Building Strong Families with Spiritual Wellness

by Jonathan D. Sherman, LMFT

This column is the seventh and last in a series that covers the six most common traits of strong families. Remember the acronym ACCCTS (A-Triple C-T-S)? The S stands for Spiritual Wellness.

Guiding Principle: Know what’s bigger than you

One characteristic that is a common thread among strong families regardless of their religious, socioeconomic or racial background is that they report that they have a sense of some power, being, concept and/or values greater than themselves. This helps because sometimes people simply do not feel like living these principles — don't feel like being appreciative, being committed, being creative in how we cope or problem solve, communicating positively or spending time together.  It is typical for these families to put it in to words something like this: "During these times my belief in some Superior Being or belief in what is right gives me the strength to do what is right when I don't feel like doing what is right." Spiritual wellness has to do with subjugating our feeling of the moment to conform to right behavior. Family therapist Sunny Shulkin declared, "Love is not a feeling. Love is a decision” (The Family Therapy Networker, Sept./Oct., 1997, p. 27).

When I talk about spiritual wellness people often ask if I am talking about religion. That depends. There are many in our community who are religious and many who are not. Spirituality and religion are often spoken of in the same breath, though they are not necessarily one and the same. There are many religious people who are spiritual and those who are not. There are many spiritually minded people who are religious and those who are not. The point for this research, which has been compiled from all over the world regardless of religious orientation, is that families that believe in something bigger than themselves are accountable to a higher standard of behavior than what their personal feelings may dictate from time to time. Spiritual wellness encourages people to be connected with themselves and the larger outside world. Families who cultivate a sense of spiritual wellness tend to have shared purposes, values, try to practice what they preach, work on improving their character and maintain their integrity.

How do we teach spiritual wellness?  Values are caught more often than taught. Children learn what we value from what they see more than what they hear. (See “Values Are Caught More Often Than They Are Taught). We must understand the simple maxim of child development: “Monkey see. Monkey do.”  It has been my experience in the many different individuals, couples and families that I have worked with that the statement made by Harold B. Lee is very true indeed: “The most important work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes.” Because it is the most important I think it fair to expect it to also be the most difficult and the work that requires the most effort, training, practice, investment, skill development and commitment. I believe that family relationships offer the greatest opportunity for spiritual growth. Nothing challenges our beliefs to the core like family. With our family we are at our best and at our worst, sometimes all in the same day. This allows us to test how true we really live what we say we believe. If I say I believe in God and go to Church and talk of "loving my neighbor" only to come home and criticize my wife and be short-tempered with my children then the power of my beliefs are very shallow. However, if I practice honesty and awareness with myself and challenge my actions so as to get them in line with my beliefs then my conflicts and troubles with my family members have been the means for refining my spirituality and making it pure and true.

Practical Technique: Check in with yourself

            How can we develop our families through our spirituality and our spirituality through our families? Each person needs to be clear with what spirituality means to him or her. What do you believe and value? What guides you in your life? Are you being true to that? Are you being true to yourself? Are you being true to those in your family? An honest self-assessment can help us stay on track to what is most important to us. Just remember to be patient with yourself and others as you attempt to make these changes.

Building Strong Families Series Conclusion

Test time! Now no peeking. What does ACCCTS stand for? If you can remember the principles that “A-Triple C-T-S” stands for then the acronym will jog your memory to the principles and from the principles to stories and from the stories to techniques and from the techniques to practice. One last time: ACCCTS = Appreciation, Commitment, Creative Coping and Problem Solving, Communication, Time Together and Spiritual Wellness. These are the materials and tools for building a strong family. These principles of strong families do not change. You can apply them in innumerable ways. I encourage you to pick one characteristic or principle and focus on it during this next year (see for all the articles in this series).

Practical Technique: Lighten up!

Dolores Curran, a pioneer in strong family research, tells the story of man waiting in line to speak to her after one of her presentations. He was joking to a friend that his family only had one of the strong family traits. A woman behind this man audibly gasped in shock. Curran made the observation that the man who could laugh at himself had a better chance with one trait and a sense of humor than the woman with many traits who was too uptight. Learning to take these principles seriously and ourselves lightly is a great strategy. As the proverb says, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”

I would like to share a story that illustrates how families can use both courage and fear to get where they desire. A wealthy man invited some of his associates to see his new ranch in Arizona. After touring the mountains, rivers, and grasslands, he took everyone back to the house, which was just as spectacular. Behind the exquisite home was the largest swimming pool in all of Arizona. There was another thing about it however, that was even more unusual. The pool was filled with alligators.

The rich owner explained that he valued courage more than any other character trait. Courage, he claimed, was what had made him a billionaire. "In fact, I value courage so much that if anyone is courageous enough to jump in that pool, swim through those alligators, and make it to the other side, I'll give them anything they want--my house, my land, my money."

Of course, everyone laughed at this absurd challenge. Suddenly they heard a splash. Turning around, they saw a young man swimming for his life across the pool as the alligators swarmed after him.

After several death-defying seconds, the young man made it unharmed to the other side. The host and his quests applauded his efforts, and the billionaire said to him, "You are indeed a man of courage, and I will stick to my word. You can have anything--my house, my land, my money. Just tell me what you want."

The young swimmer breathed heavily for a few moments, then said, "I want to know just one thing. Who pushed me into that pool?"

I applaud your courage and understand your fear whether you have jumped or been pushed into family life. In ending this series on the traits of strong families my advice is this: Now that you are in, commit to exerting all your efforts and proceed with haste to get past the dangers and reach safety. These principles of strong families provide a safe harbor to those who apply them through consistent practice. Have fun.

This concludes this series on Building Strong Families through ACCCTS. Watch future columns for more strategies 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

Spiritual Wellness Examples
Values are Caught More than they are Taught

How have you and your family developed spiritual wellness? Send your ideas to and I'll post them here.

This article provided courtesy of Bardos Relationship Consulting• 801.787.8014 •