What might happen when mindfulness becomes a priority in your relationship? Mindfulness means “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally,” according to creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book, Wherever You Go, There You Are.
Not judging, being present, and paying attention seem like ingredients to a healthy relationship. But what does mindfulness need to look like?
Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer, Ph.D., says that noticing is the key to mindfulness. “If you’re actively noticing things—so you’re going to go home tonight and, if you live with somebody, notice five new things about that person. It’s very—it can be very specific. And what will happen is, the person will start to come alive for you again, and that facilitates the relationship.”
Imagine if your partner could “come alive” for you again and again. If you infuse your relationship with mindfulness, that’s one of several benefits you might experience.
Here are ten possible outcomes if you add mindfulness to your relationship.
1. Increased Happiness
A 2010 Harvard study indicated that being in the present moment makes you happier than if your mind is wandering. In fact, it doesn’t matter if you are doing a mundane task or something incredibly exciting—if you’re in the moment, you will feel happier.
If you and your partner work on cultivating present-moment awareness, you can each be happier. Happy partners are key for happy relationships.
2. Improved Intimacy
Sociologist and relationship counselor Jennifer Gunsaullus, Ph.D., says that mindfulness can improve physical intimacy and sexual satisfaction between partners. “Many of us carry sexual insecurities, whether shame, embarrassment, or performance concerns.” One research study found that increased mindfulness skills were correlated with lower sexual insecurities, which was then related to greater sexual satisfaction.
3. Slows Time
Time flies when you’re having fun, but sometimes life may seem to rapidly pass before your eyes. Neuroscientist David Eagleman’s research indicates that time seems to pass more quickly when you experience predictable events. If you notice the unexpected, however, time seems to pass by more slowly.
To cherish and make the most of your time with your partner, keep an eye out for the unexpected. If you are mindful and present, each moment may offer something new and exciting.
4. Prompts Compassion
According to Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, recognizing suffering is the first step to prompting the cascade of compassion. When you focus on your partner and take in his or her cues, you can more easily recognize if he or she is suffering.
If your mind constantly wanders, or if you’re distracted by your smartphone, you won’t notice if your partner is suffering. Therefore, you won’t begin the cascade of compassion.
5. Cultivates Self-Compassion
Similar to compassion for another, self-compassion relies on mindfulness. Self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff, Ph.D., says, “The most important step in self-compassion, actually, is mindfulness of your own suffering.”
It makes sense, because you can’t tend to your own suffering if you’re not aware of it.
Research indicates that self-compassionate partners experience more positive relationship behaviors than those who lack self-compassion.
6. Lessens Emotional Reactivity
If your arguments heat up quickly, mindfulness may help. According to research, mindfulness correlates to less emotional reactivity. By creating a space between your feelings or emotions and your response, you can choose a more skillful action.
What does this look like in day-to-day life? Let’s say you notice that your partner forgot to take out the trash. Perhaps your normal reaction is to raise your voice without thinking first. A mindful approach, however, involves noticing your physiological response of anger or frustration, which may look like an increased heart rate and reddened face. If you can notice these feelings and emotions non-judgmentally and don’t allow them to carry you away, you’ll be able to respond skillfully.
7. Keeps You Physically Healthy
Mindfulness is not simply a tool for psychological health. If you don’t want to be a partner who is literally sick and tired, mindfulness may help. Studies show that mindfulness may improve your immune system.
8. Reduces Distractions
Are you thinking about bills that you need to pay, mentally coming up with your grocery list, or planning tomorrow’s workday? Your wandering mind may be pulling you away from your partner. Imagine what your conversations will be like when you both acutely focus on each other without letting your minds carry you away.
9. Keeps Things Exciting
A daily routine with your partner can get monotonous and, frankly, boring. By taking Langer’s advice and noticing five new things about your partner each day, you are constantly in discovery mode.
What can you notice? You can pay attention to details in your partner’s appearance. Is there a freckle you hadn’t noticed before? What colors can you see in his or her eyes? What about paying attention to the way he or she laughs? Have you noticed how your partner introduces himself or herself to others?
Find out what happens when you tune into what makes your partner unique.
10. Enhances Communication
Being present with your partner allows you to truly listen. Psychologist and mediator Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication, defines mindful listening as “receiving empathically.” When you fully listen without interrupting, without trying to fix the problem, and without judgment, your partner will feel heard.
Experiment with mindfulness this month, and see what happens. See if your partner “comes alive” when you begin to notice new things about him or her!