Leone Centre Glossary

Family Life Cycle in Family Therapy

Family Life Cycle

The family life cycle refers to the series of stages a family goes through from its formation to its dissolution. These stages are characterised by predictable events and transitions, each bringing unique challenges and opportunities for growth. In family therapy, recognising the family life cycle helps to understand the dynamics and patterns within the family unit.

Stages of the family life cycle

The family life cycle typically includes the following stages:

  1. Single young adults leaving home: This stage involves young adults gaining independence and separating emotionally from their families.
  2. New couple formation: Couples establish a new family unit, adjusting to living together and managing relationships with extended families.
  3. Families with young children: The arrival of children brings new responsibilities and requires adaptations in roles and routines.
  4. Families with adolescents: This stage involves supporting teenagers through their journey to independence while maintaining family connections.
  5. Launching children and moving on: Parents help their children transition to adulthood and adjust to an empty nest.
  6. Families in later life: This stage includes retirement, dealing with aging, and dealing with the loss of loved ones.

How this helps in family therapy

Understanding the family life cycle in therapy offers valuable insights into the evolving roles and relationships within a family. It helps in identifying periods of stress and change, enabling an experienced therapist to provide appropriate support and guidance.

Common challenges

Different stages of the family life cycle bring specific challenges, such as:

  1. Managing conflicts during the transition from singlehood to a couple.
  2. Balancing work and family life with young children.
  3. Supporting adolescents while respecting their need for independence.
  4. Adjusting to life without children at home.
  5. Facing health issues and bereavement in later life.

Frequently asked questions

Why is the family life cycle important in family therapy?
The family life cycle provides a framework for understanding the typical stages and transitions families go through, helping therapists to identify and address relevant issues at each stage.
How can families work through the different stages?
By recognising the common challenges and opportunities of each stage, families can prepare and adapt to changes, maintaining healthy relationships and supporting each other.
What role does a therapist play in addressing family life cycle issues?
An experienced therapist helps families understand their dynamics, work through transitions, and address any conflicts or challenges that arise during different stages of the family life cycle.


  1. McGoldrick, M., Carter, B., & Garcia-Preto, N. (2011). The Expanded Family Life Cycle: Individual, Family, and Social Perspectives. Pearson.
  2. Walsh, F. (2012). Normal Family Processes: Growing Diversity and Complexity. The Guilford Press.
  3. Carter, B., & McGoldrick, M. (2005). The Changing Family Life Cycle: A Framework for Family Therapy. Pearson.
Book Now

Get Started Today
with Leone Centre

Book Now


Call Us

Call us
020 3930 1007

View therapists

View our therapists
Find your match

This glossary provides definitions of various counselling terms and approaches for informational purposes only, without implying endorsement or service provision