Maybe you think that mindfulness practice means that you become totally chilled and zen and that you will never get irritated with your partner again? If so, I’m sorry to disappoint you.
Couples tend to choose each other because something about the other person feels familiar. This can be a good thing if they have the same kind of sense of humour you were brought up with, for example, but it can also be that they re-play past patterns which actually really trigger you. This is a great opportunity to learn and finally let go of those patterns 🙂 but it isn’t usually a smooth ride. Plus, no-one knows as well as your partner how to really annoy or even upset you.
Mindfulness won’t necessarily stop us getting annoyed with each other (though with time it can definitely turn down the temperature) but it can help hugely with how we deal with that annoyance.
How mindfulness can change the brain
A regular mindfulness practice has been shown to strengthen the connections between the amygdala (the primitive, fight-flight part of the brain) and the pre-frontal cortex (the more developed and thoughtful part). This means that although you will still get that instant reaction, you get better and better at being able to stop yourself before you lash out. Mindfulness has also been shown to develop the anterior cingulate cortex, which is connected with the development of our sense of self and our emotional regulation.
Over time, not only will you get better at controlling (not suppressing) your emotions, you will also balance out the spikiness, so you’re on less of an emotional roller-coaster in the first place.
You’ll also get better at spotting the stories we tell ourselves, that actually aren’t that helpful. In terms of couples, these are very often stories about how we are the poor put-upon victim. Obviously if you actually ARE, that’s different, but most of the time, there are definitely two sides to this victim story.
How mindfulness can reduce arguments
Because you become more centred in the present moment, you also become a better listener. You aren’t pretending to listen to your partner while secretly planning the next devastating come-back that will prove you were right all along.
You are also less likely to indulge in the habit of endless criticism (whether inward grumbling or full on complaining), which over time can destroy a relationship.