family life

Kindness is key: marriage & parenting

Last week I read a great article about the results of studying how happy couples interact with each other versus how couples in unhealthy relationships interact. You can read it in it’s entirety here.

The article — and the findings within — fascinated me; I’ve always been interested in how people think and why they do the things they do. Several key points stood out to me, and I’ll explain those briefly, but I do encourage you to read the original article.

Emotional safety and connectedness.

One study showed that in “disaster” couples, although they may look calm on the outside, their inner physiological response when interacting with each other is anything but calm. One or both partners exhibit fight-or-flight type responses in relation to heart rate and so on, because they don’t feel emotionally safe with each other. As you can imagine, this is exhausting long-term.

relaxed happy couple

Another study measured what they referred to as bids for connection, something as simple as pointing out a bird in the yard and waiting for response from the other partner. In happy couples, these “bids” are acknowledged in a positive, non-distracted way. Over time, these little connections help the couple connect in a bigger way. Based on observations of how couples do or don’t connect with these “bids,” the scientist who conducted the study says he can correctly predict with up to 94% certainty which couples will or won’t stay together.

I wonder what our culture of ever-nearby smart phones has done to the effectiveness of these bids. How often do we barely acknowledge others because we’re checking facebook or instagram? Just sayin’.

Kindness is key.

The overall point of the article is that kindness is the key to successful relationships.  It’s about connecting regularly to create feelings of emotional safety and trust. It means showing your significant other that he/she is valuable and worthy of love.

One point I loved: recognizing good intent in the other person’s actions, even if they’re not doing exactly what you’d like. Another key: being kind even while in conflict with your partner.

Upon first reading, I thought of the article in terms of marriage, as it was intended. After all, I have experience in both a failed first marriage and in a happy marriage, and I’d say everything in these studies rang pretty true for me.

Parenting with kindness.

I started to think of how much this all applies to parenting, too, and went back and reread it with that intent. There’s a lot of valuable insight here, particularly for those of us parenting children from trauma backgrounds. They come to us with trust issues, and tend to have overactive fight-or-flight responses even in situations where it doesn’t seem to make sense. Clearly, they need connection and emotional security even more than the rest of us.

I’m often guilty of minimally acknowledging my kids. After all, how much enthusiasm can one woman come up with for every.single.thing kids say/do/make??? Of course I also have to find a balance because they need to learn it’s not okay to interrupt a conversation between Mama and Daddy just to show us your 83rd drawing of the day. {Do you feel my pain, mamas?}

Overall, I have to ask myself: Am I helping my kids feel valuable? Am I connecting with them? Am I parenting with kindness?

Food for thought, my friends.

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*photo courtesy of

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