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Mindfulness-based relationship enhancement

The focus of mindfulness-based therapy is upon recognising and accepting each moment in the present instead of jumping to hasty and often damaging reactions. This is proving to be greatly beneficial to improving our relationships with others.

How mindfulness techniques can improve our relationships

Our personal relationships–whether with friends, family or lovers–can be challenging to maintain in a way that is satisfying for everyone concerned. Disagreements can quickly escalate when we are drawn to react hastily, saying or doing things in a state of anxiety, upset or anger, that we may later regret. Learning to not only diffuse these situations but to prevent them from arising in the first place can be a difficult process.

The roots of mindfulness lie in Buddhism; particularly in the practice of meditation. Its more recent formulation in therapy owes much to those traditions, but is also combined with elements of other psychological interventions such as CBT Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and ACT Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. It has quickly established a robust scientific evidence base for a variety of concerns, including relationship problems.

Curiosity, openness and acceptance

Mindfulness-based therapies involve a focus of attention and awareness on immediate experience in a manner characterised by curiosity, openness and acceptance. Rather than rushing to react hastily to our thoughts and emotions, we are instead encouraged to acknowledge them and explore them without judgement.

The roots of mindfulness lie in the practice of meditation

These methods can positively contribute to the quality of your relationships whether you undertake them alone, or with the person with whom you are struggling to communicate or live happily with: as you become better at being attuned and empathetic with yourself, so your capacity to be attuned and empathetic with your partner increases as well. It has also been suggested that mindfulness encourages us to view stressful events (such as relationship disagreements) as challenges rather than threats. In this way, it promotes positive relationship styles that are characterised by understanding and collaboration rather than confrontation and upset.

Convincing evidence

The evidence base surrounding the use of mindfulness-based psychological therapies for relationship problems is strong and growing: researchers in North Carolina found that using mindfulness for only 8 weeks helped couples to increase relationship satisfaction, acceptance of the partner and individual well-being, also reducing relationship distress. This was following an earlier study that revealed that the same length of mindfulness-based therapy was associated with an increase in self-reported empathy, which is of course an essential component of positive interactions with others.

Research has also revealed the positive effects that mindfulness can have on people’s perception of their capacity to respond constructively to relationship stress, their emotional stress responses, and their perception of the relationship both pre- and post-conflict. Evidence is also growing that mindfulness can contribute to the adoption of more adaptive communication styles.

The House Partnership, 12th August 2014


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