Your partner says something that pushes your buttons, and before you know it, a minor disagreement quickly escalates into a heated argument with blood pressure rising, stomach churning, and fists clenching. How can you avoid this vicious cycle as a couple? One word—mindfulness. Mindfulness is the non-judgmental awareness that enables you to shift out of autopilot and to notice and accept what you are experiencing in the present moment.
Various research studies have found that mindfulness not only enhances individual wellbeing, but also has a positive effect on interpersonal relationships. A 2004 University of North Carolina study demonstrated that the practice of mindfulness “favorably impacted couples’ levels of relationship satisfaction, autonomy, relatedness, closeness, and acceptance of one another” and led to “improved levels of relationship happiness and stress coping efficacy.” Another recent study from the University of Wyoming and the University of Oregon (2016) revealed that mindfulness during conflict helped romantic partners regulate their emotional reactions more quickly, not take things so personally, and empathize with their partner more deeply.
So, how can mindfulness help you maintain equanimity in the face of an argument and strengthen your connection to your partner? Mindfulness expert Erica Turner, LMFT suggests the following three strategies:
(1) Develop a healthier awareness of your own emotions through individual mindfulness practice.
This will allow you to get comfortable with how emotions show up in your body, to better identify situations causing these emotions, and to determine when an emotion is set off by your partner’s behaviors or by your own inner triggers.
(2) Communicate your needs and wants by slowing down.
Before speaking with your partner, take a moment to reflect on what you want to say. What is it that you want them to know? What are you feeling in this moment as you prepare to talk with them? As you approach them, try to be present in the experience. Instead of simply waiting your turn to speak or defend your point, try to listen and take in what they’re saying.
(3) Enjoy time with your significant other by giving them your full attention.
Stop and really focus on your partner by taking a moment to gaze into their eyes and listen to them. Making a mindful effort to just be with your partner, instead of being half-focused on other concerns, will make a marked difference in the quality of your interactions.
Mindfulness presents a valuable tool for facing the daily challenges of relationships. By taking each moment as it comes, you can both cultivate greater self-understanding and strengthen your bond with your partner. To find out more about working with me or any of our therapists who specialize in mindfulness and/or couples therapy, click here.