How Mindfulness Can Improve Your Relationship

Are you looking to improve your relationship with your partner? Have there been times when one or both of you became emotionally triggered, causing a small argument to turn into a major blowup? Mindfulness can be a helpful tool for couples looking to strengthen their relationships, improve communication, and develop a greater sense of self and awareness of others around them.

What is Mindfulness?

A mindfulness practice is a process directed at the development of having a heightened or fuller sense of self-awareness of the present moment. This awareness involves obtaining an open and non-judgmental stance regarding what is currently happening in front of you.

A developed mindfulness practice can help you to respond more effectively to varied life situations instead of reacting emotionally or instinctively.  It is a mindset that allows you to better cope when there is general stress in general and specific stress between you and your partner.

What are the Benefits of Mindfulness?

There are several benefits of mindfulness, both psychological and physical. These include:

  • The ability to calm down
  • Lower levels of stress
  • A strengthened immune system
  • Less anxiety and depression
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Increased working memory

Mindfulness and Your Mental Narrative

Imagine a time when you and your partner began to feel stressed. Perhaps you started arguing over something that has been a perpetual problem in your relationship. Did you ever hear yourself saying, “Here we go again?” When this happens, do you feel yourself tense up and become more emotionally reactive to what your partner is saying?

Mindfulness can help us avoid playing that “tape in the background” which, in essence, is the narrative we provide ourselves when we become emotionally triggered.  Instead, we can stay present and actually hear what our partner says without being judgmental.

Mindfulness and Reactivity

Let’s continue with the example from above. You begin to feel more emotionally reactive to what your partner is saying.  For example, you may

  • Interrupt your partner to get across your point of view.
  • Display nonverbal signs such as shaking your head or rolling your eyes.
  • Get up and leaving the conversation.
  • Feel hurt or angry and wanting to push back.
  • Miss cues that your partner is in emotional pain.

By practicing mindfulness, you can reduce your emotional reactivity. This means that you may avoid having an argument entirely. Or at the very least prevent a small disagreement from turning into a major conflict. You would able to listen and respond more tactfully, instead of emotionally lashing out at your partner.

Remember, healthy couples are skilled at not getting caught up in this negative communication cycle. They can process without easily being emotionally triggered. Some are able to more naturally stay calmer, but for most of us it requires practice.

Three Tips for Mindful Discussions

1. Set aside a specific time with your partner where both of you can be present. For instance, sitting with each other in the evening before bedtime.

2.  During this time practice being fully present and be interested in learning more about your partner. Face each other, make eye contact, and listen to what they have to say.

3. Make sure that there are no electronic distractions to divert your attention. Turn off your cell phones.

These discussions can become great practice for not only learning both how to communicate with each other, but also how to truly listen to each other.

Consider Starting a Formal Meditation/Mindfulness Practice

You and your partner can go a step further with mindfulness by starting a meditation practice. There are several advantages that meditation provides us when having important discussions with our partners. For example, we can:

  • Learn breathing techniques that help keep us calm.
  • Become better aware of our surroundings.
  • Learn to acknowledge our thoughts without being hyper-focused on them.

Couples that improve their “relationship mindfulness” are rewarded with the added benefit of having improved communication skills. Both of you can learn how to be less emotionally reactive and truly be present with one another. It can help you and your partner create a stronger and longer-lasting relationship.

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Men Underestimate Women’s Interest in Sex

Recent research shows that men in relationships consistently underestimate their partner’s interest in sex. This is in stark contrast to prior research that examined perceptions of partner’s interest in sex while dating.  In dating relationship, males actually over-estimated their partner’s interest in sex. Why this shift and what can we learn from the data?

Why Do Men Underestimate Their Partner’s Interest?

Some reasons that men may underestimate their partner include:

  • Motivation. Underestimation helps to encourage men to stay motivated to entice their partner’s interest. If they don’t think that their partner is interested, men will go out of their way to court their partner.
  • Fear. Men are often fearful of sexual rejection. They have more to lose when their partner is not interested.

Research Into Men’s Underestimate of Partner’s Interest

Research into this subject was conducted by Amy Muise (and others) at the University of Toronto and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The research was conducted using mostly heterosexual couples. They filled out surveys in the evening that measured sex drive and how each partner felt about their relationship. This lasted for three weeks. The results showed that the couples with the highest relational quality accurately estimated their partner’s desire for sex. You could say that both were, “on the same wavelength.”

Possibility for Further Research

The study seems to operate on the assumption that it is up to men to initiate sex. This was more implied rather than directly stated. However, it opens up the possibility for further research as to whether women initiate more or less than men and their perception of their partner’s sexual interest. Research should also examine this phenomenon in same-sex relationships.

Expressing Your Feelings, Eliminate the Guesswork

The bottom line? It is best to express your feelings to your partner when you are interested and have a high desire for sexual intimacy. Communication with your partner is important for maintaining a healthy relationship and it obviously eliminates the guesswork when trying to determine whether your partner reciprocates your interest in sex.

More Doesn’t Mean Better

Research also shows that couples who have sex once a week are the most satisfied in their relationships. Couples who have sex more than once a week do not appear to have any significant increase in relationship satisfaction. The relationships don’t get worse, but satisfaction does not improve when the frequency exceeds once a week either.

Interestingly, this corresponds to other research indicating that more is not always better in terms of what makes us happy. One important example correlates to money. Studies also show, that earning more than a certain amount (somewhere $60k and $90k per year depending on the cost of living) does not increase our happiness.

Finding a Happy Balance

So how can couples get to a place where they find a happy balance in the frequency of sexual intimacy? Try some of the following ideas: 

  • Check in often, even nightly, about how you are feeling.
  • Be more attuned to your partner’s needs.
  • Establish a date night for intimacy.
  • Become more aware of when your partner is- and isn’t- interested in sex.

All of these ideas require effective communicate with your partner. In addition, try to be compassionate and understanding with one another.

But what do you do if you and/or your partner struggle with communication?

Getting Help With Communication

A therapist can help both of you to learn how to communicate more effectively with each other. A couples therapist can provide perspective and help point out unhealthy patterns of communication and interaction. A skilled therapist can teach you tools that will allow you to more capably share not only the simple communications, but also your deeper feelings with one another. He or she can also help to resolve conflicts that have risen between the two of you.

Research shows that men often underestimate their partner’s desire for sex. However, that does not mean that it isn’t possible to reach a point where the two of you are on the same page. Learning and practicing communication tools can be extremely helpful. Talking with a therapist can reveal some communication barriers that may be negatively affecting your relationship. With professional support, you can both find a healthy balance in order to enjoy a more satisfying relationship.

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Why You Always End Up With the Same Partner

It’s a common Hollywood movie theme. We all know people who can’t seem to get a romance off the ground. In the movies, the central character always picks the wrong partner and winds up alone at home. Yet by the end of the film, they find themselves meeting the “perfect partner.” In the real world though, people can wind up in the wrong relationship over and over again.

Why is this, and what can you do to avoid falling into this trap?

Look Towards Your Past

The first place to look when trying to understand why you repeatedly make poor relationship choices is to examine your past. The “baggage” that you carry may actually be the culprit. Some questions to consider:

  • What have your past relationships been like?
  • Are there any similarities or patterns in previous romantic partners?
  • Has there been a significant event that plays into your decision-making process?
  • Did you grow up with less than healthy relationships with either parent?

When we don’t understand and haven’t processed our past experiences, they have a way of bubbling back up to the surface. They can also significantly influence the way we live our life and the choices we make. These past experiences can dramatically affect how we choose and interact with our romantic partners and ultimately influence our relationships.

A Classic Example of Baggage’s Influence

Imagine a young woman who grew up with an angry and abusive father. As a result of these past traumatic experiences with her father, this woman may end up being attracted to partners who are more dominating and controlling. Her attraction to these qualities would not happen on a conscious level (she wouldn’t say to herself that she’s searching for a controlling & angry man). Psychologically, she may experience an unconscious drive to reenact this past dynamic with her father in her adult relationships.  (Freud referred to this phenomenon as “repetition compulsion.”)

In other words, she may be unconsciously driven to face, work through, and understand the trauma she experienced as an adult. Although she may not be able to “fix” her father, she could try to resolve and gain a sense of mastery over a similar difficulty with her current partner.

A Repeat of the Past

This woman’s baggage can keep her in this perpetual cycle of bad relationships. But the reason is that subconsciously she wants to find resolution to the trauma she experienced growing up. There are other ways to do this, such as:

  • She could break up with her partner (before she is subjected to any abusive behavior) allowing her to take a more active stance instead of being a victim.
  • She could become attracted to someone who is weaker and whom she can control.  However, this is just the other side of the same unhealthy relationship dynamic.
  • She could figure out and process the underlying dynamics that cause these patterns, without having to be in a relationship in the first place.

How Do We Stop or Prevent This Pattern?

There are ways that you can break this cycle of behavior and to even prevent it from starting in the first place. You can:

  • Strive to understand your part in how (and with whom) you choose to be in a relationship.  Get to the root of the problem by identifying the source and asking why this happens.
  • Start to become aware of the reasons why you make these decisions and realize you have the power to make healthier choices.

It can be difficult to take a hard, honest look at why you choose to be in certain relationships. However, you don’t have to do this alone.

Collaborating With a Therapist

A skilled therapist can be a helpful resource for you.  Together you can seek to understand why your relationships just are not working out for you.  This might involve working to resolve past traumatic events and previous experiences in order to gain perspective and a new understanding. That perspective can be invaluable for being able to find a healthy and loving relationship.

The baggage that you carry in life is the reason you repeatedly wind up with the same partner. However, there is a way to break this cycle. Through deep introspection on your own and with a therapist, you can understand why you decide to be with certain partners. This knowledge can not only help you with dating, but can also help you find the positive and caring partner that you deserve.

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Why “Date Night” Can Backfire

Most of us have read online about tips for couples struggling in their relationships. Those tips inevitably suggest that these disconnected couples should simply start going on “date nights.” The underlying rationale and assumption for this suggestion is that struggling couples only need to start prioritizing time together in order to get back on track. However, for some couples, this suggestion may not help at all and can even backfire, making the problem worse.

The Pros and Cons of Date Night

Some pros and cons of date night include:

  • Pros:  Date nights provide the opportunity to spend time with your partner without distractions and can allow you to reconnect. This can be especially true if work or personal schedules and responsibilities conflict, leaving little free time together.
  • Cons:  Unfortunately, date nights may reinforce negative patterns that already exist in your relationship. In addition, some distant couples end up avoiding any interaction with their partners, choosing to wait until date night. This can lead to lots of pressure and awkwardness or result in unleashed resentments as everything comes out once a week.

For couples who already have a solid foundation built into their relationship, a date night can be an opportunity to reconnect and get back on track quickly.

For those who have a strained or troubled relationship, date nights may simply be a “drop in the bucket,” ineffective, or actually make things worse.  

How Date Night Can Backfire

Some ways date night can backfire include:

  • Putting “all of their eggs in one basket’ by waiting once a week to talk.
  • Reinforcing already serious problems and dysfunctional patterns.
  • Increased pressure, and unrealistic expectations foster the idea that date night will be a magical experience, solving all of the couple’s problems in one evening, over dinner.

At best, the evening will likely be awkward. At worst, it will reinforce perpetual problems that already exist in the relationship and trigger more conflict.

So What Is the Answer?

The best solution for struggling couples without a strong foundation or connection, is to commit to prioritizing daily time together. It can be thought of as a couple’s “protected time.” It should be free from all distractions (including kids, television, cell phones, etc.). It is also critical that couples refrain from attacking one another while focusing on sharing events of their day.  

Creating a Structure for Protected Time

A framework for protected time could look like this:

1. Start slowly.  Allocate only 5-10 minutes per day to talk. You’ll be surprised how much ground you can cover in a short period of time.  

2. Keep the conversation fact-based and avoid discussing what you felt or experienced. Try this for 2-3 days.  At first, aim to take turns talking.

3. As trust starts to build, begin to discuss your own experiences of the day. If things are going well, you can always go beyond the 5-10 minute period. Just be sure to use it as a guideline for structuring the conversation.

4. Gradually extend the protected timeframe to 15-20 minutes. Eventually, couples can start to use their time to discuss any relationship concerns in a non-attacking manner.

5. Once the connection and trust has been established and couples can communicate relationship issues without a blowup, consider going on a date night. Couple should try to maintain daily protected time.

If a couple gets stuck on any step in this process, or any conflict ensues, they should not hesitate to seek professional support and go to couples counseling. A counselor can provide a safe setting for couples to talk about their issues and guide the discussion, as well as teach new communication skills, without communication going off the rails.

Overall, date nights are a double-edged sword. They can be very useful for couples who already have a strong relationship to get back on track. They can also backfire, creating more problems for other, more troubled couples. Creating some structure to the conversation and consulting with a therapist, may be helpful for couples who want to resolve their differences and strengthen their relationship.

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First (Date) Impressions:  Why Physical Cues are Critical

Most of us understand the concept of making a “good first impression.” Whether it’s a first date or a job interview, people tend to make first impressions very quickly. In Psychology Today, Romeo Vitelli, Ph.D. notes that recent research indicates the importance of first impressions. In fact, they may persist long after we learn more about a person, for better or worse.

First Impressions are Important

Anyone who ever had a bad first date knows how hard, even impossible, it can be to get a second date. We often evaluate other people quickly, based on the physical traits of others. For instance, we might equate someone handsome and well-dressed with success. Even when we receive new information that runs counter to our  first assessment (he dropped out of school or  claimed bankruptcy, for instance), we will often still stick with our initial impression.

The Halo Effect

One way to describe this phenomenon is called the Halo Effect. The Halo Effect comes from a study done in 1920 by Edward Thorndike. In the study, researchers found that when military officers evaluated their soldiers highly based on physical appearance,  voice, or physical carriage, they considered them to be better soldiers, with demonstrated leadership qualities.  

Soldiers who were rated low on these traits experienced the opposite effect. They were considered to be less competent soldiers and without leadership potential. The research showed that people do make significant judgements based on physical appearances. Those judgements clearly inform how people perceived another person’s other qualities and ability to contribute.

Physical Characteristics of First Impressions

A more recent study by researchers at the University of St. Andrews, found that people often gauge certain physical characteristics too, when making a first impression. These characteristics include:

  • Alertness:  If you look like you haven’t been getting enough sleep or are sluggish, you may unintentionally communicate a lack of intelligence.
  • The Eyes:  Another factor that tends to communicate intelligence is keeping your eyes open, which communicates alertness.
  • The Mouth:  A smile can go a long way to making a good first impression. But be careful, a very wide smile can make a person seem naïve. A more subtle smile, with a slight upward curve, makes you seem more friendly.
  • Static Facial Cues:  These are features of your face that you can’t change, such as the bone structure of your face or the shape of your nose.
  • Dynamic Facial Cues:  These are cues that you can control, like smiling vs. frowning.

These characteristics reinforce the earlier findings of the Halo Effect when making first impressions about people.

What Can We Do to Combat the Halo Effect?

To fight the Halo Effect, try to be mindfully be aware of what you communicate non-verbally to other people. For instance:

  • Use a mirror to practice different facial expressions.
  • Do a practice interview with a partner who can provide feedback.
  • Be mindful of specifics (smile, eye contact, well-rested, eyes open) during an interview or a first date.
  • Get plenty of sleep the night before an interview or big date.

We can’t change our static facial cues. However, we can be proactive and aware regarding our dynamic facial cues so that they better align with what we want to communicate.

This research reinforces what most of us already know from personal experience. People make snap decisions about others very quickly. Yet, these opinions can be difficult for someone to change.

By being more aware of what we communicate non-verbally, we can do our best to make sure we send the right impression at that job interview or increase our chances of having that desired second date.

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