Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

2019 Edition
| Editors: Jay L. Lebow, Anthony L. Chambers, Douglas C. Breunlin

Disengagement in Couples and Families

  • Emily WilenskyEmail author
  • Adam R. Fisher
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-49425-8_1138

Name of Concept

Disengagement in Couples and Families


Disengagement is one of the classifications and dimensions of boundaries and connectedness in a couple or family, and it is exhibited by low connectedness and high autonomy within the system (Olson et al. 1979).

Theoretical Context for Concept

In structural family therapy, Salvador Minuchin classified family boundaries on a continuum from disengaged or inappropriately rigid boundaries to enmeshed or diffuse boundaries (Minuchin 1974). David Olson then adapted Minuchin’s classification of boundaries to create a perspective used in assessing and intervening with couple and family systems based on how they interact with one another. The Circumplex Model of Marital and Family Systems separates family interactions into three dimensions: family cohesion, flexibility, and communication. Disengagement is rooted in the first dimension – family cohesion or togetherness – which is defined as “the emotional bonding that family...

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  4. Olson, D. H., Sprenkle, D. H., & Russell, C. S. (1979). Circumplex model of marital and family systems: I. cohesion and adaptability dimensions, family types, and clinical applications. Family Process, 18(1), 3–28.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Family Institute at Northwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA
  2. 2.Brigham Young UniversityProvoUSA

Section editors and affiliations

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