We all want our family life to be as happy as possible – and now researchers have identified some of the personal characteristics and skills that are most likely to make for a harmonious home.
One of the key factors when it comes to healthy family and romantic relationships, it would seem, is psychological flexibility. When challenges and problems arise, this flexibility can keep relationships from breaking down.
The conclusions were drawn from what's known as a meta-analysis, or a study of previous studies. In this case the meta-analysis encompassed 174 earlier pieces of research on relationships, covering 43,952 people in total.
"Put simply, this meta-analysis underscores that being mindful and emotionally flexible in tough and challenging situations not only improves the lives of individuals, it might also strengthen and enrich their close relationships," says psychologist Ronald Rogge, from the University of Rochester.
Rogge and his colleague Jennifer Daks, also a psychologist at the University of Rochester, found that "mindful flexibility" was linked to rewarding family and relationship dynamics, as well as stronger connections between the individuals involved.
The researchers go on to specify some of the personal skills needed for psychological flexibility. These include being open to and accepting of experiences, whether good or bad, and having a mindful, attentive awareness of the present through daily life.
Other positive skills include experiencing thoughts and feelings without obsessing over them, keeping a broad perspective even in difficult times, staying in touch with deeper values through the fluctuating moods of each day, and being able to continue to take steps towards a goal even amidst difficulties and setbacks.
Quite a list of appealing traits then. Psychological inflexibility, on the other hand, typically results from actively avoiding difficult thoughts, feelings and experiences, going through daily life distracted and inattentive, and getting stuck by difficult thoughts and feelings.
Other behaviours in the psychologically inflexible include seeing difficult thoughts and feelings as a personal reflection (and feeling judged because of them), allowing the stress and chaos of daily life to overwhelm deeper priorities, and getting derailed easily by setbacks and difficult experiences.
In families, psychological flexibility leads to greater cohesion, not as much stress or distress, and a greater use of adaptive parenting strategies. In romantic relationships, it leads to greater satisfaction and less negative conflict.
The research fits in with a previous study run by Rogge, which looked at how just being more aware of relationships and keeping communication channels open could make a significant difference in how long those relationships last.
"The results suggest that husbands and wives have a pretty good sense of what they might be doing right and wrong in their relationships," says Rogge about the earlier study.
"You might not need to teach them a whole lot of skills to cut the divorce rate. You might just need to get them to think about how they are currently behaving."
The research has been published in the Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science.