Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

Living Edition
| Editors: Jay Lebow, Anthony Chambers, Douglas C. Breunlin

The Circumplex Model of Marital and Family Systems

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-15877-8_413-1

Name of Concept

The Circumplex Model of Marital and Family Systems


Couple and Family Map (Olson et al. 2014).


The Circumplex Model of Marital and Family Systems was originally developed by David Olson, Douglas Sprenkle, and Candyce Russell with the goal of bridging the gap they saw existing between theory, research, and practice in family therapy (Olson 1989). The model brings together three important theoretical concepts: Adaptability, Cohesion, and Communication, in a manner useful to both researchers trying to understand family dynamics and interventionists (therapists, educators) trying to help families functionally improve.

Theoretical Context for Concept

The term “circumplex” was coined by Louis Guttman to describe a circular relation of correlated variables organized around two orthogonal dimensions (see Strauss 1964, and Schaefer 1959). Olson and colleagues based their circumplex model in Family Systems Theory and organized it around the orthogonal...

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  1. Olson, D. H. (1989). Circumplex model of family systems VIII: Family assessment and intervention. In D. H. Olson, C. S. Russell, & D. H. Sprenkle (Eds.), Circumplex model: Systemic assessment and treatment of families (pp. 7–50). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  2. Olson, D. H. (2011). FACES IV and the circumplex model: Validation study. Journal of Marital & Family Therapy, 37, 64–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Olson, D. H., McCubbin, H. I., Barnes, H. L., Larsen, A. S., Muxen, M., & Wilson, M. A. (1989). Families, what makes them work. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications. (updated edition).Google Scholar
  4. Olson, D. H., DeFrain, J., & Skogrand, L. (2014). Marriages and families: Intimacy, diversity, and strengths (8th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Education.Google Scholar
  5. Schaefer, E. S. (1959). A circumplex model for maternal behavior. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 59, 226–235.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Strauss, M. A. (1964). Power and support structure of the family in relation to socialization. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 26, 318–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dixie State UniversitySt. GeorgeUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Heather Pederson
    • 1
  • Diana Semmelhack
    • 2
  1. 1.Council for RelationshipsPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Midwestern UniversityDowners GroveUSA