Engaging Mindfully with Our Partners: Relationship Satisfaction and Well-Being

Now more than ever, with a global pandemic keeping many physically apart, staying connected to the special people in our lives is important. Ensuring our relationships are getting the right kind of attention while managing multiple external commitments can be challenging, especially now that the rhythm of our usual routines has been disrupted by the current health crisis. Regardless of the circumstances, maintaining healthy relationships comes down to the basics of human connection; knowing how to regulate your emotions (the good AND the bad), being able to empathize and resolve conflicts as they arise, having the ability to actively listen, and replacing reactiveness with healthier patterns of behavior. That’s where mindfulness comes in, which interestingly has been shown to “facilitate the expansion of neural networks that are typically associated with safety, security, and positive affect within the romantic relationship”.

When you’re in a relationship with another person, sometimes the tools you have to auto-regulate your own feelings and moods don’t work so well anymore, because you’re in a position of vulnerability. And although vulnerability ultimately leads to connection, it can start off leaving you feeling a little uncomfortable, maybe even a little defensive. This is especially true if your day-to-day is already making you anxious at baseline.  However, people who have more mindful traits are less anxious in their approach to others, and this makes for “better outcomes since the interaction may be marked by greater understanding as opposed to validating subjective points of view”. How many times have we gotten frustrated over a small something only to realize we were still stuck in an unpleasant conversation with a work colleague or dwelling on a mistake we made earlier that day. We can be tired and stressed and yet still have the internal resources to be mindful, but it’s not easy, especially without practice. Replenishing those internal resources and managing the chronic or temporary stressors in our lives to leave room for mindfulness is a skill that comes with habitual use. The next time you have a conversation with your partner, try paying attention to what they are telling you, try listening to understand them rather than to respond, summarize what you think they might be saying, reflect on their thoughts, try to understand what their body language might be telling you. Feeling understood leads to connection, and that’s what relationships are all about.

Engaging in mindful exchanges with your partner also means being less reactive to what you might perceive to be a threat to your relationship. This will ultimately lead to “decreased rumination about criticism and rejection” that can grow out of anxiety from completely external factors – difficult relationships with colleagues, upcoming deadlines, or a new health problem you haven’t been able to talk to anyone about yet. Being more mindful in our personal networks means engaging with your loved one on a level that makes sense to both of you, working towards a common goal of growth and learning. In fact, the data shows that “one of the factors that led to positive outcomes during the course of the program was simply enrolling in a mindfulness-based relationship enhancement program”. 

And if you aren’t currently in an intimate relationship with someone, all of these concepts apply to your relationships with your close circle of friends and family. So, try it out tonight, have a listen to the video link posted below or practice a visualization exercise. The next time someone comes to you for advice or to talk through something they’re conflicted about, try to adopt that same openness and availability of the mind that these exercises try to bring out in all of us. See how it impacts the way you relate to people and how it might influence the other’s person’s approach to you. I hope it can help you feel more connected to them and, as a consequence, to yourself as well.

1. Headspace: A one-minute couples meditation
2. Headspace Couples Meditation
3. Gottman Institute: How to Use Mindfulness to Strengthen Your Relationships

Reference: Karandish, M. (2019). The Role and Effect of Mindfulness In Intimate Relationships. (Electronic Thesis or Dissertation). Retrieved from https://etd.ohiolink.edu/

This article was written by Madison Le Gallee, a medical student at McGill University and member of the Mindful Medical Learner Team.

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