Skip to content
All posts

Is Yours a “Family of Affinity”​?

Attributed to James E. Hughes, JR.

“What is this thing we call ‘family’…families who see themselves principally as linked by genetic lineage, or by blood, rarely if ever…overcome the “Shirtsleeves to Shirtsleeves in Three Generations” proverb. —James E. Hughes, Jr. in Family –The Compact Among Generations

Most families define themselves by blood alone. Families that define themselves by blood or genetic lineage close the family system to new members from outside the family. Those outsiders represent the new energy the family needs.

In contrast, a family of affinity is an open system, welcoming new members. The family of affinity has a much better chance of flourishing. When new members join the family of affinity, whether by birth, adoption, marriage or mutual attraction, each contributes uniquely to the family.

Families of affinity that recognize through their rituals the positive energy they gain by accretion do well.  Families that create out-laws out of in-laws do less well.  No family attempting to overcome the “Shirtsleeves to Shirtsleeves” proverb can do so successfully by merely relying on those who are born into the family.

Jay Hughes’ personal definition of the family of affinity is described best through the metaphor of fusion. A family of affinity and its members can be viewed as bits of energy linked together by affinity and to all other bits of energy in the universe.

For the family of affinity fusion arises out of positive affinities — the members’ positive relationships with each other.

That is the holy grail of family life. This image of fusion is at the heart of the family of affinity’s vision. Its mission is to foster positive relationships which enhance the lives of each family member and thereby preserves the family’s relational fabric.

Here is a sampling of some of the questions Jay Hughes raises for families to consider:

  •  Is the family founded on the virtues of fusion, altruism, beauty as harmony, and love expressed as joy?
  •  Is the family seeking to grow…the human and intellectual capital of each member, today and every day?
  • Do family members understand that by assisting in the individuation and differentiation of each member…and by helping them discover and fulfill [their] individual dream, they…learn to become dynamic steward-conservators of the dreams of the previous generations?
  • Does the family encourage all members to become excellent steward-conservators of all of the financial assets they inherit and to learn to be stakeholder-owners of all forms of family enterprise?
  • Does the family ask: “How can I help you without and before seeking anything from you?”
  • Does the family cultivate a beginner’s mind leavened with seven-generation thinking?
  • Does the family encourage great elders who will mediate its disputes, tell its stories, and help its members successfully navigate the stages of their lives?
  • Does the family recognize that its family systems are webs of multiple interconnected relationships of incredible complexity?
  • Does the family recognize that its system of joint decision-making is fundamental to its well-being and that each joint decision positively engenders a fundamental step in achieving its long-term dynamic preservation?

Buddy Thomas is Founder and Chief Planning Officer of Superior Planning. He can be reached at