The Key Trait Found in All Happy Marriages

It's probably not what you think it is.
By Mitchell Qualls
February 3, 2021

We search for the secret of a happy marriage like Jack Sparrow searching for the fountain of youth. If he could find the ever-elusive fountain, eternal youth would be his. It can be easy to view a happy marriage through the same lens. It seems elusive and out of reach. But it’s not! 

In fact, there just may be a key, a secret recipe, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. After examining 174 studies (whew, that’s a lot), researchers at the University of Rochester found a key trait of happy marriages. 

That trait is, drumroll, please… psychological flexibility! Wait, what?!?! (That’s me echoing how my 5-year-old would react!)

What is psychological flexibility?

According to the Journal of Behavioral Science, psychological flexibility is “a set of skills that individuals engage when presented with difficult or challenging thoughts, feelings, emotions, or experiences.”

Not to get too brainy, but it’s made up of six things. (Hang with me for a minute.)

  • Acceptance: Being open to all experiences, good or bad, no matter how challenging or difficult. (Maybe trying out that new hobby is a good thing!)
  • Contact with the present moment: Being mindful of day-to-day moments in life. Being present with your spouse in everyday conversations and experiences. Not fixated on the past or focused on the future.
  • Cognitive defusion: Being able to gently experience thoughts and emotions. This means thoughts and feelings don’t overwhelm you. You don’t immediately think the worst or overly stress out.
  • Self as context: The ability to see the bigger picture even in the face of difficult thoughts and feelings. You’re not the center of discussions or decisions. The focus is on the relationship as a whole.
  • Contact with values: Being rooted and grounded in a deeper set of values.
  • Committed action: Resiliency to continue moving forward.

So, what does all that mean? 

To break it down, psychologically flexible people are open to new experiences. Negative thoughts or feelings don’t hold them back. They maintain perspective. They keep moving toward their goals and don’t give up. And they understand their spouse does things differently, but they don’t let it frustrate them.

What does psychological flexibility look like in marriage?

According to the study, marriages with psychologically flexible spouses showed greater sexual satisfaction. Those marriages also showed more emotional support and less negative conflict. Focusing on the components of psychological flexibility improves marriage quality.

Psychological flexibility is within your reach. You have the power to develop it. Here’s how…

Think of it like yoga, except in a mental and emotional kinda way. Practicing yoga helps your body become more flexible, but it takes time. If you plan to start yoga, you’ll look for resources like online videos, a class, or a more experienced yoga practitioner—a yogi (that’s a fun word). You’ll seek someone who has experience and knowledge. You can cultivate psychological flexibility the same way. Find resources and books to help you fine-tune the skills. Do your due diligence and find a reputable source to guide you to where you want to be. (How to Actually Use Relationship Resources Without Getting Overwhelmed can help you out!)

Your marriage is the most important relationship.

Giving it your time, energy, and attention can help you create the happiness you’re looking for.

And if you have kids, you’ll be glad to know that many of these psychological flexibility skills are learned early (at least that’s what the researchers say). Practicing these skills in your marriage can help your kiddos reap the benefits, too.

So now you know, the key trait found in happy marriages is psychological flexibility. You also know what components make up psychological flexibility. Where will you start today to show flexibility in your marriage? You don’t have to tackle it all at once… baby steps are all it takes to move forward.

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