Back to top


Punctuation refers to the structuring and organization by an observer of a continuous sequence of events and behaviors. Two partners, for example, perceive and organize their ongoing interaction into various sequences, and each subjectively perceives different patterns of cause and effect, or different structures of interaction. Depending on whether the interactional process between A and B is seen from the perspective of A or B, it may seem as if A is reacting to B, or as if B is reacting to A. According to one punctuation, a wife nags because her husband withdraws from her; according to the other, the husband withdraws from his wife because she is constantly nagging him. The manner in which an ongoing communication process and/or interaction sequence is punctuated determines the meaning attributed to it and how each person's behavior will be evaluated, that is, who is responsible or "guilty," and how one decides to (re)act.

Definition extracted with permission from Simon, Fritz, et al, Family Process, Inc.: Language of Family Therapy: A Systemic Vocabulary and Source Book (Family Process Press Series)