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We are Family: Using CCC Distinctions with Family Members

In my (Jen’s) work as a mental health counselor, I work with individuals, couples, and whole families. I use many modalities to support my clients, and I have adapted some of the CCC distinctions for clinical use. Children as young as three have participated in some of the exercises that I conduct with clients, and I even got to have an 80-year-old great-grandmother work with her family to create miracles! The following are examples of ways that our CCC distinctions have supported households and families.


Each quarter, couples in CCC undertake a process of articulating the goals and projects we are engaged in, ways we want to relate to one another, and authentic reflections of the love we feel. This process creates a “Declaration,” which serves as a vision statement for each couple. Several years ago, the WestWorld Circle had a training on “mini-declarations” that helped us to create declarations for holidays and vacations. As we got ready to head to Mexico with all eight of our children (ages 9-22 at the time), we sat down and created a mini-declaration that could guide us all.

The process was simple: we created a context for the conversation and gave them all an overview of what to expect, then we made time for everyone to ask their questions. This was essentially the “emptying the well” part of the declaration process, in which we clear the space for something new to be created. Then we asked each of them to think of a word that would describe what they hoped to experience while traveling. As they each shared their word and the meaning behind it, we made notes of their comments, and then we shared our own. There was a lot of overlap; words like “calm,” “peaceful,” and “relaxing” all pointed towards the same thing. Two of the children talked about being kind to each other and respectful of the people, places, and culture that we would be interacting with. We then word-smithed the responses until we came up with a very simple declaration: “We are having a fun, relaxing, and respectful vacation.” It was easy to remember and guided us on our trip.

When I use this process with families in my office, it is often to create a declaration either to guide them for a month or more, or to set up a context for a specific event. Just as we do in our Couple declaration process, I ask questions like, “Who do you want to be in your family?” or “How do you want others to see you?” We sometimes have to play around with the words for a while, but in the end, I always send families away with a declaration that everyone can stand behind and live up to. My favorite was, “Our family is a kick-ass place to grow and thrive.”

100% + 100% = 100% Family

The CCC distinction “100% + 100% = 100% Couple” involves each of us bringing 100% commitment to the other person, to the relationship, or to a project. In working with a family, it is important that each of us be aware of the unique gifts and skills that the other family members bring. I use the word teamwork a lot in my practice, but what I am really wanting people to understand is what it looks like for each family member to be 100% “in” at any moment.

Taking on 100% projects in families can make individuals feel supported and loved in unique ways. One family took on their daughter’s upcoming SAT exams as a family project. When we talked about the ways that they could all be involved, she asked for some freedom from her chores for a few weeks and her younger siblings willingly stepped in to help. Generosity at play! Mom became the study partner, and her other mother took over making dinner every night so that Mom 1 could be available for that task. When my client aced her exams the whole family celebrated together; they all knew they had played a part in that amazing test score!

Family Dance

Another distinction we use in CCC is the concept of a “Couple Dance.” A dance is an unwanted, automatic pattern of communication that keeps a couple stuck in unfulfilling interactions. We become committed to winning an argument or avoiding responsibility while losing our connection to the other.

Just like couples, families have dances that they perpetuate. Each family member has a role they play in these dances and, just like in a couple dance, any family member can interrupt the dance and change the conversation. Family dynamics come into play in these dances as we expect our family members to act or react in predictable ways.

I saw a dance with my own siblings not too long ago. I have three younger brothers and recently the oldest wanted to “figure out what we are going to do about Mom.” He began the conversation by telling our youngest brother everything he had done wrong recently, in some very unkind terms. Fortunately, my middle brother and I both saw the dance almost immediately – in the past, the oldest would chide the youngest, the middle brother would defend him, and I would try to get them all to get along. In the end, we would all leave frustrated and having taken sides – usually three against one.

Because my middle brother and I were both prepared for this call (having discussed what was ‘predictable’ a few days before), we were able to interrupt the dance quickly. We did defend our youngest brother, but we did it in a way that redirected the conversation to something productive. In the end we agreed that while our mother will be in need of support in the future, she is doing alright at the moment. We also set up a structure for more frequent communication and agreed to some ground rules for kindness and creative problem solving.

Every distinction in our Member Guidebook can be altered to be used with families. “Generosity,” “Family as Source,” even our “Habits” work can give us access to new ways to relate in our families. However you define family, there are ways to have CCC make a difference in yours! This applies no matter who makes up your family (biological or chosen) and can even be taken into “work families” or other communities of people.

We invite you to try playing with these family versions of the distinctions for yourself. Create a declaration with your whole household, or find a way to bring “100% Family” to interactions with family members you don’t live with. We would love to hear about the creative ways that you use CCC distinctions in your family!

By Jen Schwartz and Joe Jacobs, Rocky Mountain Circle

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