3 Ways Meditation Improves Relationships - Backed by Science
Meditation can seem selfish, but it actually makes you a better partner.
Posted May 3, 2016
Meditation can seem like a lonely activity, even a slightly selfish one —after all, you're doing something, on your own, for yourself - or so it seems. Even if you’re meditating in a group, your eyes are closed and you're focused on yourself. Doesn't seem like something that would improve your relationships. But research shows it does. Here’s how.
1) It Curbs Your Stress & Gives You Perspective
Most people experience stress during the day. Worse yet, they bring their stress home. As a consequence, their partner gets the brunt of it: a short fuse, bad moods, lack of affection. Over time, this kind of pattern can create distance between partners. By helping you regulate your emotions (like stress or anger), meditation can help you keep a positive perspective. What we found in research with a population that has a tremendous amount of stress—veterans returning from war—is that by using a simple breathing-based meditation (sudarshan kriya), anxiety and stress reduced tremendously. If you can take responsibility for curbing your stress through meditation, you're also taking a big step towards preserving and honoring your relationship.
A really strong reason to meditate is its impact on your perspective. You're more likely to see the big picture rather than sweating the small stuff - as a result, you feel more grateful for what you. Gratitude is a powerful predictor of long-term love. Research shows us that, over time, we get used to the things we have and people we are with and can start to take them for granted. That’s the point where people may start to focus on what’s wrong with their partner or forget why they fell in love in the first place. Grateful people are more satisfied in their relationships and feel closer to one another. When you are grateful, you stay focused and appreciative of your partner’s good qualities. Your partner, in turn, feels appreciated, and your bond strengthens.
2) It Keeps You Positive
In researching my recent book, The Happiness Track, I was amazed at the benefits of happiness: it makes you more present, more charismatic, more focused, more productive, and more creative. Even your capacity to learn and think outside the box improves. Most importantly, we know that positive emotions help you connect more easily with others. Positive emotions make us more open, approachable and strengthen our feelings of connection to others—even strangers.
Think about it—on a day when you are feeling stressed and blue, you probably are less likely to strike up a conversation with the person behind you at Starbucks. Stress makes us self-focused. However, when you’re feeling on top of the world, that’s the day you are more likely to share a joke with a stranger or notice if someone needs help holding the door open for them. You're more likely to uplift your partner, help cheer them up, and make them laugh.
Research shows that laughter helps you strengthen relationships - and even makes you more attractive.
3) It Strengthens Your Feelings of Connection
Sometimes partners start to feel more distant from one another. In research we conducted on compassion and loving-kindness based meditations (see here to try it), we found that these kinds of meditations can really help people feel more connected and empathic. You can literally train yourself to feel more compassionate and loving. And research shows that empathy and compassion have tremendous benefits for your health and happiness: improved happiness, lower inflammation, decreased anxiety and depression, and even a longer life. Not to mention better and stronger relationships with other people. Both men and women, when asked which traits they value most in a prospective partner, place kindness at the top of their list.
Let's face it, we all face trials in our life, but only some of us have natural resilience and an ability to bounce back quickly. Hundreds of studies (see here for some examples) now show that meditation is a powerful way to boost happiness and well-being - thereby also boosting our relationships.
For more on how to tap into your emotional resilience, see my new book The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success (HarperOne 2016).
A version of this article first appeared on Gaiam.