Circumplex Model of Marital and Family Systems: I. Cohesion and Adaptability Dimensions, Family Types, and Clinical Applications


  • The authors wish to thank the following colleagues for their constructive suggestions on various drafts of this paper: Larry Constantine, Ron Cromwell, James Hawkins, Reuben Hill, David Reiss, and Paul Rosenblatt. Special thanks to Elinor Killorin for her assistance in modifying Tables III and IV and to Garth Rockcastle for designing Figure 1.


The conceptual clustering of numerous concepts from family therapy and other social science fields reveals two significant dimensions of family behavior, cohesion and adaptability. These two dimensions are placed into a circumplex model that is used to identify 16 types of marital and family systems. The model proposes that a balanced level of both cohesion and adaptability is the most functional to marital and family development. It postulates the need for a balance on the cohesion dimension between too much closeness (which leads to enmeshed systems) and too little closeness (which leads to disengaged systems). There also needs to be a balance on the adaptability dimension between too much change (which leads to chaotic systems) and too little change (which leads to rigid systems). The model was developed as a tool for clinical diagnosis and for specifying treatment goals with couples and families.