The Dark Side of Family Communication
The Dark Side of Family Communication offers an integrative understanding of the dark side of family communication and a theoretical mechanism for understanding related scholarship. It will be essential reading for all students and scholars of family communication.
The Dark Side of Family Communication
Vangelisti (2004) not ed that "the family is the crucible of society" (p. ix). As such, the family system is a key site where lives are formed, developed, and changed across time. For many, their lives are nurtured and sustained by their families, providing them with a source of security, comfort, and support. Unfortunately, however, many others may find that their family system is a site of much pain, suffering, stress, maltreatment, and perhaps even abuse. Statistics support such claims. For instance, the Family Violence Prevention Fund (2010) reports that more than fifteen million children in the United States live in families in which partner violence occurred at least once in the past year; and 61 percent of homeless girls and 19 percent of homeless boys reported experiencing sexual abuse prior to leaving home. Sadly, 93 percent of sexual assault and rape cases that occur in children under twelve are carried out by someone they know, and 34 percent of these cases by someone in the family (RAINN, 2010).
The communicative aspects of these darker sides of family life are the focus of our book entitled The Dark Side of Family Communication . According to Spitzberg and Cupach (1994), "the dark side metaphor is useful for understanding interpersonal relationships because it focuses on important, yet neglected, phenomena and helps to discern new and useful connections among concepts" (p. 315). Due in part to some authors' (Duck, 1994; Spitzberg & Cupach, 1994) push for applying a darker lens to relationship studies, numerous scholars have answered the call, investigating areas such as teasing and bullying (Kowalski, 2007), jealousy and envy (Guerrero & Anderson, 1998a, 1998b), relational partner violence (Lloyd & Emery, 1999; Olson, 2002a, 2002b), and parent–child violence (Eckstein, 2004; Morgan & Wilson, 2007) –both in face-to-face relationships and in cyberspace (Whitty, 2007).
With what appears to be an unending string of dark topics, scholars intrigued with the dark side of relationships are rarely without subject matter. However, the plethora of potential research areas gives way to the problem of dark side boundary management. For instance, although most would agree that certain topics (e.g., family violence) would fall into a darker category, what about topics that blur dark and bright (e.g., a marriage strengthened by conflict)? What is the common denominator in all that is dark? Ironically, the "dark side of relationships" metaphor can be described best as a "gray" area. Scholars' theorizing about the dark side of communication in interpersonal literature ranges from merely overlooked or obscured topic areas (e.g., Spitzberg & Cupach, 1994) to the sabotaging, spoiling, or quotidian hassles of relationships (Duck, 1994).
Narrowing the focus of the metaphor to one particular area of relationship study (e.g., the family) only exacerbates the problem. While many publications have focused on the broader domain of interpersonal and family relationships, to the best of our knowledge articulating a theoretical framework for understanding the dark side of family communication has yet to be undertaken. Of course, this is not to say that family communication scholars have been completely deterred from studying darker aspects of family life. Researchers have looked into various negativities in the family system, including sibling violence (Eriksen & Jensen, 2006), jealousy (Aune & Comstock, 2002), depression (Paolucci & Violato, 2004; Straus, 1996), child and elder abuse (Barnett, Miller-Perrin, & Perrin, 2005; Jacobson, Gottman, Waltz, Rushe, Babcock, & Holtzworth-Munroe, 1994), adolescent-to-parent abuse (Eckstein, 2004, 2007), critiques of "normal" family interacti