Ripple Effect

Posted on August 4, 2015


Let’s see if we can create an existential crisis and solve it in less than 1000 words.  There are about 7 billion people living on this planet at present.  The vast majority of us are not known at all beyond the few hundred lives with whom we have contact.  Even within that circle of influence, there will come a time when our name no longer is remembered.

I never knew my great grandparents.  They had all died before I was born.  I have never been one to research my ancestry so I don’t even know their first names.  My wife has spent a little more time researching the family tree, so she at least knows who’s who back a few more generations.  Quickly now, can you name all eight of your great grandparents?  How about all 16 of your great great grandparents?  See what I mean.

Here is the issue.  For most of us, one hundred years from now, few, if any, will even know our names.  Therein is the existential crisis.  We are all going to die, and most of us will not be remembered for any length of time.  Some have tried to solve this problem with pursuit of fame.  Others have attempted to solve it by infamy with heinous crimes.  Some have numbed out from the pain of the crisis with alcohol, drugs, or porn.  I would like to suggest another solution.

The field of marriage and family therapy is only about 50 years old.  Prior to that time, mental health was seen as a problem of the individual.  It was those early pioneers of family therapy that recognized that couples and families are systems, and that the functioning of the individual members was impacted by the system of the family.  Murray Bowen was one of those early theorists.  Bowen observed that “Problems are actually the result of relational patterns across multiple generations” (Gehart & Tuttle, 2003).

The majority of my practice is divided between marital therapy and treating sexual addiction, and in some cases, both.  Among the things I appreciate about my clients is the courage and commitment it takes to stay and fight for a marriage that is in distress or to battle against an addiction that has been a part of your life and a way of coping for many years.  From a certain view, it would be easier to leave than to stay.  Similarly, it would be easier to stay in your addiction than to fight the battle to get out of it.  After all, it has served its purpose in your life for some time.

So why bother?  It is for the ripple effect.  I have set with men who have come back from almost losing their families to their sexual acting out to getting to a place of health.  I have seen the tears when they realize how much they almost lost and how much it (they) were worth saving.  This is the argument that your life will be better if you work through your marital issues or overcome your addiction.

There is another issue at play here.  It is the impact that you getting healthy (or not) will have on future generations.  Whether you do or you don’t, your family will probably not remember your name 100 years from now.  But the impact of your life, for good or for ill, will be felt by future generations.  There is a ripple effect that goes out from each of us.  It is felt by all of the lives we touch, but nowhere as profoundly as with our spouses and children.  How we train up the generations that follow us is important, but more is caught than taught.  That is to say, that how we live will have the most influence on the future generations.

If the ripple effect from your life has not been as positive as you would have it be, there is still time to change that.  If there has been dysfunction passed down through the generations of your family, you have been impacted by it.  You do have the opportunity to let that generational curse stop with you.  It probably won’t happen organically.  If you always do what you’ve always done you will always get what you always got.  Helping you find your way out of patterns that have kept you stuck is one of things we do in therapy.  Maybe it is time to get healthy in your relationships and in your living.  You owe it to yourself and those who come after you.  The ripple effect is a piece of immortality.  Whether they remember your name or not, you can be their benefactor.



Gehart, D. R., & Tuttle, A. R. (2003). Theory-based treatment planning for marriage and

family therapists: Integrating theory and practice. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.