How Mindfulness Can Improve Relationships
New research shows how 10 minutes of mindfulness can help a relationship.
Posted Jan 06, 2021 |
Broaden your awareness. Live in the moment. Calmly acknowledge and accept your feelings. In other words, be more mindful. According to The Greater Good, mindfulness involves “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.”
Mindfulness is a skill that you can develop with minimal practice. That’s good news, because research continues to discover mindfulness’ benefits. For example studies find that mindfulness helps people avoid rumination, excessive worrying, and helps them become less emotional in reaction to stress (Gu et al., 2015). Mindfulness also helps with better regulation and processing of emotions, and decreasing depression (Tomlinson et al., 2018).
Can mindfulness also help your relationship?
A just-released study wanted to see if a brief 2-week mindfulness exercise would improve relationships (Karremans et al., 2020). To do this, researchers recruited over 500 couples who had been together at least a year and were living together. Then the researchers randomly assigned couples to either the mindfulness group or a comparison group which did relaxation exercises. Couples in both groups did their assigned activities for two weeks, then completed assessments of their relationship quality, including measures of relationship satisfaction, partner acceptance, relationship distress, and partner connectedness.
The researchers found that after two weeks, participants who did the mindfulness activities reported improvements in their relationship. Specifically, the mindfulness couples had less relationship distress, felt more connected, accepted their partner more, and had higher relationship satisfaction. Importantly, when one partner increased mindfulness it not only benefitted them, but their partner as well.
If you’re interested in trying something like this, the study’s mindfulness exercises are easy to do, and only took 10 minutes a day. The exercises focused on five areas:
- Posture (e.g., “Sitting on a chair for this exercise, feet on the ground, back straight, hands resting in the lap.”)
- Breathing (e.g., “Focusing attention on breathing.")
- Directing Attention (e.g., “What is in awareness right now, are there any thoughts?”)
- Becoming Decentered (e.g., “Without getting immersed in the content of thought, noticing what kind of thought there is at the moment—thoughts that come and go.”)
- Carryover (Bringing this new awareness into interpersonal interactions, e.g., “In situations where you are in contact with your partner, becoming aware of thoughts and feelings that are present, and what you can notice in your body.”)
If you’re not quite ready for mindfulness, the study found that the relaxation group also reported some relationship improvements as well. Those exercises focused on posture, tensing and relaxing body parts, and carrying over the relaxation into interactions with others.
In any case, taking the time to work on improving your self through increased mindfulness or relaxation can ultimately improve your relationship.
For more insights, see my book, Stronger Than You Think: The 10 Blind Spots That Undermine Your Relationship...and How to See Past Them.
Gu, J., Strauss, C., Bond, R. & Cavanagh, K. (2015). How do mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction improve mental health and wellbeing? A systematic review and meta-analysis of mediation studies. Clinical Psychology Review, 37, 1–12.
Karremans, J. C., Kappen, G., Schellekens, M., & Schoebi, D. (2020). Comparing the effects of a mindfulness versus relaxation intervention on romantic relationship wellbeing. Scientific Reports, 10, 21696. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-78919-6
Tomlinson, E. R., Yousaf, O., Vittersø, A. D. & Jones, L. (2018). Dispositional mindfulness and psychological health: a systematic review. Mindfulness, 9, 23–43.