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How Mindfulness Can Help Your Relationship

Research shows that couples who are more mindful have greater relationship satisfaction

By now you might be aware of how mindfulness can improve our mental health, but did you know that mindfulness can also make your romantic relationships better?

At its core, mindfulness gives you a better understanding of your thoughts and feelings, without them taking over. For those of you less familiar with mindfulness, I will share Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition: “The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”. 

Every couple will face challenges or stress in their relationship, whether it’s an everyday annoyance or larger life events. So when a difficult period or argument emerges, it’s crucial to have the tools to manage conflict with your partner. So how is this helpful in our intimate relationships?

Many research studies are showing that regular mindfulness practice reduces stress, enhances empathy and compassion, increases concentration, and helps us to better manage both physical pain and emotional distress during conflict. 

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A recent study found that practicing mindfulness can improve your romantic relationships. Researchers recruited over 500 couples who had been together for over a year and were living together and found that after only two weeks, participants who did mindfulness exercises reported less relationship distress, felt more connected, and had higher relationship satisfaction. 

Other research shows that mindfulness can help us have a better handle on our emotions and communicate better with our partners in times of stress. It can make us less emotionally reactive or respond inappropriately during an argument. 

Mindfulness can also stop you from overthinking in your relationshipResearch has shown that overthinking can impair your ability to have positive feelings toward your partner, but luckily mindfulness training can reduce rumination

It’s not difficult to see how these kinds of individual changes can make relationships more enjoyable. Research backs this up and also shows that couples who are more mindful have greater couple satisfaction and an ability to manage difficulties when they arise. 

How to stay in the present moment

One important aspect of mindfulness is “being in the present moment”. So often we find ourselves thinking about the past or planning for the future that we forget to be in the present.

To illustrate this, let’s consider a case study of a couple, Sharon and Joe. Sharon and Joe had been together for 10 years and felt they were drifting apart and that it was only the children keeping them together.

They both had successful careers, but little time for each other. They always thought it would get better next year, or the year afterward, but it never did. They tried “date nights” but these were usually spent responding to mobile phones, talking about the children, or planning house renovations.

Sharon and Joe were forever in what mindfulness practitioners call the “doing mode,” which is exhausting if it is not balanced by time in “being mode” — that is being relaxed, alert, and in the present moment. So how can you stay present in a relationship?

There are many things you can do to stay in the present moment. A common practice is to focus on your breath — the in-breath, and the out-breath — and when your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to it. Sometimes this is described as "training your monkey mind."

Another practice is to do an everyday activity much more slowly than usual. For example, eating, showering or brushing your teeth. Use all your senses to explore the experience and observe how it feels. Your mind will try to pull you away so you may have to keep bringing it back to the present. 

Mindfulness activity for couples

Here is an exercise to do with your partner, if they’re happy to take part. This will take about five minutes, so find a place where you can sit together without interruption and a time when you are not too tired. 

Set a timer for two minutes on your phone, sit opposite each other, and gently hold hands. Without changing your position, use your senses to explore your partner’s face, the smell and feel of their skin, without talking. If your mind wanders, notice what is happening and bring your attention back to them.

When the timer goes off after two minutes, take it in turns to speak briefly about the experience and reflect on how it might be possible to have more times like this when you are fully present together.

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About the writer
Judith Lask
Judith Lask is a Couple and Family Therapist and the former Head of Family Therapy Training at King’s College London.
She has presented at numerous psychotherapy workshops around the world and contributed to an easy-to-use measure of family functioning called SCORE. She is an Honorary Fellow of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP).
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