Flexibility: One key to family resilience

Your flexibility in relationships is about being able to adapt the way you think and communicate with those around you. Flexibility impacts couple and family functioning, and it’s a key component of family resilience. It helps lessen the impact of daily stressors on your health and wellness too.

As an individual, you embody a level of mental flexibility that influences how effective you are at engaging and communicating with your partner, friends, coworkers, and children. Being mentally flexible means you’re able to shift your mindset, attitudes, and behaviors based on what’s happening in your relationship. This shift helps you interact with potentially stressful situations in different ways and perhaps lead to more productive outcomes.

In relationships, romantic or otherwise, flexibility means adjusting to and accommodating each other. When there’s flexibility in your relationships, others feel supported and respected. You feel you can depend on each other as well. On the other hand, inflexibility is an unwillingness to be open with your thoughts and feelings, and refusing to adjust your own mindset or behaviors. Inflexibility in parenting also can lead to higher anxiety in moms and dads. Still, there are ways to be flexible in your relationships.

  • Consider the other person’s perspective and compromise when making decisions together.
  • Identify clearly defined roles and rules within your family and other groups, while knowing that these might change, especially during stressful events.
  • Strive to find a comfort level in knowing that changes and challenges are unavoidable.
  • Be firm about rules when needed but open to suggestions as a leader in your family or other groups.
  • Nurture your relationships by offering guidance and being a good listener.
  • Prioritize your team and teamwork—whether you’re at home or on a mission.

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Gloster, A. T., Meyer, A. H., & Lieb, R. (2017). Psychological flexibility as a malleable public health target: Evidence from a representative sample. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 6(2), 166–171. doi:10.1016/j.jcbs.2017.02.003

Moyer, D. N., & Sandoz, E. K. (2014). The role of psychological flexibility in the relationship between parent and adolescent distress. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24(5), 1406–1418. doi:10.1007/s10826-014-9947-y

Nicoleau, A., Kang, Y. J., Choau, S. T., & Knudson-Martin, C. (2016). Doing what it takes to make it work: Flexibility, Relational Focus, and Stability Among Long-Term Couples With Children. Journal of Family Issues, 37(12), 1639–1657. doi:10.1177/0192513x14543852

Walsh, F. (2011). Strengthening Family Resilience (2nd ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.