human behavior. Over the years, the Michigan Conference has found great value in providing these peer groups as a way for congregational leaders to manage the conversations and situations they experience in ministry settings.

This peer group welcomes pastors, deacons, lay leaders, church board members, or anyone who would find value in learning why we respond the way we do in relationships and how to make those interactions calmer, more fruitful, and life-giving. No prior knowledge is necessary.

There is no cost and no purchase of study materials required. Each monthly meeting will be focused on one of the eight concepts, concluding in May 2024. Maybe you’ve heard of family systems theory and want to learn more. Join the first session on September 28 to see if this is for you. Take one more step toward well-being via the Family Systems Co-learner Peer Group.

Difficult conversations can cause anxiety, and leaders — whether in a paid or volunteer position — are frequently caught up and unsure how to respond appropriately. And sometimes, even the best parts of us react in unhelpful ways.

Naomi García, Michigan Conference program ministry staff member who helps train mediators that assist congregations in navigating conflict, has utilized family systems theory in her supervisorial role.

“Any ministry setting,” García explains, “whether United Methodist or not, that finds themselves in a place of needing some help to behave well, to learn how to make their way through difficult conversations such as disaffiliation and any kind of theological unrest, we use family systems as our approach to inviting them to hear each other.”

By being able to hear each other, she says, we see each other differently, and we may even be able to conjure some empathy or compassion for ourselves and the person who disagrees with us. Then, we’re calm enough to figure out how to move forward in the relationship.

Family systems theory views the family as an emotional unit. It describes how our personal history has shaped us and impacts how we see ourselves in relationship to others today. Family systems theory looks below the surface to understand our interactions better. This theory helps Naomi and the mediators with difficult situations churches face, but its principles are useful for everyone.

Woman answering a phone call
~ image by nicoletaionescu from Getty Images

“It only takes a little anxiety or fear to sabotage our presence and thinking self,” she notes, “and family systems is a great way of looking at how predictable we are in our humanity, that it doesn’t take much to be anxious, and it also doesn’t take much preparation to be calmer.”

For Patty Dennis, one of the co-facilitators of the Family Systems Co-Learner Peer Group, an element of family systems theory that is talked about a lot is getting to a balcony view of a situation so you can remove yourself from the center stage. Dennis says, “Anxiety is contagious, and so if you can lower the anxiety and look at everything from a balcony view, you can really calm the system down by looking at things differently.”

This balcony-view perspective gives you the space to be who you are and helps you to see your place in the relationship and how to respond best. Rev. Tim Wright, another peer group co-facilitator, explains that this process of differentiation of self is another aspect of family systems theory that translates well into church life.

“I think a lot of people are in ministry settings,” he explains, “even if they’re just volunteering, where there are people you run across that make doing ministry more difficult, for whatever reason. But you’re not there to fix them; the bottom line is you’re fixing you. So, it helps me move forward, whether running the coffee hour or working as the office administrator.”

Learning family systems theory concepts can help you go into any ministry setting or relationship and be fully present and more effective. Wright says it has enabled him to live more fully centered on who God is creating him to be.

Two people having a difficult conversation
~ image by SHOTPRIME from Canva Pro

By digging into real-life case studies followed by spending time in self-reflection — looking at our own family history and relationships and seeing patterns of behavior — we can unlock important truths that will help us be our best selves in all of our relationships.

So, why is it helpful to do this deep dive with others? Naomi García explains that the peer group is conversational, both planned and spontaneous, and mutually supportive. “The advantage of doing it in a group is that each of us has an expertise from our own life that’s a little different than everybody else. So, in the context of a simple conversation, someone can realize that they have more options than they thought, that their ‘stuck-ness’ can be tended to in a healthy way.”

The Family Systems Co-Learner Peer Group meets on the last Thursday of each month, beginning Thursday, September 28, and concluding on May 30, 2024. There is no meeting in December.

To learn more about the facilitators and the various family systems concepts that will be discussed, visit the registration web page. If you have questions, contact Patty Dennis at [email protected] or (248) 299-4464.

Last Updated on September 12, 2023

The Michigan Conference