Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Self-Expansion as a Mediator of Relationship Improvements in a Mindfulness Intervention

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Self-Expansion as a Mediator of Relationship Improvements in a Mindfulness Intervention

Article excerpt

In a recent randomized controlled trial, couples participating in a mindfulness-based relationship enhancement program demonstrated significant improvements in relationship satisfaction and relationship distress (Carson, Carson, Gil, & Baucom, 2004). Here we report on a multiple mediation analysis of these couples' improvements. Potential mediators included measures of couples' engagement in exciting self-expanding activities, couples' ability to accept one another's difficult characteristics, and individual partners' ability to relax. Results indicate that to a large extent, the mindfulness-related relationship improvements can be attributed to partners' sense that they were participating in exciting self-expanding activities together during the course of the intervention. The implications of these findings for future mindfulness research are discussed.

Research into mindfulness training-that is, the practice of focusing on the reality of the present moment, accepting and opening to it, without becoming engaged in elaborative thoughts or emotional reactions to situations (Kabat-Zinn, 1990)-has greatly expanded over the past several years. Mindfulness meditation interventions have now been shown to be efficacious in assisting individuals to cope more effectively with illness and stress in a variety of nonclinical (e.g., Shapiro, Schwartz, & Bonner, 1998) and clinical populations (depression, Teasdale et al., 2000; cancer, Speca, Carlson, Goodey, & Angen, 2000; psoriasis, Kabat-Zinn et al., 1998).

More recently, interest has grown in studying mindfulness within the context of couples' relationships (Christensen, Sevier, Simpson, & Gattis, 2004; Fruzzetti & Iverson, 2004; Rathus, Cavuoto, & Passarelli, 2006). We recently published a report on the first known test of a mindfulness program provided to couples (Carson et al., 2004). This program was specifically designed to enrich the relationships of relatively happy, nondistressed couples. The 8-week intervention was directly modeled after Kabat-Zinn's mindfulness program (for a complete description, see Kabat-Zinn, 1990; Kabat-Zinn & Santorelli, 1999), but included modifications to meet needs specific to working with nondistressed couples to enhance their relationships. Principal adaptations included (a) greater emphasis on loving-kindness meditations (Carson et al., 2005), with a particular focus on one's partner; (b) incorporation of partner versions of yoga posture exercises, in which partners physically supported and facilitated one another in the performance of therapeutic, often pleasurable postures; (c) mindful touch exercises, with each partner paying close attention to the giving and receiving of a gentle back rub, followed by dyadic discussion of the implications of this for sensual intimacy (i.e., sensate focus, Spence, 1997); (d) a dyadic eye-gazing exercise (adapted from Levine & Levine, 1995), with partners acknowledging and welcoming the deep-down goodness in one another; (e) application of mindfulness to relationship difficulties; and (f) the context for practicing various mindfulness skills, both insession and at home, was tailored to bring couples' relationships into focus (e.g., partners were encouraged to be more aware during shared pleasant activities, unpleasant activities, and stressful interactions, and to discuss and keep daily records about new understandings arising from such interactions). In addition, group discussion and didactic components provided opportunities to consider the impact of these exercises on relationship functioning. For a more detailed description, see Carson, Carson, Gil, and Baucom (2006).

Results from this randomized, wait-list controlled trial suggested that the intervention was efficacious in favorably impacting the principal outcomes of the trial, that is, couples' levels of relationship satisfaction and relationship distress. Several other aspects of couples' relationships also improved during the intervention (see Carson et al. …

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