Whether you’ve been able to spend the majority of this year in lockdown with your partner or have been forced into a long-distance relationship as a result of the restrictions, there’s no denying that the events of 2020 have placed a significant strain on our relationships.
And as a second wave looms and our stress levels rise once again, knowing how to maintain and nurture our relationships throughout this difficult time is important – especially as we don’t know how long the current situation will last.
That’s what makes the results of a new study into the effects of mindfulness on our relationships so interesting. The research, which was conducted by a team of psychologists at Auburn University, found that adopting a mindful approach to interactions with your partner can help to improve the quality of your relationship.
To understand more about how mindful interactions can shape a relationship, the psychologists asked 800 heterosexual couples to take a survey to assess their levels of mindfulness.
In the study, mindfulness was boiled down to three of its main components – non-reactivity (accepting our thoughts and feelings without trying to ignore or react on them), acting with awareness (when we act intentionally and purposefully rather than letting our impulses take over) and non-judgment (letting go of the automatic judgements we make without thinking).
The couples were also asked to answer questions about their stress levels, perceived relationship quality and sexual satisfaction.
What they found was interesting. First of all, both acting with awareness and nonjudgement weren’t found to improve relationship satisfaction (although the former was associated with women’s sexual satisfaction). And, as we might expect, stress levels were negatively correlated with relationship quality.
Most interestingly, however, there was a positive correlation between non-reactivity and relationship quality – meaning that when couples were able to accept and move on from their thoughts and feelings without letting them influence their interactions with their partner, their relationship benefitted.
For example, if you were stressed out about something at work or frustrated with a family member, instead of letting those emotions control your actions and spill out into your relationship in the form of a fight, practising non-reactivity would mean being aware of those emotions but not letting them affect other areas of your life.
As psychologist David Ludden points out for Psychology Today: “Non-reactivity to inner experience may be an effective antidote to stress. For instance, if you’re able to acknowledge the stress in your life without letting it dominate your interactions with your partner, the quality of your relationship will be less impacted.
“Likewise, if you can remain calm while your partner vents, you’ll contain the damage that stress leaking into the relationship can cause.”
In terms of the coronavirus pandemic then, mindfulness – specifically non-reactivity – can be an effective tool for dealing with some of the extra strain the outside world can place on our relationships.
By being mindful about the stress and anxiety you’re feeling and not letting those thoughts influence the way you behave towards your partner, you can build a more satisfying relationship and potentially provide an antidote to some of the extra stress you’re dealing with during this period.