Marriage Counseling Insights brought to you by California Psychotherapeutic Resources, Inc.
Looking for the key to happiness? One practice that helps is living in a state of mindfulness. A growing body of research points to how intentionally living in the moment heightens your awareness, improves your mental health and promotes personal happiness. That’s why mindfulness techniques, including meditation and yoga, are getting more and more attention among the general public.
Now, a new body of research is going a step further — it appears that there is a correlation between mindfulness and the quality of your romantic relationship. Writing for Psychology Today, Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D. says that “This raises the chicken and egg issue. Do happier relationships make us feel more present and open, rather than the other way around? Although we don’t know for sure that mindfulness produces relationship improvement, at least two studies show that it does. Why? The answer may lie in how mindfulness affects the brain.” Greenberg then lists five ways that mindfulness affects the brain and, consequently, may help enhance your romantic relationship.
“Mindfulness helps us to be more present and attentive.” It’s no secret that cell phones can be an incredible irritant in a relationship. When one person is constantly checking emails or scrolling a Twitter feed, their partner can lose patience pretty quickly. One thing mindfulness is particularly good for is rewiring the brain to increase the ability to focus. Presto — more attentiveness to your partner, which just might inspire a loving smile or two.
“Mindfulness lowers negative emotional reactivity.” When our partner says something that we have an uneasy feeling about, we can react negatively almost without thinking. The reason? Greenberg cites the fact that “The amygdala… hijacks the brain into ‘fight, flight, freeze’ mode in which we start to see our partners as threats to our well-being or autonomy and automatically shut down emotionally or start to attack them with angry words and deeds. Mindfulness shrinks the volume of the amygdala, meaning that it has less power to hijack us into ‘threat’ mode.”
“Mindfulness improves emotion regulation.” Think of meditation as your brain’s trip to the gym. While meditating, you are actually strengthening your prefrontal cortex — the civilized part of your brain — so that you are more easily capable of controlling your involuntary (and often negative) responses to your partner. Cue the happy music.
“Mindfulness enhances self-awareness.” Practicing mindfulness techniques spurs the brain to enhance your sense of self. Think of that as having a better awareness of the big picture. Instead of reacting in destructive ways, you’re able to step back and put your actions into the context of your value system.
“Mindfulness makes us more empathic.” One of the more striking effects of mindfulness is its ability to subtly change the part of the brain associated with compassion. That’s an important building block toward being able to express emotion and build intimacy.
There is a wonderful way to think about a mature relationship — instead of searching for the perfect partner, you can instead strive to be the perfect partner. Practicing mindfulness may help you develop that ability. If you do, you may be amazed at the response you get from your partner.