Family communication patterns are the foundation of the Family Communication Patterns theory. Figuring out your family’s communication pattern can have immensely positive benefits for your life.

A family’s communication helps them express needs, wants, and concerns. Open and honest lines of communication create a scenario where everyone can have differences and live harmoniously, mostly.

Some people confuse family communication patterns with parenting styles. While communication patterns can help inform parenting styles, these avenues of communication focus on the entire family unit. It’s a way of establishing mutual respect and compassion on all sides.

The Four Family Communication Patterns

Communication patterns are structures within a relationship that happen in a consistent pattern. Each of the four patterns differs in its level of conversation and conformity.

  • Conformity is the side of the spectrum where a single family member has the final say in decision-making.
  • Conversation is a spectrum on which families can communicate openly about any topic.

Using these two components as our scale, the four family communication patterns are:

Pluralistic

Families in this category have a heavier concentration on conversation. Parents usually believe in life as a teach and expect their kids to interact with people outside of the family to grow. They focus on making decisions as a family unit, considering everyone’s opinion as valuable.

Families in this communication style are not conflict-averse. They embrace disagreements to better understand one another. They teach strategies and coping mechanisms to all family members to help resolve conflict. Children in these families learn independence and self-confidence.

Consensual

The consensual communication style also values communication, but it also focuses on conformity. Families can communicate their opinions freely. Parents usually make the final decisions, though, especially regarding important issues. The conflicting approaches can sometimes lead to tension. A desire for control while also remaining open-minded is a difficult balance to find.

Parents in these families typically spend time explaining decisions. They express values and beliefs and expect their children to learn these values. Children in these family systems usually learn to adopt the family’s value system. This communication is not as ready to deal with conflict because it’s considered a threat to the family structure.

Protective

Protective family structures are not open to transparent communication. They focus heavily on conformity. Phrases often used in these family units include, “Because I said so.” Parents in these families expect their children’s obedience and rarely share their reason for making decisions.

Conflict is often low in this communication pattern, but that’s not necessarily healthy. The conflict is usually low because they teach children to follow authority with little to no questioning. Whenever conflict happens, these families are typically ill-equipped to handle it. Children in these families rarely learn to trust in their ability to make decisions independently.

Laissez-Faire

Families with a laissez-faire communication style value neither conformity nor conversation. These family systems are sometimes called “emotionally divorced.” That’s because there’s little to no communication at all. Parents have no interest in the decisions their children make and vice versa.

Conflicts are rare, but again, this isn’t healthy. Because everyone is so distanced from one another, the conflict never arises. Parents are usually in the fark about what their children do. Their children rarely learn the value of connection of conversation. Because they have so little support, they might develop insecurity about decision-making.

If you’re interested in learning more about your family communication pattern, consider talking to a therapist. They can help you explore these patterns as a family, in group therapy, or one-on-one. If you feel that your communication pattern is toxic, it’s especially important to talk to a professional. Children can discuss their concerns with a therapist independently or with parents present.