Amanda Gregory, LCPC, EMDR Practitioner

Blood is thicker than water. This familiar proverb might not mean what you think. It may not refer to the strength of genetic family ties but to the power of the bonds we forge with those outside our biological family.

Some believe that the phrase “Blood is thicker than water” originated from the saying “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb,” which conveys that those who go to battle and shed their blood together have stronger bonds than genetic family members. Although this interpretation is up for debate, you might relate to this idea if you’ve experienced a strong connection with someone outside of your birth family — someone you might consider a member of your chosen family. Chosen family members can act as pivotal participants in your social support system, which is why it’s important to nurture these relationships.

Here are four ways you can strengthen your bonds with your chosen family:

Develop Traditions. Many family units of all types use traditions as a way to reconnect or solidify their bonds. Traditions are built over a period of time and become consistent with practice. They might take place during a certain day of the week, month, or time of year. They often consist of a particular activity or set of rituals. Regular gatherings such as weekly game nights, Thanksgiving (or Friendsgiving) dinners, monthly brunches, and yearly reunions can become meaningful ways to connect with your chosen family.

Be Vulnerable. If you’re experiencing safety and trust in your relationships with your chosen family, let them see you—the good and the bad. Expressing vulnerability allows us to show others a deep level of intimacy and trust. Being vulnerable also creates an opportunity for others to show us that they accept us as we are. You can express vulnerability in many different ways. Here are a few: 1) Show how you truly feel by expressing your emotions without restriction — even if that means crying or yelling. 2) Discuss your mistakes and flaws. 3) Tell them about your life before they met you. 4) Open up about your dreams and aspirations.

Practice Reciprocity. You can strengthen your relationships by putting effort into giving to your chosen family members. The act of giving can take many forms. You can help someone by providing a service, such as watching their children or helping them move. You can also share feedback, advice, or encouragement, or simply listen. To maintain healthy relationships, you need to allow them to give back to you, too. Ask for help when you need it and allow others to provide you with support.

Express Appreciation. Make sure that your chosen family members know what they mean to you. Tell them how important they are to you and why. Try to be specific as this helps to communicate the value of your message. For example, you could say: “I really appreciate how honest you are with me. You tell me how it is, even if I won’t like it. Your honesty has helped me to make better decisions. I’m so glad you’re in my life.” Expressing appreciation can help you and your chosen family members to feel connected. Also, when they know what you appreciate, your family will be more likely to repeat these behaviors.

When the blood of the covenant proves thicker than the water of the womb, it’s important to acknowledge and strengthen those bonds. If you’d like help to grow and deepen your chosen family relationships, Symmetry Counseling provides individual therapy, couples therapy, and family therapy for all kinds of families. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 to schedule an appointment.