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A Storm is Brewing: Dissecting the Elements of Interpersonal Relationship

By Lynn M. Acquafondata

In some ways, relational storms are not all that different from storms in nature, with all of their water, wind and fire.

Conflict in relationships, whether loud and volatile or understated and intense, can unmoor those in the midst of it just like a violent storm in nature. The wind howls, the rain pounds, the lightning flashes and the thunder crashes.

However weathering any kind of storm is possible with the appropriate training and tools.

Just as storms in the natural world have a set of elements that interact and produce predictable results under certain conditions, relational storms build in predictable ways using common elements.

Just as storms in nature can often be managed and survived by following appropriate safety procedures, family and organizational storms can be managed and directed in healing ways by understanding the common elements. By recognizing the patterns they produce and applying specific tools and techniques, families and organizations can survive or even thrive in the midst of overwhelming complexities.

Two Sides of the Underlying Energy: 

The scene that follows might seem like it contains a contentious group of people, preparing to push their own agendas while derailing those of others without listening or compromising or trying to find common ground. It might seem like these church members who relate in unhealthy ways are destined to repeat history. But that’s only one way of looking at this situation.

From another perspective, this church is filled with a tremendous amount of energy and passion. They are excited, nervous, grappling with change, loss and hope. They are committed and many believe their group can make a difference in the world.

Can this organization surmount the tensions and pull together in a direction that will lead the congregation to a brighter future? That is possible only if they learn to manage the energy and direct it in healing ways.

The Storm Model of Family and Organizational Systems builds on the work of Murray Bowen and Edwin Friedman by adding a fresh organic metaphor as well as new concepts and terms that enhance previous models of family and organizational systems.

Here is a situation in which the Storm Model could lead to some healing.

Funeral Scene from Coastal Church

Mrs. Hartwig had only been dead a week when the news broke. Rev. Amy discovered the note in the papers sent by Nancy Hartwig’s granddaughter with instructions for her church.

“Please announce my memorial gift to the church at my funeral. I bequeath $300,000 to be used for the Christian Education program.”

$300,000?! That was more than the annual budget for a year.

Announce it at her funeral? Rev. Amy had never heard of such a thing. And how did she know that the legal will had actually left that money to the church. She couldn’t announce it without certainty.

The letter from the lawyer came the next day. “Mrs. Nancy Hartwig left me instructions to inform you immediately of her memorial gift to the church.”

There it was in black and white. What could she do, but follow Mrs. Hartwig’s wishes and make the announcement, quietly at the end of her funeral.

But $300,000 couldn’t be given quietly, especially when Mrs. Hartwig wanted it known. And especially when it was directed to a ministry that had divided the church for at least three decades. Rev. Amy had only served the congregation for two and a half years, but she knew enough of the history to announce the gift with some trepidation.

After the gasps at the end of the service, it was all the parishioners could talk about at the funeral luncheon.

“It’s just like her to leave a gift like that. With big strings attached.”

“We can find a way around this. How about if we build classrooms with dividers that can be opened to make a new fellowship hall?”


Natalia, the chair of the Christian Education program said, “That’s enough money to hire a pastor of Christian education.[i] I’ve dreamed of that for years. A Christian education pastor could put our church on the map.”

Sam, the board chair responded, “What about Roy? He isn’t ordained.”

“We aren’t wedded to him. Besides he’s too controlling.”

“Compared to who? Pastor Bob had every ministry under his thumb. It’s good to see someone else take ownership.”

“What about Mrs. Hartwig? What do you think she had in mind?”

“She’s dead.”

“We need to respect her wishes”.

“Mrs. Hartwig had big dreams for the church and put her heart and soul into the Christian education program after the church split of 1983.”

“Can you believe the pastor announced it at her funeral? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

In this brief scene, we see the relationships between congregation and pastor, and between two lay-leaders. In the coming weeks Congremap will unpack the relational details in this and other scenes to introduce concepts, metaphors and techniques that can be used to manage storms at home, in congregations and in other organizations using the Storm Model of Family and Organizational Systems.

Join me next week as I introduce the concept of relational triangles from a fresh perspective that will illuminate both how this key aspect of family and congregational storms leads to more conflict and how triangles can lead to healing.

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Edited by Johanna Bond

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