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5 Ways to Be a Better Partner

What does it mean to be a mindful partner?

Key points

  • New research suggests that there are five parts to being a mindful partner.
  • Being a mindful partner involves mindful awareness in attention and action toward one’s partner.
  • It also includes nonreactivity in conflict, emotional awareness of one’s partner, intentional acceptance and compassion, and self-compassion.
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We hear a lot about the benefits of mindfulness, which can be thought of as relating to the environment or oneself with nonjudgmental, present-moment awareness. But, can we relate in this mindful way to others in our lives too?

We can practice interpersonal mindfulness, which is awareness towards others that is nonjudgmental, attentive, and present-focused (Pratscher, Rose, Markovitz, & Bettencourt, 2018). New research by my colleagues and I seeks to understand mindful partnering, or interpersonal mindfulness in the relationship with ones’ romantic partner.

To understand what mindful partnering really is, we developed a battery of questionnaire items that we thought might measure mindful partnering, and then we ran analyses to understand both the fit of individual items and the underlying components that make up mindful partnering. Participants were 599 individuals from: 1) an undergraduate student sample (used for exploratory factor analyses, N= 335) and 2) a sample of married adults (used for confirmatory factor analyses, N= 264).

We found that there were five parts to being a mindful partner: (1) mindful awareness in attention and action toward one’s partner, (2) nonreactivity in conflict, (3) emotional awareness of one’s partner, (4) intentional acceptance and compassion of one’s partner, and (5) self-compassion in the partnership.

More specifically, mindful awareness in attention and action toward one’s partner involves attending with full awareness to one's partner, including focusing deeply on one's partner in shared activities and in actions toward one’s partner. Being present with full attention in this way may allow one's partner to feel fully seen and heard, enhancing feelings of interpersonal connection and the feeling that a partner is emotionally accessible and dependable; these relational elements may be at the heart of intimacy as well as conflict resolution (e.g., Bowen, Yeates, & Palmer, 2018).

Nonreactivity in interpersonal mindfulness involves taking a mindful pause before reacting when upset by difficult situations with one’s partner. This mindful pause can give time for an individual to decide the most helpful way to react in a given situation, bringing mindful awareness to how one behaves in a relationship and thus increasing the likelihood of choosing behaviors that are helpful and/or not harmful to a relationship. Given that the manner in which couples communicate during conflict is one of the most empirically supported predictors of longitudinal marital satisfaction and stability, nonreactivity in conflict has the potential to greatly impact relational quality.

Emotional awareness of one’s partner involves the ability to recognize the emotional state of one’s partner, an ability that can be improved from mindfulness practice (Wachs & Cordova, 2007), and is important for quality relationships (Levesque, Lafontaine, Caron, Flesch, & Bjornson, 2014). Mindful partnering also involves acceptance and compassion of one’s partner, and approaching differences with kindness, understanding, and empathic concern (e.g., Duncan et al., 2009). Such qualities can make it easier for couples to resolve conflict as well as provide support (e.g., Marriott, 2017), and they increase relationship satisfaction (Kappen, Karremans, Burk, & Buyukcan-Tetik, 2018).

Lastly, one can offer self-compassion to oneself as a partner by forgiving oneself for relational mistakes and avoiding self-criticism for relational problems. When individuals are able to approach themselves with kindness, they may be able to extend these feelings towards their partners and avoid harsh self-judgments that may further exasperate negative sentiments and behaviors toward their partners, resulting in higher-quality partnerships (Neff & Beretvas, 2013; Karris & Caldwell, 2015).

So, how mindful of a partner are you in your relationship?

Do you focus deeply on your partner to fully engage in their presence, or do you find yourself distracted (on your phone?!) in their presence?

Do you regularly take a stance of nonreactivity, responding to heated moments with a mindful pause, or do you get reactive or shut down in conflict with your partner?

Can you tune in to how your partner is feeling, or is it that you find out later that you’ve been clueless to what your partner is experiencing?

Are you able to show acceptance and compassion toward your partner and yourself, or do you criticize your partner or beat yourself up when you are having a hard time?

Learning to be more mindful in your relationship can help create that connection you are looking for.

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Bowen, C., Yeates, G., & Palmer, S. (2018). Connections, closeness, and intimacy in couples relationships: Theory. In A Relational Approach to Rehabilitation (pp. 71-92). Routledge.

Duncan, L. G., Coatsworth, J. D., & Greenberg, M. T. (2009). A Model of Mindful Parenting: Implications for Parent-Child Relationships and Prevention Research. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 12, 255-270. doi:10.1007/s10567-009-0046-3

Kappen, G., Karremans, J. C., Burk, W. J., & Buyukcan-Tetik, A. (2018). On the association between mindfulness and romantic relationship satisfaction: The role of partner acceptance. Mindfulness, 9(5), 1543-1556.

Levesque, C., Lafontaine, M. F., Caron, A., Flesch, J. L., & Bjornson, S. (2014). Dyadic empathy, dyadic coping, and relationship satisfaction: A dyadic model.

Pratscher, S. D., Rose, A. J., Markovitz, L., & Bettencourt, A. (2018). Interpersonal mindfulness: investigating mindfulness in interpersonal interactions, co-rumination, and friendship quality. Mindfulness, 9(4), 1206-1215.

Marriott, H. (2017). Cultivating Wisdom and Compassion in Relationships: Implications for Couples Therapy. Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Universities (JIABU), 7(2).

Neff, K. D., & Beretvas, S. N. (2013). The role of self-compassion in romantic relationships. Self and Identity, 12(1), 78-98.

Wachs, K., & Cordova, J. V. (2007). Mindful relating: Exploring mindfulness and emotion repertoires in intimate relationships. Journal of Marital and Family therapy, 33(4), 464-481.

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