Family Stress Management: A Contextual Approach


Pauline Boss, Chalandra M. Bryant & Jay A. Mancini

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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Copyright


    In 1988, I dedicated the first edition of Family Stress Management to my parents who survived the stress of immigration and the Great Depression; in 2002, I dedicated the second edition to my son and daughter who balanced work and family so well. I dedicate this third edition to my four grandchildren, each studying to ease 21st-century family stressors in the context of global warming and space travel.

    —Pauline Boss

    For my sister, Barlynda, and my husband, Richard Walker, who explore the wonders of the world with me through multiple lenses and with open hearts, and for my parents, Elvis and Delores, who instilled in me the power of family.

    —Chalandra M. Bryant

    With appreciation for my parents, Giulio (Jay) and Vetra Robinson Mancini, who showed me how to live a resilient life, and for the love of Deborah, Nathan, David, and Suzanne Mancini, who are the joys of my life.

    —Jay A. Mancini


    Mission of Book—Purpose of Revision

    As the original author of Family Stress Management (1988, 2002) and the Contextual Model of Family Stress (CMFS)—and now in my eighth decade of life—I have invited two younger and eminent family science scholars to join me in writing this third edition. They added immensely to this new edition.

    This third edition continues the original commitment to understanding the external and internal contexts in which distressed families are immersed. But in this new edition, we highlight even more the multicultural differences in families. By using a universal stressor—a death in the family—we illustrate the vast diversity in beliefs and values in families, all of which can be found in American society. As we focus on differences as well as commonalities, the topic of family stress management becomes more complex with fewer pat answers or binaries. This lack of absolute answers is what provides a thoughtful excitement in this third edition of Family Stress Management.

    The signature lack of jargon in Family Stress Management makes it a useful textbook (1) across disciplines, (2) for practitioners as well as researchers, and (3) for either undergraduate or graduate students. This is essential because today, the topic of family stress belongs to numerous disciplines: family social science, social work, nursing, human development, family psychology, sociology, pastoral studies, and military studies. With its more accessible writing style, Family Stress Management will enhance any course addressing individuals, couples, or families experiencing stress and trying to cope and regain their resilience.

    Overall, the major features of the book and the benefits of these features are its inclusiveness and thus its usefulness for researchers, practitioners, and educators working with any family stressor in any context or culture.

    While we discuss families within an external context of culture, history, economy, development, and heredity—contexts not often amenable to change—we also discuss the more malleable inner context comprised of the structural, psychological, and philosophical aspects of a particular family and its beliefs and values. Why is this contextual approach beneficial? It allows the readers to apply the framework to their own particular cases, their particular disciplines, and the particular families with whom they are working at a particular time.

    Major Features of New Edition
    How is this edition similar to previous editions?

    First, the core questions of Family Stress Management, first and second editions, remain: Why do some families survive stressful situations while others fall apart? Can a family’s beliefs and values be used as a predictor of vulnerability to stress—or resilience? While these questions are similar to those asked earlier, our answers in this edition are much more nuanced. There is no one right answer for all families, even those living in the same neighborhoods, hence the need for a more open and inclusive CMFS.

    Second, as in previous editions, the core framework for understanding family stress and the prevention of crisis remains the CMFS. It is meant to be a heuristic map to guide one’s thinking when working in diverse cultures and with diverse stressors. Because the CMFS is an inclusive and interdisciplinary framework, it helps researchers and practitioners develop a better understanding of the complexities of family stress and resilience processes today.

    What is different in this edition?

    Aside from an update in research literature, and an almost total reorganization and rewrite, we have now clarified the essential differences between ambiguous loss and boundary ambiguity, coping and resilience, and family versus community. Also, by emphasizing family function over family structure, we point out the wide range of ways families cope and remain resilient. Finally, in this new edition, there is more emphasis on resilience and community, the latter often being a support system that also helps individuals and families gain their resilience.

    Pedagogical Aids

    Each chapter (except for the first and last) begins with a story illustrating the main concepts in the chapter. The stories are intended to capture the attention of readers, facilitate critical thinking, and help them apply the context of each chapter to real life. Within some chapters, there are additional stories that bring to life the concepts covered.

    Summary and Points to Remember

    The “Summary” and “Points to Remember” provide a quick review of key issues in the chapter. “Points to Remember” highlight the main theme and core ideas for each chapter.

    Discussion Questions

    “Discussion Questions” provide an opportunity to process and apply information, in effect to extend learning. Many of these questions also provide an opportunity for self-reflection, thereby helping students develop a better understanding of themselves and how they are shaped by their own familial, cultural, and social contexts. The “Discussion Questions” (when used in a group or class setting) are also intended to spark the exchanging of ideas and sharing of experiences, so that individuals can learn about each other’s similarities and differences. This is critical for those students (undergraduate or graduate) in any type of clinical or counseling programs. Finally, the questions can be used to assess students’ understanding as instructors consider these two overarching questions: Can the student explain the basic concepts presented in the chapter? Can the student answer the questions by applying the concepts and ideas presented in the chapter?

    Additional Readings

    Each chapter contains a list of additional readings—academic books, chapters, journal articles, and novels. These are not the books/chapters/journal articles that are cited in the chapter. Those readings are provided in the reference list. We wanted to go beyond the reference list. The “Additional Readings” can be used by individuals or classes as supplemental materials that (1) illustrate or build upon the concepts covered or (2) demonstrate how a theory covered in the chapter can be integrated into a research study. In a few chapters, a film or video is even suggested. When students are presented with the same concept in different ways (chapters in this book, then “Additional Readings”), their ability to comprehend and apply the concepts (rather than simply memorize) increases. Everyone learns in different ways. The “Additional Readings” are intended to facilitate the learning process. Graduate students and upper level undergraduates can use the research articles (from journals) to develop their own studies, because we count on them to push the study of family stress management forward in the future.


    Special Recognition

    As coauthors, we all join in thanking Carol Mulligan for her skill and competence in finalizing the manuscript for this third edition of Family Stress Management. Her help has been invaluable to all three of us, as we reorganized, updated, and added new information.

    Additional Acknowledgments

    Pauline Boss: I thank the Department of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota for the use of an office during the summer of 2015. Thanks to Evin Richardson for her help in gathering literature; to Carol Riggs for reading the final manuscript; to the professors whose responses helped shape this edition; and to my husband, Dudley Riggs, for his understanding and support during the nearly 2 years spent on this revision.

    Chalandra M. Bryant: I extend a heartfelt thank you to National Council on Family Relations Board President (2015–2017) and family therapist Dr. William (Bill) Allen for providing advice and thoughtful critiques. Few colleagues push us to become better. He does so because he cares. Thank you, Bill! I would especially like to thank the person who gave me this amazing opportunity—Dr. Pauline Boss. The opportunity to write creatively and collaboratively, as well as exchange ideas, openly and analytically, subsequently led to the development of friendship that I will forever cherish.

    Jay A. Mancini: For reviewing chapter drafts, I thank my colleagues Gary L. Bowen, Kenan Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, School of Social Work, and Lawrence Ganong, professor at the University of Missouri, Department of Human Development and Family Science. I would like to acknowledge the assistance from the following University of Georgia students who gathered literature and read drafts of my chapters: Evin Richardson, Jacquelyn Mallette, Kristen Arp, and Alycia DeGraff. I appreciate their commitment to excellence and to family science.

    SAGE Publishing also wishes to thank the following reviewers for their kind assistance:

    • Angie M. Giordano, California State University Northridge
    • Teri M. Henke, Weber State University
    • Heather R. McCollum, Louisiana Tech University
    • Lynette D. Nickleberry, SUNY Empire State College
    • Amanda Duffy Randall, University of Nebraska at Omaha
    • Jacqueline R. Roe, Bowling Green State University
    • Barbara H. Settles, University of Delaware
    • Jessica Troilo, West Virginia University
    • Venus Tsui, Our Lady of the Lake University
    • Amy Conley Wright, San Francisco State University

    About the Authors

    Pauline Boss, PhD, is professor emeritus of family social science at the University of Minnesota and a fellow in the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR), the American Psychological Association, and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. She was visiting professor at Harvard Medical School (1994–1995) and the Moses Professor at Hunter School of Social Work (2004–2005). She is a former president of NCFR and a family therapist in private practice. In 1988, Dr. Boss wrote the first edition of Family Stress Management with a subsequent edition in 2002. For the third edition, she invited Chalandra Bryant and Jay Mancini to be her coauthors. Each edition has considerably advanced the Contextual Model of Family Stress. With groundbreaking work as scientist-practitioner, Dr. Boss is the principal theorist in the study of family stress from ambiguous loss, a term she coined. Since then, she has researched various types of ambiguous loss, summarizing her work in the widely acclaimed book Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief (Harvard University Press, 1999). In addition, Loss, Trauma, and Resilience (Norton, 2006) presents six therapeutic guidelines for treatment when loss is complicated by ambiguity. These guidelines are based on her years of work with families of the physically missing during the Vietnam War, after 9/11, and in Kosovo, as well as in clinical work as a family therapist. For families, Dr. Boss wrote the book Loving Someone Who Has Dementia (Jossey-Bass, 2011), which outlines strategies for managing the ongoing stress and grief while caring for someone who is both here and not here, physically present but psychologically absent. For more information, see her website,

    Chalandra M. Bryant is professor of human development and family science at the University of Georgia (UGA) where she teaches courses in family development, intimate relationships, and family theories. Before moving to Georgia, she served as a faculty member at Iowa State University (1998–2003) and Pennsylvania State University (2003–2010). Her research focuses on close relationships and the ability to sustain close intimate ties. She is particularly interested in the manner in which social, familial, economic, and psychosocial factors are linked to marital and health outcomes. After earning her PhD at the University of Texas, she completed a 2-year National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) postdoctoral fellowship. She serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Family Theory and Review. The International Association for Relationship Research presented her with the New Contributions Award (honoring significant contributions to personal relationships research) in 2002. In 2004, she received the National Council on Family Relations Reuben Hill Research and Theory Award (presented for an outstanding research article in a family journal). In 2005, she received the Outstanding Young Professional Award from the Texas Exes Alumni Association of the University of Texas. In 2015, she was recognized as a Faculty Member Who Contributed Greatly to Career Development of UGA Students. Her favorite hobby is hiking. Her nature photographs have been published in a hiking guide.

    Jay A. Mancini is the Haltiwanger Distinguished Professor of human development and family science at the University of Georgia and emeritus professor of human development at Virginia Tech. Mancini was the 2013 Ambiguous Loss Visiting Scholar at the University of Minnesota. He received his doctoral degree in child development and family relations from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Mancini is a Fellow of the National Council on Family Relations. His theorizing and research focus on the intersections of vulnerability and resilience; his research projects have focused on families and time use, family gerontology, psychological well-being in adulthood, sustainability of community-based programs for at-risk families, community context effects on families, and quality of life among military families. He received the 2007 Alumni Distinguished Service Award from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the 2008 Alumni Distinguished Research Award from the College of Human Ecology at Kansas State University. His research and program development activities have informed federal programs directed toward at-risk children and families (U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Defense). In 2014 he was presented the Spirit of Military Families Coin by Defense Canada, Military Family Services/Services Aux Famillies Des Militaires.

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