Family Patterns of Communication

Basic Genogram Components

Although there is general agreement on the basic genogram structure and codes, there are some variations on how to depict certain family situations, such as cutoffs, adoptions, etc. (Bowen, 1980; Kramer, 1985; McGoldrick, Gerson, & Shellenberger, 1999). The following are the codes that we will use in this site:

Closeness of Relationship:
You can also depict the type of relationship of two family members with lines connecting those persons. For example, two people with a normal relationship would have one line drawn between them. Those with a close relationship would have two lines between them. Those with a fused (extremely close) relationship would have three lines drawn between them.

Example 1 of Relational Ties in a Genogram:

Depictions of other types of relationships can also be shown. A dotted line between two people indicates a distant relationship (though this is different than the dotted line showing a romantic liaison or the dotted line showing a foster or adopted child). A jagged line shows a hostile relationship. A jagged line with two straight lines show a close, hostile relationship, and a jagged line with three straight lines shows a fused, hostile relationship.
Example 2 of Relational Ties in a Genogram:

Dysfunctional Relationships:
You can depict some additional, dysfunctional relationships with genograms, also. Sexual abuse is shown by a large jagged line with an arrow from the abuser to the abused. Physical abuse is shown by a small jagged line and an arrow from the abuser to the abused.

Example of Abusive Relationships in a Genogram:
A relationship where one member is focused unhealthily on another member is depicted by a straight line with an arrow from the focused member to the member being focused upon. A relationship that is cutoff, where the family members do not have contact, is shown with two short perpendicular lines that break up the relationship line.

Example of Abusive Relationships in a Genogram:


Another pattern in family relationships is the triangle. In a family system, a triangle represents the coalition of two family members against another family member (McGoldrick, Gerson, & Shellenberger, 1999) and can be represented on a genogram. Triangles are often seen among two parents and one child, where one of the parents creates an alliance with the child against the other parent. Another classic triangle involves a son, his wife, and his mother. Such a triangle may play out in a variety of ways. FOr example, the wife may blame her mother-in-law for her frustrations with her husband, while the mother-in-law blames the wife for taking her son away (McGoldrick et. al., 1999).

Example of Triangle Relationships in a Genogram:

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