How satisfied are you with your current relationships with your coworkers, your boss, your significant other, your friends, your family? Do you feel supported and connected to those around you or are they a source of stress? If your relationships are a source of stress how does this impact your life functioning?
It is likely that at some point, the interactions with the people in your life have become a source of stress for you. Oftentimes these can be with the people we care for very deeply. We might think that others are controlling our lives, being particularly difficult or hostile, don’t meet our expectations, or seem to disregard our feelings. Our relationships can also be sources of great support and even protective against developing disorders such as depression.
If you are reading this right now you likely value your relationships and as a result are looking to improve them or continue to support them. So let’s get started!
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness has become a buzzword and has been applied to anything and everything. But what does it really mean? Mindfulness means “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” (Kabat-Zinn). Mindfulness can be practiced in a variety of ways, from sitting in stillness, to eating, and even communicating with others.
Growing research indicates that mindfulness practice induces both state and trait changes: that is, it temporarily changes the condition of the brain and the corresponding brain activity (state change), and it also alters personality traits following a longer period of practice (trait change) (Tang et al., 2016).
Oftentimes people start by creating a formal practice of mindfulness each day and then this way of being flows into their daily interactions with others. However, you can also intentionally practice mindfulness while you interact with others, even during difficult interactions.
Mindfulness allows us to become more aware of what we are doing while we do it. It also allows us to become more aware of our automatic judgments and create space so that we can choose our response consciously. Oftentimes, we are on autopilot throughout our day and react automatically, which often does not bode well for our relationships.
How Mindfulness Improves Relationships: The Two C’s
Research studies have confirmed that the practice of mindfulness positively impacts your relationships with others. A recent review of 10 studies confirmed a significant relationship between mindfulness and relationship satisfaction in romantic relationships (McGill et al., 2016).
In addition, there is also evidence to support how mindfulness practice can improve all relationships in your life. How does this occur? This blog will focus on the two C’s, Compassion and Communication, that are enhanced by mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness has been shown to improve your ability to be compassionate towards others. If you have ever been in a relationship, professional or personal, where someone lacks the ability to be compassionate towards you and your experience, then you know why this one is so important.
One study compared how two groups of people responded to a stranger in pain, one group received a mobile app mindfulness training and another group received a cognitive skills training (control group).
The results showed that those who received the mindfulness training gave up their seats more frequently to a stranger in pain, than did those assigned to the control group ( Lim et al., 2015). Another collection of studies looked at the mechanism for why mindfulness, both dispositional and instructed mindfulness, promote prosocial responses to ostracized strangers. They found that dispositional mindfulness predicted greater empathic concern and helping behaviors towards an ostracized stranger.
They also found that compared to a control group, those who received mindfulness training were also more responsive to an ostracized stranger. The alternate explanation of relaxation contributing to these results was also ruled out. In all studies, empathic concern mediated the relation between mindfulness and helping behaviors (Berry et al., 2018). If these are the effects of mindfulness on compassion towards those you don’t know, can you imagine the impact on your compassion for the people close to you in your life?
Poor communication in relationships can look like you criticizing or belittling each other, defensiveness, stonewalling (i.e., giving the cold shoulder), passive aggression, assuming you know what the other is thinking, frequent arguments, lack of compromise, and fewer attempts to connect with one another. Your ability to effectively communicate in your relationships has also been shown to improve as a result of mindfulness practice.
One study confirmed that state mindfulness was associated with better communication quality during a conflictual discussion with a romantic partner (Barnes et al., 2007). Another study found that mindfulness training was effective in improving communication and overall relationship satisfaction and well-being in couples who were considered to be “happy and non-distressed” (Carson et al., 2004).
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How to start a mindfulness practice in NYC?
Now that you have learned about the positive impacts that practicing mindfulness and being in a mindful state can have on your relationships, you are probably wondering how to start. Starting a mindfulness practice can be simple, but is often not easy to do.
While you can practice mindfulness both formally and informally, in the beginning it can often be supportive to find professionals or others who have a long-standing practice or training. Creating a time and place in which you will engage in the practice, as well as deciding what forum you want to use, are great places to start.
While there are many apps and YouTube videos that offer guided meditations, it is important to know that not all meditations or apps are based in mindfulness. Many offer relaxation techniques or other forms of meditations that veer away from it.
If you are looking to dip your toes in mindfulness, one option would be to explore the Center for Mindfulness’ Global Online Meditation Community. Here you can join an afternoon or evening virtual meditation session. Remember that mindfulness practice can at times feel uncomfortable, especially in the beginning. Knowing this can help to set you up for success, and research shows that despite that discomfort, the benefits for the well-being of your relationships are significant.
What Mindfulness techniques are used at New York Behavioral Health?
At New York Behavioral Health, many therapists have training in mindfulness and apply this to their individual work with their clients to address communication and relationship challenges, as well as in couples therapy.
Given the fact that, at times, mindfulness practice can bring distressing emotions or trauma to the forefront of your awareness, working with a mental health professional can be supportive. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), is a form of cognitive therapy that utilizes mindfulness practices that include present moment awareness, meditation, and breathing exercises. If you are interested in setting up an intake to learn more about this type of therapy. You can schedule one through our website.
Additionally, New York Behavioral Health has developed a 6-week live virtual workshop ‘Mindfulness for Busy People’ that provides adult participants with a foundational understanding of mindfulness, tips on creating and maintaining a mindfulness practice, as well as practical ways to apply it to daily life including your communication with others. If you are interested in learning more about this workshop, please call us at 646-791-3889 or email email@example.com.
DR Berry, et al., Mindfulness increases prosocial responses toward ostracized strangers through empathic concern. J Exp Psychol Gen 147, 93–112 (2018).
D Lim, P Condon, D DeSteno, Mindfulness and compassion: An examination of mechanism and scalability. PLoS One 10, e0118221 (2015).
JW Carson, KM Carson, KM Gil, DH Baucom, Mindfulness-based relationship enhancement. Behav Ther 35, 471–494 (2004).
Kabat-Zinn, Jon. (2013). Full catastrophe living : using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York :Bantam Books,
Karremans, J.C., Kappen, G., Schellekens, M. et al. Comparing the effects of mindfulness versus relaxation intervention on romantic relationship wellbeing. Sci Rep 10, 21696 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-78919-6
Mindfully in Love: A Meta-Analysis of the Association Between Mindfulness and Relationship Satisfaction by Julianne McGill, Francesca Adler-Baeder, and Priscilla Rodriguez (Journal of Human Sciences and Extension, February 2016)
S Barnes, KW Brown, E Krusemark, WK Campbell, RD Rogge, The role of mindfulness in romantic relationship satisfaction and responses to relationship stress. J Marital Fam Ther 33, 482–500 (2007).
Tang, YY., Hölzel, B. & Posner, M. Traits and states in mindfulness meditation. Nat Rev Neurosci 17, 59 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn.2015.7