Mindfulness improves romantic relationships, but so does relaxation

There has been a boom in studies investigating the benefits (and negative outcomes) of Mindfulness - the practice of cultivating nonreactivity, and nonjudging awareness. There is preliminary evidence for supposed benefits of mindfulness exercises like stress reduction, attention regulation, improved cognitive abilities, reduced procrastination, etc., but researchers have stressed the need for large scale studies with control groups to confirm all of them. Some studies have found evidence for increased relationship satisfaction among people who attended mindfulness training (See here, here, and a report here).

A study by Johan Karremans et al. put this hypothesis to the test with a controlled experiment examining effects of mindfulness training on participants and their partners, separately. The effect was examined using self reported measures of relationship satisfaction, relationship distress, connectedness, partner acceptance, and relationship excitement. The measures were taken the week before the training period, during training using a short daily questionnaire, after the intervention period, and 1 month after the training had finished (follow-up assessment).

The mindfulness intervention group (n = 306) attended daily 10-min, audio-guided mindfulness exercises recorded by a certified mindfulness trainer. The control group (n = 256), instead of mindfulness instructions, received relaxation instructions during similar audio-guided sessions for 10 minutes.

After 2 weeks of practice, participants in the mindfulness intervention group reported higher levels of relationship satisfaction, lower relationship distress, higher connectedness to their partner and higher partner acceptance compared to pre-intervention levels. They were, however, not more excited about their relationship. Their partners (who did not practice mindfulness) also reported more higher relationship satisfaction, less distress, and felt more accepted by their partners. They did not feel more connected with participants and reported being less excited by the relationship.

The participants in the control group who practiced relaxation on a daily basis reported similar boosts in levels of relationship satisfaction, connectedness to their partner, partner acceptance and lower relationship distress. Moreover, relaxation exercises had superior effects on partner acceptance and relationship excitement compared to mindfulness practice.

While mindfulness practice seems to have positive influence on relationship wellbeing; in controlled conditions it fails to be uniquely effective. Read more about the study here.