How Mindfulness can help couples cool down and avoid conflicts from spiralling out of control

We’ve all been there: Your partner says something that rubs you the wrong way (or vice versa), and you launch into an argument.  As you both get increasingly revved up - blood pressure rising, stomach churning, fists clenching - you lose your ability to think straight or see one another’s point of view - a sign that your levels of cortisol, the body-brain’s stress hormone, are running high.

Before you know it, one (or both) of you explodes and says something jaw-droppingly nasty, something you can never take back. What could have been a minor disagreement has escalated into a major conflict, and you both come away feeling hurt, disappointed, and dissatisfied with your relationship.  And that dissatisfaction might lead to more - and more heated - conflicts in the future.

How can couples avoid this vicious cycle?

A recent study offers some hope. Researchers from the University of Wyoming and the University of Oregon observed 88 romantic couples as they discussed a conflict in their relationship. Before and after the conflict, the researchers took saliva samples from both partners to measure their levels of cortisol - an indication of how stressed they were feeling.

Immediately afterwards, the researchers also asked each partner what they were experiencing during the conflict.  Specifically, they wanted to know how much the partners approached their conflict with mindfulness, the moment-by-moment, “non-judgmental” awareness of thoughts, feelings, and sensations - an ability to notice and accept what we are experiencing in the present, without judging those thoughts or feelings as “right” or “wrong.”

The results, published in the journal Hormones and Behaviour, showed that partners’ cortisol levels generally spiked during their conflict, a sign of high stress. But those with greater mindfulness seemed to recover more rapidly:  Their cortisol levels were quicker to return to normal after the conflict ended, suggesting they were keeping their cool.  That was true for both men and women.

“Mindfulness helps partners to regulate their own responses and more fully accept one another,” the researchers suggest, “resulting in less negative fallout from conflict when it arises.”

Why does mindfulness carry these benefits?

Further analysis revealed that mindfulness during conflict helped romantic partners not take things so personally, regulate their emotional reactions more quickly, and empathise with their partner more deeply.  The researchers surmise that while mindfulness helps people remain more engaged during constructive conflict, it also enables them to disengage more quickly from conflicts that become destructive.

Julia and Graham’s experience with mindfulness 

In November 2017 Graham and Julia enrolled on a Being Mindful course because they needed to do something to help their marriage.  They knew they deeply loved each other but the stresses and strains of life were getting in the way and the conflict was eating away at the foundation of their relationship.

They didn’t feel drawn to marriage guidance because for them it wasn’t about who said what about who etc. they were simply struggling to weed out the important things from the unhelpful stuff that lurks around in times of challenge and often distorts reality into something completely removed from the truth. 

A friend of Julia’s recommended mindfulness and after researching it they booked an interview just to make sure.  After talking through the course and meeting the teacher they felt confident it was just what they needed and enrolled there and then.

The 8-week MBSR course involves a weekly 2-hour session and daily home practice so it’s not for the fainthearted, it requires commitment and dedication.  On saying that, both Julia and Graham enjoyed the course and even looked forward the sessions because they learned so much helpful material and often went out for a meal afterward.

“It completely changed my life” Julia said.  “I would heartily recommend it to anyone, in fact I think everyone should do this course”.

Hear what Graham and Julia have to say.


£100 Discount for couples 

If you and your partner feel mindfulness might benefit you and your relationship join the next course and get a £100 discount when you book together.

Julia and Graham attended the same course but other couples preferred to do the course on different nights.  Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss the most suitable options for you.  The most important thing is to take action.