Mindfulness May Mediate the Effects of Childhood Trauma on Romantic Relationships
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“As mindfulness is the ever-unfolding compassionate, non-judgmental awareness of each and every moment, mindfulness practice and relationships go hand-in-hand.” – Gillian Florence Sanger
Childhood changes the victim forever. It changes the trusting innocence of childhood to a confused, guilt ridden, frightening, and traumatized existence. It not only produces short-term trauma which includes both psychological and physical injury, it has long-term consequences. It damages the victim’s self-esteem and creates difficulties entering into intimate relationship in adulthood. Relationships under any conditions can be difficult. This is amplified in cohabitation where the couple interacts daily and frequently have to resolve difficult issues. All this can be amplified with when one of the partners has experienced childhood trauma.
Mindfulness trainings have been shown to improve a variety of psychological issues including emotion regulation, stress responses, trauma, fear and worry, anxiety, and depression, and self-esteem. Mindfulness training has also been found to improve relationships and to be useful in treating sexual problems. In addition, mindfulness has been shown to be helpful in resolving the residual symptoms of childhood trauma. But there is little empirical research on the influence of mindfulness on the relationships of couples where childhood trauma exists.
In today’s Research News article “Cumulative Childhood Trauma and Couple Satisfaction: Examining the Mediating Role of Mindfulness.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7334265/) Gobout and colleagues recruited couples involved in romantic relationships and had them complete questionnaires measuring childhood trauma, couple satisfaction, and mindfulness. These data were then analyzed with regression and path analysis techniques.
Shockingly, they found that 87% of the sample had experienced some form of childhood trauma, including sexual or physical abuse, psychological violence or neglect, physical neglect, interparental physical or psychological violence, or bullying. They further found that the higher the levels of mindfulness, the higher the levels of couples’ satisfaction and the higher the levels of childhood trauma the lower the levels of couple satisfaction and mindfulness. A path analysis revealed that childhood trauma affected couples’ satisfaction by being associated with lower levels of mindfulness that in turn were associated with lower couples’ satisfaction. The mediation was significant for overall mindfulness and also the observing, describing inner experience, and non-judging facets of mindfulness.
These findings are correlational and as such causation cannot be determined. But prior research has shown the mindfulness is effective in treating the symptoms of childhood trauma and it also improves relationships. Hence, it is reasonable to suggest that the relationships observed in the current study represent underlying causal connections. This suggests the childhood trauma, at least in part, reduces mindfulness which is important for relationship satisfaction. This infers that mindfulness training may be effective in reducing the impact of childhood trauma on the individual’s ability to engage in satisfying relationships.
These results also suggest that being sensitive to inner experience and not judging it is important for relationships. In other words, being aware of one’s feelings but not judging them helps the individual to better relate to a partner. Experiencing childhood trauma appears to make the individual somewhat numb to their feelings making it more difficult to be aware of their emotions in relating to another. Overcoming tis effect of experience trauma in childhood may be a key for allowing these victims to relate effectively to their partners and thereby having a satisfying relationship.
So, mindfulness may mediate the effects of childhood trauma on romantic relationships.
“When you are mindful of the love in your life you open yourself up to the opportunity for love to grow. And not just romantic love, but self-love, and loving friendships as well.” – Mindful
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch
Gobout, N., Morissette Harvey, F., Cyr, G., & Bélanger, C. (2020). Cumulative Childhood Trauma and Couple Satisfaction: Examining the Mediating Role of Mindfulness. Mindfulness, 11(7), 1723–1733. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01390-x
Cumulative childhood trauma (CCT) survivors are at a higher risk of suffering from interpersonal problems including couple dissatisfaction. Dispositional mindfulness is increasingly proposed as a potential explanatory mechanism of post-traumatic symptomatology and has been documented as a predictor of couple satisfaction. Most authors operationalize mindfulness as a multidimensional disposition comprised of five facets (i.e., Describing, Observing, Non-judgment of inner experiences, Non-reactivity, and Acting with awareness), but the role of these facets in the link between CCT and couple satisfaction has yet to be understood. This study aimed to assess mindfulness as a potential mediator in the relationship between CCT and couple satisfaction and to examine the distinctive contributions of mindfulness facets in this mediation.
A sample of 330 participants from the community completed measures of couple satisfaction, mindfulness, and exposure to eight types of childhood maltreatment experiences.
Path analysis results revealed that mindfulness mediated the relationship between CCT and couple satisfaction. More precisely, two mindfulness facets acted as specific mediators, namely, Describing and Non-judgment of inner experiences. The final integrative model explained 14% (p < .001) of the variance in couple satisfaction.
Findings suggest that mindfulness may be a meaningful mechanism in the link between CCT and couple satisfaction. They also highlight that description of inner experiences and a non-judgmental attitude of these experiences may act as key components to understand the influence of CCT on adults’ lower couple satisfaction.