If you’re in an intimate partnership, chances are you’ve probably found it’s difficult to hide anything from your partner or spouse. With time and proximity, your spouse is going to see you at your worst eventually. They know your habits and they know what makes you angry, discouraged, insecure, and impatient.
After some time together you’ll likely have started to create stories about each other. These stories are full of expectations and judgment. You start to assume you know what your partner is thinking, how they’ll react to something, and what they’re capable of. And you may be right at times. However, if you let these stories dictate how you interact with your partner, you’ll be interacting with your ideas and missing out on a real, intimate connection with your spouse.
What is mindfulness?
So, how can mindfulness help us when our marriage or intimate relationship is faced with challenges or stressors? To understand how mindfulness-based techniques can benefit your relationship, we must first understand the concept of mindfulness.
Mindfulness refers to being in a state of focused attention and awareness of your present moment experience. It also entails being curious, non-judgmental, and accepting of that experience – whether the experience is pleasant or unpleasant.
When you are acting mindfully, you aren’t automatically reacting to the thoughts and emotions you experience. Instead, you are a curious observer of your experience, exploring and acknowledging your thoughts and feelings without immediately reacting to them or judging them.
Mindfulness can help you cope in many areas of life. Some of the benefits of mindfulness-based interventions for relationships include increased resilience (ability to handle and bounce back from stress), increased overall personal well-being, and improved relationship happiness. There’s a more comprehensive list of benefits below.
What are the benefits?
What are the established benefits of mindfulness-based techniques regarding relationships? There’s plenty of growing scientific evidence to support the positive effects of mindfulness in improving relationships.
Some of these benefits include:
- Increased relationship satisfaction
- Increased acceptance of one’s partner
- Improved individual well-being
- Increased self-reported empathy
- Increased ability to respond to relationship stress
- Improved emotional stress responses
- Improvements in perceptions of the relationship (before and after disagreements)
- Improved relaxation response
- Calming of emotional arousal (1)
I can personally attest to these benefits in my marriage. Several years ago my husband and I went through a rough patch in our marriage, eventually deciding to separate for a while. We continued attending couples counseling during our separation, where our counselor focused on mindfulness-based techniques to help us cope.
After a short time of practicing the mindfulness techniques both individually and as a couple, we started to notice a significant difference in our relationship. We noticed an improved ability to relate to what the other was going through, we once again had hope for the future of our relationship, and we both felt calmer and better prepared to handle stressful situations as a couple.
I’m thrilled to say that we made the decision to reconcile and my husband moved back into our home after months of applying these mindful practices. We both believe wholeheartedly that consistent mindfulness practice is essential to the health of our marriage. Our relationship is the most intimate it’s ever been. We’re able to solve problems as a team, we argue much less, and appreciate each other so much more!
If you don’t want to take my word for it, I’ll let the research speak for itself!
A study published in the Journal of Adult Development in 2005 investigated the relationships among mindfulness, marital satisfaction, and perceived spousal similarity. What they found was there was a stronger correlation between mindfulness and marital satisfaction than the correlation between marital satisfaction and any of the other variables, including similarity. These results carry meaningful implications for the role of mindfulness techniques within the context of building and maintaining happy marital relationships and general well-being. (2)
Taking it one step further, a 2016 pilot study in the journal Family Process, suggests that teaching mindfulness to one partner can enhance the relationship for both partners, even when one is not working on being more mindful. Relationship satisfaction grew for both partners who attended an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program as well as partners who weren’t taking the course. (3)
How To Practice Being Mindful With Your Spouse or Partner
So how can you practice mindfulness-based techniques at home? Below is a list of mindful strategies that you can try on your own or with your spouse to start cultivating mindfulness in your relationship.
The next time you and your partner have a discussion, instead of thinking about what you’ll say next, simply listen to what your partner has to say. Be curious and ask questions. See if you can remain non-judgmental.
Pause, then respond.
Rather than immediately reacting with anger or another negative emotion, pause and take a breath before responding. Chances are you’ll respond more rationally to problems that arise or challenges that you face as a couple.
Put away your phones and gadgets when you’re together. Be in the moment and take the opportunity to talk to each other.
Show appreciation & feel gratitude daily.
Notice when your partner makes you feel happy or does something nice for you and feel gratitude for those moments. Take a moment each day to express that appreciation to your spouse or partner. It can also help to keep a gratitude journal where you jot down a list of things you’re thankful for each night.
Show your love.
It’s nice to tell someone you love them, but ultimately, actions speak louder than words. Ask your partner what things make them feel good, and make a commitment to do those special things regularly. Examples might include buying them flowers or a cup of their favorite coffee or having date nights.
Hold each other.
Embrace your partner without talking until you feel you both relaxing. This engages the vagus nerve, which helps induce the relaxation response.
Practice mindful breathing together, where you slow down the inhale and exhale and simply observe the sensations of your breath in your body. This also induces the relaxation response.
Try this loving-kindness meditation or any mindfulness meditation of your choice on YouTube. Practicing mindfulness meditation together can help you grow closer.
Have mindful conversations.
Before talking to your partner, think about what it is you want to say, getting clear on what you want them to know, and what result you’d like to see. Practice being open-minded, compassionate, and non-judgmental.
Spend some time touching each other intentionally. This can include giving each other a massage, holding hands, or any other way you and your partner enjoy connecting physically. Be aware of what you’re doing, how you’re feeling, and just focus on the moment.
Create relationship goals.
Make a list of ways you’d like to interact with each other in the future. This might include “We do something new or fun together once a month” or “Pamper each other for a half-hour to an hour every week.”
Mindfulness with an intimate partner involves trying to experience your interactions with them in new and fresh ways. Mindfulness-based techniques can help you build a stronger, more resilient foundation as a couple. You’ll be better prepared to respond to each other in a healthy way and be aware of how your behavior affects your relationship, as well as the other areas of your life.
May your relationships be blessed,
- Understanding Mindfulness-Based Relationship Enhancement VeryWellMind.com February 24, 2020
- Mindfulness and Marital Satisfaction Burpee, Leslie C., and Ellen J. Langer. 2005. Mindfulness and
marital satisfaction. Journal of Adult Development 12, no. 1: 43-51
- Mindful Mates: A Pilot Study of the Relational Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on Participants and Their Partners Fam Process. 2017 Sep