Better Relationships with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“In romantic relationships, we make ourselves vulnerable to the good will of our relationship partner. Our fears of being hurt in this vulnerable state can make us more reactive, and we run the risk of self-sabotaging, not acting in our best interest in relation to the ones we love. Mindfulness presents a valuable tool for facing the daily challenges of staying close to our partner. It allows us to become more centered and calm, so we can talk things out instead of spiraling into a screaming match.” – Lisa Firestone
Relationships can be difficult as two individuals can and do frequently disagree or misunderstand one another. This is amplified in marriage where the couple interacts daily and frequently have to resolve difficult issues. These conflicts can produce strong emotions and it is important to be able to regulate these emotions in order to keep them from interfering with rational solutions to the conflict. The success of marriage can often depend upon how well the couple handles these conflicts. In fact, it has been asserted that the inability to resolve conflicts underlies the majority of divorces.
Mindfulness may be helpful in navigating marital disputes, as it has been shown to improve the emotion regulation and decrease anger and anxiety. It may be a prerequisite for deep listening and consequently to resolving conflict. Indeed, mindfulness has been shown to improve relationships. So, mindfulness may be a key to successful relationships. There is a need to investigate just how mindfulness effects couples and their behaviors during their daily interactions. In today’s Research News article “The Role of Mindfulness in Daily Relationship Process: Examining Daily Conflicts and Relationship Mood.” (See summary below). Iida & Shapiro recruited cohabitating heterosexual couples (average age 34 years). They had both partners complete daily for 24 days on-line measures of mindfulness, conflict with partner, and relationship mood including satisfaction, feeling loved, feeling supported, relationship anger, relationship anxiety, and relationship sadness.
In general, they found that women reported greater satisfaction and feeling supported in their relationships than men. Their partner’s mindfulness was associated with women’s satisfaction. It was positively related to their male partner’s mindfulness; the more mindful the men, the more satisfied the women. Conflict reduced satisfaction, feeling supported, and feeling loved, and increased anger and relationship anxiety in both men and women. Men’s mindfulness was positively associated with their feeling loved, the more mindful the men were, the more loved they felt. Men’s mindfulness also moderated the effects of conflict on feeling supported, relationship anxiety, and relationship anger with the more mindful men having a greater decrease in feeling supported and more relationship anger and increases in relationship anxiety when there was conflict. Women’s mindfulness was negatively associated with their relationship anxiety and positively with relationship sadness, the more mindful the women were the less relationship anxiety and the greater sadness they felt.
These are very interesting results that begin to uncover how mindfulness effects relationships and indicate how mindfulness plays an important role in daily relationship process. Mindfulness appears to be associated with more positive moods and less negative moods in relationships. Although conflict appears to affect men and women equally, otherwise the genders have different responses to their own and their partner’s mindfulness. “Mindfulness in men was associated with them feeling more loved and supported in their relationship. Mindfulness in women was associated with them feeling less anxiety and sadness in their relationships.” Mindful men also appear to be more sensitive to the effects of conflict feeling greater anxiety and less loved.
The results clearly demonstrate the importance of mindfulness to the feelings of the partners during everyday situations. Although men and women appear to react to some extent differently, mindfulness for both contributes to greater positive feelings and lower negative feelings. It will be important for future studies to investigate the effect of mindfulness training on the emotions surrounding relationships. The results clear suggest that mindfulness contributes to happier more stable relationships.
So, have better relationships with mindfulness.
“Mindfulness requires an intentional and honest look at the connection we feel with those around us. It is only after we acknowledge the current state of our connection that we can aspire to deepen it in small ways.” – Via Aarathi Selvan
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Iida, M. & Shapiro, A.F. The Role of Mindfulness in Daily Relationship Process: Examining Daily Conflicts and Relationship Mood. Mindfulness (2017). doi:10.1007/s12671-017-0727-9
The current study examined the role of trait mindfulness in daily relationship mood and relationship processes in cohabiting couples. Forty-seven couples participated in 24-day online daily questionnaires. Mindfulness in men was associated with higher levels of feeling loved and feeling supported, and mindfulness in women was associated with lower levels of relationship anxiety and relationship sadness. Mindfulness moderated the association between relationship conflict and anxiety, such that men with more mindfulness experienced a larger decrease in feeling supported, and a bigger increase in relationship anxiety, on conflict days compared to non-conflict day levels. These findings overall suggest that trait mindfulness is indeed beneficial for positive relationship process on a day-to-day basis, but that associations are somewhat complex, and also that individual-level trait mindfulness alone may not be sufficient for buffering individuals from the negative impact of conflict.