It’s disheartening to think that the divorce rate is over 50% in Australia. And it seems that we’re always hearing about friends breaking up. Or indeed you may fear that your relationship is on the rocks. Why does it seem so hard to keep things together? And what’s the secret of couples that weather the inevitable storms? Meditation may be a piece of the puzzle …

Couple sitting on a jettyU.S based relationship expert, Dr John Gottman (www.gottman.com) has devoted over 30 years to researching relationships. He has even set up a “love-lab” where he monitors couples in real-life settings, measuring their heart rates, facial expressions and behaviours, to crack the code about what makes relationships work. Surprisingly, it’s not grand romantic gestures such as holidays away and expensive dinners out that keeps things happy. Rather, Gottman has found that it’s the small day-to-day moments between couples that either build or destroy romance and commitment.

In fact, Gottman has discovered that in any type of relationship, we make ”bids” for attention.  This is by asking questions, sharing insights, touching, giving an invitation, sending a text, or even just glancing at someone. For a relationship to work, the other person has to be responsive and sensitive to these bids and respond in a positive way. To be more specific, Gottman says that the ratio of good responding to poor needs to be 5 to 1. If the other person ignores us or makes a negative comment, this goes against a successful bid. What does this all mean in real life terms? Basically it tells us that in order for a partnership to thrive, we need to have our minds on the other person. Relationships won’t work when we’re regularly preoccupied with work, TV and everything else. We need to be present and attentive so that we can successfully respond to our partner’s needs for attention.

An example:

Your partner: “Cool, my favourite show’s on tonight!”

You: Say nothing, keep staring at the computer. Or you might say “Geez, you’re a TV addict!”

Obviously bad responses. No intimacy or understanding is being built.

So what’s a good reaction?

 You: “Okay cool!  Let’s not forget to put in on later!”. Or, “Yeah I know you love that show! Maybe you should tape it?”

Mind chatterYou might be wondering what this all has to do with meditation. Well just think, if a relationship is nurtured by being attentive to your partner, your mind needs to have the space and flexibility to respond sensitively. Meditation helps you to tune out negative chatter, so you can focus on your main goals – like your relationship. Daily practice, even 10 to 20 minutes, helps us gain clarity and take control of our reactions. Scientific research shows that it enhances the executive functioning in our brain. In other words, the part of our brain that should be the manager of our lives become stronger and helps us to make better decisions and respond better. If your mind’s in a constant state of chaos and stress, you’re likely to be driven by instincts – you’re more reactive.

Now back to your relationship. According to Gottman, romantic relationships are not too dissimilar from platonic friendships. It’s all about being kind and showing interest and sensitivity to the other person. So making daily meditation a part of your routine really is an investment in your partnership. If you can meditate together this is a plus because each of you will be improving your ability to tend to the other’s needs.

Finally, in any partnership there’s times where we fight and feel stressed. Gottman has found that another predictor of a relationship going under is when one of us gets “flooded” with emotions. This is where your emotions take over, you’re not thinking straight and you say things you regret. And it particularly affects men. Meditation can help you to “self-sooth” by reminding you to focus on your breath and calm down your physiological system. It might stop you from screaming, “I hate you you idiot, let’s break up!”. Again, what a great investment in your relationship.

To develop a calm mind and body, practice our short guided meditation exercise, Simple Steps to Evoking the Relaxation Response.