Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Mindful Relating: Exploring Mindfulness and Emotion Repertoires in Intimate Relationships

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Mindful Relating: Exploring Mindfulness and Emotion Repertoires in Intimate Relationships

Article excerpt

This study tested the theory that mindfulness contributes to greater intimate relationship satisfaction by fostering more relationally skillful emotion repertoires. A sample of married couples was administered measures of mindful awareness, emotion skills, and marital quality. We hypothesized that mindfulness would be associated with both marital quality and partners' emotion skills and that the association between mindfulness and marital quality would be mediated by emotion repertoire skill. Findings suggested that emotion skills and mindfulness are both related to marital adjustment, and that skilled emotion repertoires, specifically those associated with identifying and communicating emotions, as well as the regulation of anger expression, fully mediate the association between mindfulness and marital quality. Theoretical implications are discussed.

"Knowing that the other person is angry,

one who remains mindful and calm

acts for his own best interest

and for the other's interest, too."

~Buddhist Scripture

Mindfulness research has linked the cultivation of present-centered awareness to a number of important emotional outcomes, including greater emotional resiliency in those suffering debilitating illnesses (e.g., Carlson, Speca, Patel, & Goodey, 2003), and increased levels of positive affect and empathy in nonclinical populations (Shapiro, Schwartz, & Bonner, 1998). Moreover, preliminary support for the notion of a linkage between mindfulness and relationship health was recently found in research on dating partners by Brown and Barnes (2004) and in a study of a mindfulness-based marriage enhancement program (Carson, Carson, Gil, & Baucom, 2004). Findings such as these strongly suggest mindfulness will have positive implications for relationship health, particularly given the role that healthy emotional functioning plays in establishing and maintaining intimacy (Cordova, Gee, & Warren, 2005). The emotional challenges inherent to maintaining intimacy necessitate that all couples will have to regularly negotiate such vulnerable emotional experiences as hurt, fear, and sadness in the context of their relationships. A relationship that navigates those emotional waters poorly is likely to generate destructive patterns such as demand-withdraw (e.g., Christensen & Heavey, 1993), mutual blame, or escalating negativity (Gottman, 1994). Thus one way to understand the development of relationship distress is as an outcome of maladaptive emotional repertoires in the context of challenging and vulnerable emotions. Mindful relating holds that an open and receptive attention to the present moment (mindfulness) promotes a more accepting and less experientially avoidant orientation to challenging emotions such that more responsive and relationally healthy modes of responding become possible. The present research represents a first step in exploring the theoretical relationships between mindfulness, emotion repertoires, and marital adjustment. In this study we examine the association between self-reported mindfulness and relationship satisfaction. We also examine the relationship between three hypothesized emotion skills-recognition and identification of emotions, empathy, and thoughtful responding in the context of anger (as opposed to impulsivity)-and both mindfulness and relationship satisfaction.

MINDFULNESS

Mindfulness, as a construct conceptualized and studied by Western researchers and practitioners, is derived from Buddhist and other Eastern spiritual systems that emphasize contemplation and the cultivation of conscious attention. A recent consensus paper advanced a two-component operational definition of mindfulness that consists of both the deployment of attention and the particular quality of that attention. Bishop et al. (2004) defined mindfulness as the direction of attention toward one's ongoing present experience, in a manner that is "characterized by curiosity, openness, and acceptance. …

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