Nurturing healthy relationships through mindfulness

What makes a relationship healthy?

There is some research that shows a healthy relationship can be good for your health. It appears that couples in a healthy relationship tend to work as a team to help reduce and manage stress. For one thing, feelings of isolation, which can lead to depression, can be reduced through having a larger social network. Couples who have healthy relationships also tend to make healthier choices. This is more likely due to having someone remind you to take good care of yourself.

What makes a relationship healthy? Most people think that compatibility is the key, like when you both agree and disagree on most things. Although compatibility is important, it is not the only factor in a healthy relationship. Healthy relationships also involve taking time to create positive moments together, learning to manage conflict and staying committed to the relationship through tough times. In addition, relationships that are built on friendship – having a mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other’s company - acts as a protection against bad feelings toward your partner when you are in the midst of conflict.

According to the University of Georgia, one way to help build a healthy relationship is by learning to practice mindfulness as a couple. Mindfulness can help couples regulate physiological responses that arise with conflict such as the fight or flight response. Fight or flight is when you think you are going to be eaten by a bear and you need to quickly decide whether to stand your ground or run away. Unfortunately, arguing with a loved one can also make you feel like you are about to be eaten by a bear. Our human brains need a few minutes to figure out the difference between an argument and mortal danger. Mindfulness is one way to help give you those few minutes.

Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment without judgement. So how do you start? It really isn’t that complicated, especially if you start with your breathing.

Mindful breathing as a couple:

  • Find a comfortable sitting position with your feet uncrossed and on the ground
  • Close your eyes
  • Start by paying attention to just your breathing (on purpose), in the present moment (breathing in, breathing out), without judgement (just focus on the physical sensation of breathing – there is no right or wrong way to breathe)
  • You can set a timer for 3 to 5 minutes, giving you both time to focus only on your own breath

By practicing mindful breathing as a couple at least once a day, you are building your stress resiliency. The next time you do have an argument (and you feel like you are going to be eaten by a bear) you can stop and remind each other to take a few deep breaths. The amazing thing is that your brain and body will remember the physiological response of mindful breathing. The breath calms the mind and body so you are both now ready to move into problem solving. 

If you would like to learn more about the benefits of mindfulness, please visit the Michigan State University Extension. You will find information on where to enroll in MSU Extension’s Stress Less with Mindfulness classes

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