Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

The Role of Mindfulness in Romantic Relationship Satisfaction and Responses to Relationship Stress

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

The Role of Mindfulness in Romantic Relationship Satisfaction and Responses to Relationship Stress

Article excerpt

Two studies examined the role of mindfulness in romantic relationship satisfaction and in responses to relationship stress. Using a longitudinal design, Study 1 found that higher trait mindfulness predicted higher relationship satisfaction and greater capacities to respond constructively to relationship stress. Study 2 replicated and extended these findings. Mindfulness was again shown to relate to relationship satisfaction; then, using a conflict discussion paradigm, trait mindfulness was found to predict lower emotional stress responses and positive pre- and postconflict change in perception of the relationship. State mindfulness was related to better communication quality during the discussion. Both studies indicated that mindfulness may play an influential role in romantic relationship well-being. Discussion highlights future research directions for this new area of inquiry.

Mindfulness is a quality of consciousness that has been promoted by a number of philosophical and spiritual contemplative traditions for ages, but has only recently been defined and empirically examined within a scientific framework. Mindfulness can be defined as an open or a receptive attention to and awareness of what is taking place, both internally and externally, in the present (Brown & Ryan, 2003). Mindfulness is nondeliberative in nature, in that it concerns simple observation without thinking about, comparing, or otherwise evaluating events and experience (Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt, & Walach, 2004). Several authors have suggested that mindfulness may have considerable value for enhancing the quality of romantic relationships. For example, Kabat-Zinn (1993) and Welwood (1996) have suggested that mindfulness promotes attunement, connection, and closeness in relationships. The receptive attentiveness that defines mindfulness may promote a greater ability or willingness to take interest in the partner's thoughts, emotions, and welfare. Kabat-Zinn (1993) has also theorized that mindfulness leads people to experience an enhanced ability to approach stressful events as challenges instead of threats. Relatedly, Boorstein (1996) has argued that mindfulness promotes an ability to witness thought and emotion so as not to react impulsively and destructively to them. This scholarship suggests that mindfulness may (a) promote interaction styles that support healthy relationship functioning and (b) generally enhance romantic relationship quality. The present research was designed to examine both of these possibilities.

Several pieces of evidence highlight the positive potential that the heightened attention and awareness that defines mindfulness may have for interpersonal relationships. Research by Bavelas, Coates, and Johnson (2000, 2002) has emphasized the importance of attentive, active listening for successful communication. The antithesis of present-centered communication has also been studied in the form of "stonewalling" and "defensiveness," two of what Gottman (1994) has termed the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" threatening the death of marital relationships. The possibility that mindfulness promotes healthy romantic relationship functioning has also been supported by recent studies examining the efficacy of interventions designed to enhance mindfulness skills. In a randomized, wait-list controlled study of an 8-week mindfulness-based relationship enhancement program with nondistressed couples, Carson, Carson, Gil, and Baucom (2004) found that the intervention favorably influenced couples' relationship satisfaction, closeness, acceptance of the partner, relationship distress, and other relationship outcomes. The intervention also positively impacted individual well-being. In an 8-week longitudinal study of a mindfulness-based stress reduction program, Shapiro, Schwartz, and Bonner (1998) found that increased levels of mindfulness were associated with an increase in self-reported empathy, a characteristic that is particularly likely to influence the maintenance of relationships, predict positive adaptive behaviors, and ultimately lead to relationship satisfaction (Davis & Oathout, 1987, 1992; Hansson, Jones, & Carpenter, 1984). …

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