Mindfulness and meditation may seem like big concepts, but understanding them can change your outlook on life. I find them especially valuable to use in therapy sessions with couples. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, describes mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Conversely, most of us live overscheduled, chaotic lives, with little time to stop and think, or be mindful of the present moment we are experiencing and what it represents to us.
Studies show that mindfulness has a positive effect on interpersonal relationships. A 2004 study conducted at the University of North Carolina revealed that couples practicing mindfulness improved their “relationship happiness” and experienced healthier levels of “relationship stress, stress coping efficacy, and overall stress.” How can this be? How can mindfulness skills help a relationship?
Mindfulness allows us to create a conscious connection with our feelings and experiences, in which we are in control. It allows us to see and experience our thoughts and feelings on a truer level—rather than on autopilot, like most of us do! We can use this skill to become more mindful in our interactions with our partner. For example, rather than automatically responding to a trigger, we can pause, give thought to our feelings about the scenario, and allow a moment to think or retreat prior to responding. This process turns down the volume on stressful situations. Mindfulness can also be used in a million positive ways. If our partner says something kind, mindfulness allows us to pay attention to the words and their meaning, so we can appreciate the gift their message is, and respond in a way that shows we truly heard them and value their words.
Practicing meditation also has huge benefits for both our self-awareness and our relationships. It increases the size and activation of the middle prefrontal cortex in the brain—the area scientists believe plays a major role in integrating our intellectual and emotional areas of the brain. Sounds impressive, but what does it mean? Well, this benefit allows us to be more self-aware and open to exploring the thoughts and feelings we have at any given moment. Learning how to be more empathetic and in tune with our own emotions allows us to tune in to our partner and empathize with what they are experiencing as well.
With all these proven benefits, why not challenge yourself to start a mindfulness practice and experience all of its great rewards?
- Meditate. Meditation is a great way to teach yourself to slow down, pay attention to your thoughts, and become aware. With easy-to-use, inexpensive apps like Simply Being and Headspace, you can reap huge benefits from just five or ten minutes of meditation each day.
- Slow down. Allow yourself moments where you can actually stop and be in the present moment with your partner. Put away your cell phone during dinner or stop what you’re doing when your partner tells you about their day or asks for advice. Distraction-free time together can only enhance and build your connection.
- Communicate mindfully. Use the old adage, “think before you speak.” Giving thought to your words, rather than reacting quickly, can make for more peaceful interactions.