Mindfulness and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Fight

The last time I got into a screaming match with a girlfriend was fifteen years ago. We were in our mid-twenties, living together. One minute, it seemed, we were having a reasonable, if tense, conversation about a business we were running together. The next minute, we were hurling insults at one another. We broke up a few weeks later.

I'm happy to say that, after that unexpected conflagration, I took a vow that I would never raise my voice again in an argument. And, I'm happy to say that, unlike most vows I've taken, this one stuck.

 

So what changed?

Perhaps part of the shift is explained by my wife's constitutional incapacity to scream. That definitely helps. But the other important factor, if you ask me, is mindfulness.

Briefly, I've gotten a lot better at watching my thoughts and feelings, no matter how blustery, and choosing carefully how to express them. This is not easy. But it is possible.

In fact, a paper I recently ran across, published almost a decade ago in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, might shine a light on the little transformation I experienced.

The researchers discovered a few golden nuggets.

First, in their studies, higher trait mindfulness predicted greater relationship satisfaction. In other words, the more mindful a person is - the more they are able to track their experience as it unfolds - the happier they'll be in their partnership.

Next, those with higher trait mindfulness were, generally speaking, better able to respond constructively to relationship stress. So when things got a little sticky, as they inevitably will in a long term romance, partners with more stable mindfulness were better able to take a breath and respond in healthy ways.

Third, when all out conflicts arose, those partners with more mindfulness experienced less emotional stress during the strife, and more positive evaluations of the relationship once things were resolved. They also communicated more clearly and more calmly throughout the hullabaloo than those who were less mindful.

So my experience is by no means an outlier. It stands, then, that if you’re noticing some strain in your relationship, a little mindfulness might help. And if things are running smooth in your relationship right now, a little mindfulness might still help.