Relationships that flow

April 25, 2003|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

"Mommy, it's OK. Daddy's not fussing you. Don't start to cry."

Those words came out of my 4-year-old's mouth one recent evening.

I wasn't crying. And she was right, my husband wasn't fussing.

We were just having a discussion about chores, expectations and our overly-extended schedule.

(The last part is my doing. I always think we can do more than our time and energy typically allow. I'm working on this.)

We often have those discussions in front of our children so they can see how adults work things out. We try to model conflict resolution skills as best we can.


Whatever we say or do usually comes out in their conversations or actions in the next day or so.

Case in point, I've been trying to teach my daughter not to cry every time I correct her. That I'm not mad at her (or "fussing" her), I'm just trying to teach her what's correct.

So, that night she was telling me what I told her earlier in the week.

She seemed satisfied that her counsel was taken after I hugged her father and planted a kiss on his cheek.

She went right back to being her busy little self.

When children sense that something is wrong in their parents' relationship, it can stop them in their tracks.

On the flip side, if they see their parents working things out, they will feel safe, that it's OK to disagree and that disagreements can be resolved.

"They learn to fight fair from watching you fight fair," says Susan K. Perry, a social psychologist and author of "Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way."

For the book, she interviewed three dozen couples who described their relationship as really, really happy.

On a scale of one to 100, these couples all put themselves at 90 or above.

Now that's happy. Or as Perry puts it, that's flow.

She describes a relationship that truly flows as "a hedge against the stress of a lonely world, a timeless zone of trust and safety from which to face life's challenges."

Flow is a state of mind during which time seems to stop, Perry says. It's similar to an athlete being "in the zone."

"For couples, I use the term flow in a long-term sense," Perry says. "You can't imagine being with anyone else. You're moving through life with minimal conflicts."

Children raised in a home where the parents' relationship flows are more likely to be honest, open, optimistic and resilient, Perry says.

"One of the best things you can do for your children is to have a loving relationship," she says.

So how can you achieve this type of relationship with your spouse?

"Being happy isn't something that happens," Perry says. "There's effort involved."

Here are some tips from Perry and the couples she interviewed:

1. Assume goodwill - your partner doesn't mean you harm.

When he does something to annoy you, train your mind to assume the best. Perhaps what he did was unintentional. You love this person. It's harmful to think he aims to irritate you.

2. Give to each other without counting. This is the opposite of tit-for-tat. (I'll only do this for her if she does this for me ... I'll make his favorite meal when he gets around to cleaning the garage ....)

"When husbands and wives base their relationship on counting, the quality of life is already starting to slip," Perry says.

3. Timing matters. Don't bring up a conflict if you or your partner is tired, hungry or facing too many demands.

"Tune in to the fact that you're getting too emotional. Learn to catch yourself before you lose it," Perry says. "Then the kids won't have to witness the worse."

4. Avoid subtle abuse. Perry defines subtle abuse as a constant stream of nitpicking and criticism.

"The abused is being worn down by the abuser," Perry says. "Subtle abuse kills love over time. You're showing the person they can't do anything right.

"You don't feel good about yourself if your mate is constantly putting you down. Kids will grow up thinking that kind of abuse is normal."

5. Listen well. Do you really want to understand your partner's point of view? Do you want to get inside your partner's brain? Then listen not just with your head but with your heart.

For more information, check out Perry's Web site at

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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