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What Is 'Psychological Flexibility' & Why It's A Marriage's Superpower

"Flexibility is one of the most powerful concepts to understand. You need to be flexible in anything that you are passionate about."—Omar Peele

Marriage

It (almost) never fails. Whenever I'm having a session with a married couple, either the husband or wife (usually the husband) says something along the lines of, "What's the bottom line thing that we can learn to make our marriage better?" Usually what this boils down to is, "Is there some sort of trick that you can teach us so that my partner will quit hounding me about counseling and I don't have to sit through a ton of these hour-long chat sessions?"

While it's unfortunate that a lot of couples don't seek out a couch/counselor/therapist until their marriage house has about burned to the ground (which means by then, there is absolutely no quick fix, by the way), if you are married and you're looking for a proactive hack that can save you and your beloved a lot of unnecessary irritation, I've got one for you. It's called psychological flexibility and it's a real lifesaver if you want to keep your relationship on track.

What Does It Mean to Be a Flexible Person?

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Anyone who is single and reading this, let me tell you something that will save you a lot of unnecessary drama when it comes to long-term relationships—if you are an inflexible individual, you don't need to be in one. While a very simple definition of flexible is to bend without breaking, when it comes to dealing with other folks—folks who are flawed and are going to disappoint you, just as you do them sometimes—another word to keep in mind is "adaptable".

A flexible person is able to adapt to different circumstances and situations. When I think of all of this, there's a Scripture that comes to mind (more on that in a bit) and also a Bruce Lee quote. He once said, "Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend." Water? It's flexible. It definitely knows how to adapt as well.

OK, so what are some of the signs that a person is flexible?

  • They can cope well when things shift or change.
  • They aren't rigid or stubborn.
  • They are quick thinkers and solutions-oriented.
  • They aren't hypersensitive and don't get triggered easily.
  • They're emotionally intelligent.
  • They have a good sense of self-worth.
  • They can see the humor in themselves, others and situations.
  • They apply creative approaches to matters.
  • They tend to live in the moment.
  • THEY CAN'T LET GO OF STUFF.
I know, right? That really is quite the list yet, just imagine how many relationships—personal and professional—would remain healthy and intact if both people knew how to be this way. I oftentimes say that marriage ain't for punks and it's not. If you're single and you already know that you struggle, BIG TIME, when it comes to the 10 things that I just mentioned, take some time to get stronger in these areas before jumping anybody's broom. It's hard to have a healthy marriage and to be an emotionally safe individual if you don't know how to laugh during stressful moments, not dwell on the past, try and find the remedy to situations and get out of your own way for the sake of the greater good. No doubt about it.

What Is Psychological Flexibility and How Does It Come into Play?

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OK, so with some of what it means to be a flexible individual in mind, let's look at what psychological flexibility is. At the end of the day, probably the most simplified way to explain it is, it's when you are so self-aware that when an unpleasant feeling transpires, rather than lashing out or even suppressing your emotions, you get into the moment to really process what's happening, all the while accepting that 1) good and bad times happen to everyone; 2) there is probably a lesson that can be learned that you're open to; 3) you are willing to let the feeling pass, and 4) you won't let it ultimately deter you from achieving the goals that you've already set. I know, right? That is a tall AF order; especially when you're trying to make life happen with another individual who may not be the most flexible person on the planet. Still, just think about how freeing it is to handle your world when you're in this kind of head and heart space.

Here's an example of how it all works. Say that your husband invited your mother-in-law over for dinner without running it by you first. Since she's already not your most favorite person on the planet, not only do you feel like he didn't respect your feelings by asking you ahead of time but he also kind of took a dismissive approach to the fact that dealing with this mother is challenging, even on a good day. Where psychological flexibility comes in is, instead of flying off of the handle or doing that ever-so-annoying (to me) passive aggressive, "Fine. It's fine", only to half-speak and make everyone uncomfortable once your mother-in-law does arrive, you allow yourself to feel what you feel, you try and figure out what the universe wants to teach you in the moment and you don't let the matter get so big that it ultimately puts a wedge between you and your man.

Taking this approach makes it easier to walk away, soak in the tub and then come back and say, "Babe, I love you and I know you love your mom. But for things to run smoothly when she comes to visit, I've got to feel like you care enough about my feelings and boundaries that you would run invites past me first. It helps me to process everything, to plan around a time when I know I can handle it and that keeps everyone feeling more comfortable in the long run." See how dope psychological flexibility is?

Psychological flexibility helps you to be less negative.

Psychological flexibility helps you to adapt to your surroundings better.

Psychological flexibility helps you to see the bigger picture.

5 Tips for Being More (Psychologically) Flexible in Your Marriage

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OK, so remember how I said earlier that when I think of what it means to be flexible, a Scripture oftentimes comes to mind? I Corinthians 13:4 starts off by telling us that "love is patient". It can't be said enough that being patient isn't just about knowing how to wait well (although that's quite the feat, if you can pull it off); being patient is also about "bearing provocation, annoyance, misfortune, delay, hardship, pain, etc., with fortitude and calm and without complaint, anger, or the like." Again, singles, if you suck at being patient, marriage isn't for you. Not right now, anyway. If you're married and reading this, best-selling author Tony Robbins once said, "Stay committed to your decisions but flexible in your approach." Honor your vows to remain in your marriage yet be flexible when it comes to the day to day of being married. This includes know how to handle provocation, annoyances and hardships with the mindset of flowing like water—of embracing psychological flexibility.

So now that there is (hopefully) a better understanding of what psychological flexibility is, perhaps you are wondering about some of the things you can do to be more flexible in your marital union. Here are a few that immediately come to mind.

1. Accept that your partner is not you. 

This alone is a total game-changer because far too many people spend (or is it waste?) precious time trying to turn their spouse into another version of them (which is pretty arrogant when you think about it) rather than embrace that the differences are what can help them to learn and evolve more as an individual. (Hmph. Talk about really applying psychological flexibility, chile.)

​2. Don't try and change what is unchangeable. 

You might wish that your husband was more outgoing. Or wasn't so close to his mama. Or cleaned the dishes better. While your influence can (and should) play a role in improving your partner in some ways, first, humility teaches that certain things aren't right or wrong just because you aren't that way. Second, psychological flexibility is also about learning how to not sweat the small stuff and not use blood, sweat and tears to try and change…what probably won't.

​3. Deal with matters as they come. 

If there is one thing that pretty much every husband has told me drives them absolutely up the wall when it comes to dealing with their wife, it's that they have a tendency to blow things out of proportion by making mountains out of molehills. Like, if a bill is due and money is tight, all of a sudden the issue is about what's gonna happen three months from now if more money doesn't come in. Tomorrow is not promised. Even the Good Book tells us not to be consumed with it (Matthew 6:34). The bill is the issue today. Deal with what needs to be done in the moment. Tomorrow will come…later.

​4. Forgive. 

Whew. It always amazes me how the folks who don't think others deserve forgiveness typically believe that this resolve applies to everyone but them. One of the best ways to be a flexible person is to forgive others because it teaches you how to let ish go. Emotionally intelligent folks already know that they are gonna not rise to the occasion all of the time. That mindset helps them to be willing to forgive others, so that bitterness and resentment don't set it. In either direction.

​5. Be open to growth. 

One of the things that I respect the most about marriages that see well past a decade is, since people grow and change over time, it's remarkable that two individuals are able to do that in the same household while sharing the same bed. Beautiful. Flexibility is all about moving with the way things evolve. Accepting that you are gonna change, many times, and that your partner is going to do the same, with the commitment you made, you are still willing to support one another, profoundly so, throughout those changes. That is psychological flexibility 2.0 style. And it's a marital superpower unlike no other. Apply it. Watch how your marriage soars once you do.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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