Can A Broken Family Be Fixed?

Updated April 8, 2024by Regain Editorial Team
”Within a family, empathy is of utmost importance. Many times of a family hurt each other not out of deliberate enmity but due to not understanding their loved one’s point of view. You can heal these previous family ‘hurts’ with help from a counseling professional.” - Aaron Dutil, LPC

Conflict and instability within a family can severely disrupt family members' roles. For most people, their family is a core feature of their social support network. Good relationships with family members increase mental health and provide protection and stability. When those relationships are disrupted or take on toxic traits, all family members have the potential to be affected.

Broken families come in many forms, and the approach to each one is different. If the dysfunction is severe or irreparable, such as when a parent passes away, professional help is often recommended. Qualified mental health professionals can use a variety of techniques to help a broken family recover or to help the family members reach a new, stable dynamic.

Worried you can't mend your broken family?

What does "broken" mean?

The broken home theory has historically been used to explain why juveniles are delinquent. Originating in the 1970s, the broken home theory defined a broken family as a family structure that deviates from the ideal. In American families, the ideal is typically considered to be a two-parent nuclear family. In broken home theory, one or both parents are absent due to death, divorce, separation, or desertion. A family missing one or both parents and the subsequent lack of role models has frequently been used to explain poorly-behaved children and adolescents.

While a family can certainly be broken due to the loss of a family member, many people refer to a broken family as one that does not work together in an ideal way. Both parents may be present, but one or both may not be a good role model. In this way, the broken home theory still holds. In a dysfunctional family, one or both parents may deviate from the ideal, producing similar (or sometimes more harmful) effects compared to leaving the family altogether. Extended family can be involved too. Conflict with aunts, uncles, and grandparents can also be dysfunctional.

For this article, "broken family" will refer to a family who has lost a parent, and "dysfunctional family" will refer to families who experience excessive conflict or instability. Both types of families will experience periods of difficulty, but no two situations will be the same. Some families may be grieving a loss of a parent, some families may be in an extended period of conflict, and others might be dealing with external issues, such as a parent's substance use disorder.

Broken from loss

This article will focus primarily on a family that is broken due to the permanent departure of one parent, either through death or abandonment. While divorce can undoubtedly break a family, if both parents are still involved in the children's lives, there is an opportunity for a new family dynamic. If you're worried about the impact a current or potential divorce may have on your family, there are resources to help you understand the impact the divorce may have on your family. A family broken from divorce can heal into a new, healthy dynamic. For children, good co-parenting practices can help introduce stability and reduce divorce's negative effects.

Grieving a broken family

When a parent leaves permanently, either through death or abandonment, there is no opportunity to co-parent or to re-establish a healthy family dynamic. After processing the circumstance of the other parent's departure, the remaining parent and children will have to establish a new family dynamic. Grief is a natural part of this process, and processing grief is the first step toward a healthy recovery.

Grief is not a predictable thing. Everyone grieves differently, depending on their individual personalities and the circumstances they are grieving. For the remaining parent, the death of their partner will likely produce a very different type of grief than if their former partner abandoned the family. For the children in the family, their grief is less likely to be affected by the circumstances of the loss. To them, the situation is simple. They have lost a parent.


Helping your family grieve

If you've lost your partner and are helping your children grieve the loss of a parent, the first person to take care of is you. Access your support network, and lean on people in your life you are compassionate and have the energy to share. Your extended family may also be grieving, and not everyone will be able to support you. Take note of the people who are offering support and use it. Don't put the needs of others before your own early in the grief process. If you delay grieving and attempt to support others before you are ready, you can complicate or extend your grieving process.

Surround yourself and your family with loved ones, even if they share your grief. Mourning together helps solidify family bonds. For children, having loved ones nearby, even if they are mourning, can help them feel safe and secure. Encourage the children to express their feelings healthily. Remember, children experience grief differently depending on their age. For example, young children may struggle to grasp the concept of death entirely, while older children or adolescents may struggle to express their feelings and the nuances of their grief.

Things will improve as the days and weeks pass since losing your partner. Recovering from grief starts slowly. Initially, you may only feel OK for a few hours. Eventually, those hours turn into days, and those days to weeks. Children typically follow a similar progression. However, in some cases, the grieving process can be disrupted, leading to complicated grief. In complicated grief, the grieving process is not moving forward and generally requires professional help.

Dysfunctional from conflict

A dysfunctional family is one where conflict and instability prevent healthy family attachments. For the scope of this article, we will consider families where both parents are present, but conflict prevents happiness and stability in the home. The dysfunction "breaks" the family.

The functional family

The characteristics of a healthy family define what a functional family looks like; significant deviation from the characteristics listed below indicates dysfunction. Healthy families typically do the following:

  • Allow and accept emotional expression.
  • Maintain consistent and obvious rules.
  • Consistently treat family members with respect.
  • All family members feel safe and secure in the home.
  • Parents care for the children, and children do not provide significant care to younger siblings.
  • Children have age-appropriate responsibilities.
  • Perfection is not expected or considered attainable.

Overall, a functional family is one where the members are safe, happy, free to express themselves and know their family role. If that is not the case, the family can be considered dysfunctional. Dysfunctional families can have a serious impact on children in the home, leading to increased misbehavior and mental health concerns. Similarly, adults are affected by losing part of their support network. Family typically provides an integral component of an individual's system of support.

Dysfunctional families can often be cyclical. For example, a parent's lack of support may result in a higher-than-average stress load. The stress reduces the effectiveness of their parenting, leading to increased misbehavior on the part of the child. The child's misbehavior increases the parent's stress, which further reduces their parenting effectiveness. Eventually, everyone is burnt-out, unhappy, and overstressed.

Making the dysfunctional functional

Family conflict is common, but excessive conflict can be harmful. Reducing conflict within a family typically begins by improving family communication. Often, spending effort on better communication can help parents and children feel better understood and bring to light the root of ongoing conflict.

Improving communication starts with ourselves. It is important to mediate our own emotions and bring peace to communication. This is especially important with children. Children do not have the same facility for communication as adults, and expectations for communication must be age appropriate. Still, each child should have an opportunity to express their feelings in a safe, secure environment.

As a parent, improving communication also means being available and willing to listen actively. Show your child you are listening by making eye contact and waiting for them to finish speaking before you address their thoughts. Be empathetic and compassionate in your communication, and never punish a healthy display of emotion. Most importantly, take time to model good communication with other family members such as other children, your partner, or extended family.

Worried you can't mend your broken family?

When to seek therapy

There is usually a path to happiness for any broken or dysfunctional family. However, that path may take a lot of work to find. If you are having trouble getting your family on the path to healing, online therapy is an excellent resource to investigate. Online therapists are licensed and use the same evidence-based methods as in-office therapists, like structural family therapy. You can avoid the hassle of packing up you or your family and traveling to an office; therapy takes place from the comfort of your home. Although the setting is different, research shows that visiting a therapist online is just as effective as seeing one in an office.

Below are some reviews of Regain counselors for you to review, from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor reviews

“Yumi is amazing and a perfect fit for us. Just having one video session help our family so much in so many ways. He responses are on point and we value it greatly. I can’t thank her enough for all she has continued to do to strengthen our family. I would recommend her to the world that’s how amazing she is.”

“I had left my family when I contacted Regain with the hope of salvaging a completely broken down relationship. Bradley was allocated to us. Bradley made one step at a time, said the right things at the right time and just seemed to get in tune with us to understand what was required in order to help resolve our relationship. He worked with us about once a week at the start then going more to once every ten days in the latter part of the counseling for about six months. We have managed to resolve our differences and are looking forward to a prosperous future in a healthy relationship. Bradley has given us the tools required to make sure we can quickly identify and know how to resolve any problems arising in the future. We couldn’t recommend him more. Thank you so much, Bradly and Regain!”


Families can be broken for almost any reason, but there is always hope. Whether your family is grieving a loss or experiencing conflict and emotional turmoil, there are resources that can help. Families can see results quickly by working to improve their communication, strengthen family bonds, and understand their grieving process. If conflict or grief becomes excessive or does not improve, a mental health professional can help guide the process forward.

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