Building Strong Families with ACCCTS

by Jonathan D. Sherman, LMFT

This column begins a series that will cover the six most common traits of strong families. This column gives an overview of the strong family concept as well as the six traits. The next several columns examine each trait in depth.

I have been studying strong families for almost ten years now. I am indebted to Drs. Bill and Christina Marshall at Brigham Young University for so skillfully bringing these strong family principles to my awareness. Much of the material I will share here I first learned from them.

Guiding Principle: The Strong Family Concept

There are many misconceptions of strong families. One of the most common is that a strong family is the perfect "Brady Bunch" family with no major problems and who never fight. This is an inaccurate and unfortunate assumption. Strong families have plenty of problems and conflicts. The difference is in how they have learned to deal with those difficulties. People sometimes ask why the term "strong" family? What does "strong" imply over "healthy, functional, successful, or effective"? Strong implies struggle and the ability to overcome that struggle. We have families, not to avoid problems, but to better be able to deal with the problems life presents us with.

It's easy to get into the habit of thinking other people somehow have better lives, marriages and families. However, as Dr. Bill Marshall states, “The grass is not greener on the other side of the fence. It is greenest where it is watered."

You are likely reading this article because you want to strengthen your family. Sometimes people are hesitant to admit their family is not as strong as they would like it to be. In the field of family therapy we subscribe to the saying, "You don't have to be sick to get better." Our marriages and families only get in real trouble when we stop working on them. Sometimes we do not even know how to work on them. We are many times told what to do, but not how to do it. We get training for our jobs. Where is our relationship training? Here it is. This is the good stuff. When applied consistently, these principles really work!

Guiding Principle: Focus on what's right instead of what's wrong.

While it can be instructive and helpful to be aware of the negative, shouldn't we be giving the positive at least equal time? Sociologists report that eighty percent of all communication is negative. However, noted marriage and divorce researcher John Gottman, Ph.D. states that there must be a ratio of five positive interactions to every one negative interaction. That is interacting positively eighty percent of the time. Thus there is quite a gap between what is and what is needed. This approach is not about ignoring problems. However, I think most of us will agree that dysfunction has been the primary focus for too long. My question, then, is what are people doing right and how are they doing it?

The Buddhist philosopher, Thich Nhat Hanh, stated in his book Touching Peace, “Every day we touch what is wrong, and, as a result, we are becoming less and less healthy. That is why we have to learn to practice touching what is not wrong—inside us and around us.” Similarly, as noted by strong family researcher, Dr. Stoneman, "Every family has strengths, and if the emphasis is on supporting strengths rather than rectifying weaknesses, chances for making a difference in the lives of children and families are vastly increased."

Guiding Principles & Practical Techniques: “A-Triple C-T-S”

ACCCTS is pronounced as "A-triple C-T-S" or "ACTS" as in the "acts" families take to be strong. Why ACCCTS? If you remember this acronym, then you will remember the principles. Specific techniques are helpful to know, but to be able to remember the principles helps know what to do when the techniques fail or when we can't remember the techniques. So what is ACCCTS?

A = APPRECIATION: Appreciation is the oil in the engine: it keeps the heat down and allows things to run smoothly. By showing appreciation we communicate that I recognize and understand who you are and what you do.

C = COMMITMENT: Strong families make their relationships a priority in word and in deed. Family activities are planned and held sacred just as work-related appointments are. When a family member can't be at an activity to support another they live it vicariously later: they ask, "How was it? Really? Cool! I wish I could've been there. I bet you were great!"

C = CREATIVE COPING & PROBLEM SOLVING: Strong families know that conflict is 1.unavoidable and 2.necessary to their family’s growth. Any group of people will have conflict. However, strong families dislike hurting each other so much they seek out and learn other ways of resolving their conflicts without damaging their relationships. This is part of being committed to each other as it sends the message: "You are more important to me than winning is.” Strong families do not try to win arguments, they try to solve problems.

C = COMMUNICATION: So far, with the above traits, strong families are communicating a lot to each other. In addition, strong families learn to communicate in ways that are effective and helpful to each family member instead of just sticking with their own personal communication style.

T = TIME TOGETHER: Strong families have learned that quality time is a function of quantity time. Strong families see their time together as a family as important as any other scheduled appointment and treat it as such.

S = SPIRITUAL WELLNESS: Strong families, regardless of their cultural, ethnic, socioeconomic or religious background have this in common: a belief or value bigger than themselves that helps them practice the above traits whether they feel like it or not simply because they believe it is the right thing to do.

One last bit of good news: Not only will you strengthen your family by learning these skills, other areas of your life will benefit. These are transferable skills — practicing at home is practicing for work and vice-versa. For example, Dr. Christina Marshall found many of these same characteristics in strong businesses and Drs. Polyson and Preston (1987) noted that a safer and healthier international system was likened to the strong family. These principles are relationship principles.

Watch for the next column where we will look at appreciation as a strategy for creating greatness in your relationships.

Jonathan Sherman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Consultant specializing in creating "greatness in relationships." He is experienced in assisting people learn to improve their marriages, their parenting and themselves through skill development, life coaching, overcoming depression and anxiety, stress and anger management, and addiction recovery. He teaches extensively throughout Utah County on a wide range of relationship topics. He is the founder of Bardos Relationship Consulting located in the Prairie Gate Professional Building in the Ranches, Suite 200. You may reach him at 801.787.8014, or at

Strong Family Examples
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This article provided courtesy of Bardos Relationship Consulting• 801.787.8014 •