Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Valentine's Insights: Dr. Futris & Dr. Werner-Wilson on Love

Ways To Subscribe

In celebration of Valentine's Day, we're bringing back our enlightening conversation with Dr. Ted Futris, a distinguished professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, specializing in Extension and Outreach, Human Development, and Family Science at the University of Georgia. He shares essential skills and foundational principles for enhancing relational health. ~~~ With Valentine's Day upon us, questions arise: Is it merely a day of obligatory romance, or a special occasion dedicated to celebrating love? To explore this, we sit down with esteemed relationship expert Dr. Ron Werner-Wilson, the Dean of the College of Human Sciences and Education at NDSU, who offers his insights into the true essence of Valentine's Day.


Here are the top highlights from the interview with Dr. Ted Futris on "Main Street":

  1. Healthy Relationships: Dr. Futris emphasized the importance of education in developing and maintaining healthy relationships, regardless of the stage of the relationship. He highlighted that the core skills needed for a satisfying, long-lasting relationship are fairly similar across different ages and stages.
  2. Defining a Healthy Relationship: A healthy relationship is characterized by happiness, commitment, support through challenges, safety, and the absence of abuse. It's crucial for both partners to feel valued and nurtured.
  3. Skills for Relational Health: Dr. Futris shared essential skills for maintaining healthy relationships, including showing gratitude, listening actively, being kind in words, softening how we express our needs and wants, and being mindful and aware of each other's feelings.
  4. Managing Busy Schedules: He advised that the quality of time spent together, rather than the quantity, is what matters in a relationship. Intentional, small moments of connection can significantly impact relational health.
  5. Impact of Technology: Dr. Futris discussed how technology changes the methods of communication within relationships but the underlying message of cherishing and valuing each other remains the same.
  6. Meeting and Relationship Dynamics: The focus was on what happens after meeting someone and the efforts made to understand each other, rather than how people meet. It's about taking time to know the other person and aligning on values and life goals.
  7. Education vs. Counseling: Dr. Futris clarified the difference between educational programs on relationships, which he provides, and couples counseling. He pointed out that educational programs could serve as a helpful starting point for couples before considering counseling.
  8. Supporting Foster Parents: He highlighted the unique stresses foster parents face and how relationship education can help manage these stresses to maintain a strong partnership.
  9. Teen Pregnancy Prevention: Dr. Futris spoke about the significance of youth-focused relationship education in preventing teen pregnancy by helping teens understand what constitutes a healthy relationship.
  10. Advice for Busy Couples and Single Parents: For busy couples, he recommended finding intentional moments for connection. For single parents considering entering new relationships, he advised taking time and involving children in the process once the relationship gets serious.

Dr. Futris's insights underline the importance of continuous effort, communication, and education in fostering and maintaining healthy relationships across different life stages and situations.
Transcript of interview with Dr. Ted Futris

Main Street

Dr. Futris, welcome to Main Street.

Dr. Ted Futris

Thank you, Craig. Glad to be here.

Main Street

What was your message to faculty and staff and students at NDSU?

Dr. Ted Futris

I came and talked about healthy relationships. And a lot of the work that I do is developing resources programs to help educate couples, individuals on how to develop and maintain healthy couple relationships.

Main Street

Is your message different to people based on their age? In other words, someone like me, who's now been married for almost 40 years versus maybe a freshman who really has never had a long-term relationship?

Dr. Ted Futris

It depends where you are in your relationship, but the skills that you need to maintain a healthy relationship, a satisfying, long-lasting relationship are fairly similar. If you're trying to get into a relationship, there's some unique things that you do to kind of learn about someone before you commit to a life with that person. But once you're in a committed relationship, research shows there's certain formula of skills and practices that you follow and adhere to to really kind of keep that relationship going.

Main Street

Let's talk about those skills in just a minute, but define for me, if you could, a healthy relationship. What is that?

Dr. Ted Futris

Sure. When we look at what a healthy relationship is, it includes, you know, one, being happy. You know, are you happy with the person you're with?

Does that person make you happy with who you are? And but then it's feeling committed. It's knowing that you're going to invest in each other and support each other, as we say, they go through thick and thin.

It's also a safe relationship where you don't feel taken advantage of. You feel supported. You feel nurtured.

You don't, you know, it's the absence of abuse. And so so it's important that you are safe and cared for.

Main Street

So the steps that you tell people to think about for those of us who have been in a monogamous relationship for a long, long, long time, I hate to say it, but I think we all take that for granted sometimes. And maybe that's a dangerous thing to do. What steps do you tell folks that are really good to think about relative to either starting their relationship or maintaining them?

What are the steps that they need to think about?

Dr. Ted Futris

Yeah. Well, I first tell folks that it's not easy. You know, I often I often joke when I when I do trainings that these skills are are are, you know, fairly they seem common sense, fairly simple, but but they're actually difficult to remember doing.

And I often then, you know, remind myself like I'm reminded every time I do a training or a talk of the things that I'm not always doing well. And I find myself being a much better partner after a training. My wife then reminds me a few weeks later, when's your next training?

So so so I want you training once a week. Come on. Yeah, exactly.

So so these aren't these aren't easy things to always do. One, because we're we're stressed, we're busy, it's easy to forget. So so a few simple things might include just one showing gratitude.

Like you said, we sometimes take things for for granted when we've been with someone so long that that you get into this pattern. And just the simple word of thank you can go a long way. You know, thank you for that meal.

Thank you for helping out. Thank you for taking care of that for me. You know, just shows appreciation, shows your partner that that that they're they're valued and that they're seen and they're not taken for granted.

Listening to each other, which can be really hard at times when you've got a lot going on in your head, a lot going on in your life, being able to just turn towards your partner, just hear what they have to say, turning off that TV or putting away that phone to listen to each other, you know, being kind in our words, which, you know, sometimes I think we, you know, we say what comes to mind and and we think, well, that's just how I'm feeling. But but then it's not just what you say, but how you say it that matters.

So how do you share your your your needs, your wants, your concerns with each other? So there's strategies to soften those startups and soften how we talk to each other. Then, you know, just being more mindful and aware and and and sometimes knowing when you need to kind of take a step back, pause, maybe apologize for for something that might have happened or been said.

And and just knowing when you need to kind of say, OK, we need to slow down and let's step back and hear each other.

Main Street

We looked at one of our old calendars over the weekend from 15 years ago. It was our September calendar when school started. We had zero days that didn't have something on it for someone.

And we look back and say, geez, how did we get through that just managing our children? And now I reflect, well, how did we get through that with our relationship? What advice do you have for real busy folks?

Dr. Ted Futris

Yeah, we're all we're all busy. And, you know, tell folks that couples, it's not the quantity of time that you spend together. It's not, you know, hey, we had a entire weekend to ourselves.

It's not about that. It's about those small moments that you are intentional about creating, whether it's that, you know, 10 minutes in the morning while you share a cup of coffee to check in and say, all right, what's on the schedule today? What do you have?

How can I be of support to you? You know, what do I need from you today? Whether it's that just brief message that you text or send to your partner to say, I hope you're having a good day today.

Those little things that make a difference.

Main Street

You've mentioned a couple of times already in our discussion about technology, a text, putting the phone down, et cetera. Would your message to people have been different 20 years ago before? And I'm holding this phone in my hand that has my notes for this interview in it.

Before this thing became dominant in our lives?

Dr. Ted Futris

You know, I think the message would have been the same. The how would have been different. So as you know, like I mentioned earlier, just a text during the day to say, I'm thinking of you.

You know, remind your partner that they're cherished. Right. So we use our phone today to maybe do that.

But before, you know, it was a little note you'd write and put in the lunch, you know, lunch bag or the box. I mean, we do this sometimes with our kids, right? We send our kids off to school, put a little special note.

So when they open their lunch box, they're like, hey, I hope you're having a good day. You know, good luck today on that test. You know, so so old school writing a note.

Hey, that's still also works. Those are great. You know, when traveling, you know, sometimes my partner, my wife will put a little note in my suitcase.

You know, hope that talk goes well. Hope Craig is really nice to you.

Main Street

Tell her that I was. I hope. Is it how people meet each other?

Is that at all reflective of how their relationship will be? And I ask that again in the context of how people meet today is very different probably than how they met years and years ago.

Dr. Ted Futris

Yeah. It's not about how you meet. It's about what you do after you meet.

Right. So it's the time you take to really get to know each other. It's knowing also what is it you value in life?

What do you seek in a partner? And and, you know, dating is a series of trial and error experiences where you're trying to figure that out until you kind of figure out what that special formula, special sauce is going to be in your life. And so taking time to to get to know the person you're with, seeing that person in different context to see are they the same person, whether they're just with you alone, whether they're with you and friends, whether they're with family?

Are are they the same? Are you know, is this truly the person you want to be with? You know, I equate it sometimes to going grocery shopping.

You know, if you go to the grocery store hungry, you know, without a grocery list, everything looks tasty and good. And you get to the counter and your carts full of of stuff you really don't want. But you're there and you're checking out and you're kind of stuck with it now and you regret it when you walk out the store and think, oh, my gosh, I should I spent too much.

I've got too much. But if you go planned with a list of here's what I need for the week, here's what I want to eat, here's, you know, then then you're more intentional and purposeful and you leave with exactly what you found that you came to get. And, you know, and when you're young, you're not you're not sure what it is you want, but but you have a sense.

I mean, you know, your your family values, your your personal goals, things that you want out of life. You know, you then are looking for a mate that's going to be there and support you.

Main Street

We're enjoying our conversation with Dr. Ted Futris, a professor in human development and family science at the University of Georgia. And he was on the campus of North Dakota State University earlier this semester talking to faculty, staff and students about relationships and relational health. Dr. Futris, there could be some people that are listening now that might be thinking, boy, my relationship's in a good place. But their spouse may be thinking something very different. What are the red flags that people need to recognize and then your best advice for just putting the brakes on and doing a lot of the things you talked about earlier?

Dr. Ted Futris

Yeah, well, first, let me I just want to reinforce and clarify, you know, the work I do is more is educational and focus, which is very different from counseling. So a lot of a lot of folks confuse what what I'm doing in terms of educational programs. And I think, oh, couples counseling.

No, that's not what I do. Couples counseling is very valuable, especially for couples that are kind of struggling where one partner's feeling checked out, not connected. Counseling could be very helpful, but a lot of folks don't also feel comfortable going straight to counseling.

So an educational experience, educational program could be a helpful starter. And so for those couples that are that are there where one partner feels like things are going really well and the other partner doesn't. I think checking in and just asking and seeing what is it that we can do to to to move forward together, whether that's like, OK, well, maybe we just need some alone time.

What's you know, or maybe there's just stuff going on in their life that is really taking a toll on them. We're seeing such a spike and in mental health challenges, folks that are feeling depressed, anxious, isolated, even when they're with somebody that sometimes they just need a little extra help. So maybe seeing, OK, well, what what do you need?

What do we need to get some help?

Main Street

I read some of your research prior to us visiting, and I was really struck by the research that you have done relative to foster parents, those that host foster children in their home and the impact that it can have on their relationship. Something I never would have considered. Just thank goodness they're willing to host that young person or that child in their home.

But boy, there's another dynamic that really couples in that situation probably need to think about.

Dr. Ted Futris

Absolutely. Foster foster parents in general, foster caregivers are are just wonderful and kind hearted, kind hearted folks that that are taking in children in need. And, you know, they they get training and annually to on how to care for children with certain needs.

There's a lot of paperwork and a lot of a lot of processing that goes on with the state and local systems to do that work. But often what's forgotten is especially when it's a couple that's caring for this kid, what a toll it can take on their relationship. You know, so anytime you introduce something new into the family, it's going to create some stress.

And each couple varies in terms of how they handle and manage stress. Stress is going to happen. But but the but some couples manage it really well, some struggle.

And so some of what relationship education can offer and specifically the program that we do called Elevate offers is helping couples understand what it is that stresses them and finding strategies that will work for them on how to manage stress so that they can then stay connected.

Main Street

You've also done work relative to supporting the prevention of teen pregnancy. Tell me about that work. And I hate to ask for advice again, but maybe what you tell parents of teens or even teens themselves.

Dr. Ted Futris

Yeah. So they work with teen pregnancy. We we do youth focused relationship education.

It's never too early to help start educating our young people about what healthy relationships are. Now, some would say, well, they can just see what happens in the home. Well, if it's if it's a healthy relationship at home, absolutely.

You know, hopefully that's something they're observing and seeing and will model. But when you have so many children that are still exposed to divorce, are exposed to violence in the home. I mean, you've got just almost half of children infants born each year are in two moms who are not married.

So you have a lot of children grow up in unstable homes where there may not be two caregivers and parents. And so so a lot of a lot of our teens don't have those positive role models. And so what we do in in relationship education with young people is help them understand what is a healthy relationship, because they just think that what they live have lived for their first 15, 18 years is normal.

And they think that's what normal may not be healthy. Exactly. And so they may just, you know, may just feel that feel like, well, that's what everyone around me experiences.

So that's what a relationship is. So we find a lot of kids when they go through the program, their eyes are open and like, oh, wow, it could be better. Yeah, it could.

And so here are the things that you can do. We we start off by emphasizing because adolescence is a time of of development, identity development. They're trying to figure out who am I.

Right. And and they challenge status quo, challenge their their parents and because they're trying to figure out who am I without you. Right.

And so they want to and so they might dress differently. They may act differently. It's all part of that development.

So we start off by focusing first on, well, who are you and what do you want and what are your values? What do you believe and what do you want out of life? And finding, you know, an individual when you're ready, emotionally and mentally ready that fits that.

We help them understand how to get out of a bad relationship. So we talk about breaking up and healthy ways of breaking up. When you see that this person is not treating you right or treating you well.

We talk about managing conflict, which also helps them deal with conflict that they might have with their parents or teacher or friend. And then we also, you know, help them understand how to use social media appropriately and safely so as to not hurt someone or or get hurt. You know, so because, you know, you have teens using social media so much now to share information and and that can be very hurtful for some, depending on the nature of that information.

Main Street

You're a researcher. What has your research shown about your techniques and their effectiveness? And I ask that in the context of, I'm guessing a lot of what you just told me about your interactions with young people doesn't happen across the country in a structured or formal way.

Dr. Ted Futris

So, you know, I've had several colleagues actually across the country that do this programming. And there's a great group out in California called the Dibble Institute that's developed a program that we use called Relationship Smarts. And there are many organizations across the country that deliver this program in schools and in after school programs.

And the research that we've done that others have done as well consistently are showing kids, you know, teens attitudes are improving in terms of understanding what a healthy relationship is.

Main Street

I think that's good news. Yeah.

Dr. Ted Futris

Generally. Absolutely. Yeah.

And so and we're seeing that that links to changes in how they behave, you know, less likely to engage in risky behaviors, more likely to delay having sex till they're in a healthy relationship. You know, because a lot of the sex education programs that are offered, that have been offered, really focus on waiting, either delaying or how to be safe when you are sexually involved. But almost all of them forget that sex happens often within the context of a relationship.

So first, understand what a healthy relationship is and then know that if you're not in one, delay. And oftentimes, it takes time until you're much more mature to have a healthy relationship.

Main Street

Along the similar chain of thought there, is that also why people, young people are delaying getting married?

Dr. Ted Futris

The delay in marriage, I would say is more an economic thing.

Main Street


Dr. Ted Futris

Yeah, right. Interesting. More and more, it's a success sequence.

It's finish school, get a good job, then get married, right? And it's hard to get a good job and it takes a while to finish school if you're going on to secondary education. And I think that's one part of the equation.

I think the other part also is more and more of our young people are growing up in homes and in communities where marriage is not the norm. And so it's changing kind of this attitude that, well, I don't need to be married in order to be happy.

Main Street

From someone who looks at this from an academic perspective, does that concern you? No.

Dr. Ted Futris

My work is always focused on we want you to be in a relationship that's healthy and safe for you. Now, research consistently does show on average individuals in a married relationship, on average, if the relationship is healthy, low conflict, they live healthier, wealthier, longer lives. So they are happier.

They tend to take care of themselves better, especially men, because men benefit from those reminders from their wives to go to the doctor and take care of themselves. And they accumulate more wealth over time. Two incomes often is much better than one.

And, boy, I think I reflect personally, I'm like, I just don't know how I could have done it or my wife could have done it on our own raising two boys. It's just hard. And now there are a lot of single parents out there that do an incredible job raising their kids.

They pull from a variety of resources, family, friends, and their support systems. So this is not to say that single parents cannot do it, but it sure is harder.

Main Street

I want to ask a closing question here for that single parent, because there are so many parents who are meeting these challenges every day without a spouse or without a partner, but might be thinking that they are timid in hopping back in or doing it at the time when they have children in the house. A lot of discussion about that that I've read about. We have about a minute left.

What would be your advice to someone who maybe tried, it didn't work out the first time, and here we go?

Dr. Ted Futris

Well, I think part of it is take your time. Don't rush. And with kids involved, engaging the kids in the process.

Maybe not immediately on the first or second date, but once things you feel are getting a little serious, then engaging the kids. Because remembering that the relationship you had with your kids came prior to this new relationship. So there's a whole level, another layer of programming related to forming step families.

And so that we can go on and talk about.

Main Street

It would be a whole other topic to talk about. Dr. Ted Frutris, he was on the campus of North Dakota State University talking about promoting relational health. He's a professor in human development and family science at the University of Georgia, and an extension specialist in family life education.

Thank you so much, Dr. Frutris, for joining us on Main Street.

Dr. Ted Futris

Thank you. It was a pleasure.

Transcribed by Go Unlimited to remove this watermark.