Mindfulness has been consistently linked to better relationship outcomes, with studies suggesting that couples who are mindful enjoy greater sexual and relationship satisfaction. New research published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy suggests that the link between mindfulness and positive relationship outcomes might be explained by the related skills of forgiveness and gratitude.
Mindfulness can be understood as an awareness and acceptance of the present moment. Such a mindset paves the way for an openness and appreciation for life’s experiences and has been associated with the capacity for forgiveness and gratitude.
“We wanted to understand how mindfulness positively links to sexual and relational satisfaction. We imagined that one reason mindful people have better sexual and romantic relationship is because they are more grateful and more forgiving,” said study author Chelom E. Leavitt, an assistant professor at Brigham Young University.
The researchers noted that forgiveness and gratitude have been linked to improved relationship outcomes. They proposed that these two constructs might help explain why mindfulness appears to promote relationship well-being.
For their study, the team analyzed data from 2,117 newly-married couples who completed questionnaires that included measures of mindfulness, relationship satisfaction, and sexual satisfaction. The surveys also included a measure of forgiveness, asking subjects to recall the time when they felt most wronged by their partner and to rate their agreement with certain statements (e.g., “I tend to give him/her the cold shoulder.”). Additionally, the questionnaires measured gratitude toward one’s partner with items like, “I express my appreciation for the things that my partner does for me.”
The researchers conducted multiple statistical analyses to determine the direct and indirect effects between the assessed variables.
It was found that both forgiveness and gratitude mediated many of the links between mindfulness and positive relationship outcomes. In other words, wives or husbands who scored higher in mindfulness tended to score higher in forgiveness and gratitude, and in turn, reported stronger relationship and sexual satisfaction.
“Being mindful can help us to consider the small details in our lives and likely creates more feelings of gratitude and an ability to see our part in problems and how those problems can be resolved,” Leavitt told PsyPost. “Additionally, being mindful also is linked to our partner’s feelings of satisfaction. So be mindful for yourself and your partner!
The authors noted that, in some ways, husbands’ forgiveness and gratitude seemed to be most important for gleaning relationship benefits. “Interestingly, husbands’ forgiveness and gratitude played a particularly strong role in relationships, especially in determining their own relationship satisfaction,” Leavitt and colleagues wrote in their study. “This suggests that husbands who are more forgiving and grateful enjoy a greater link between their practice of mindfulness and their relational satisfaction, which is key in their perceived relationship quality (Aalgaard et al., 2016; Safarzadeh et al., 2011).”
The researchers also explored partner effects and found that one partner’s mindfulness seemed to affect the other member of the couple. Wives and husbands who scored higher in mindfulness had partners who showed a stronger tendency to forgive and reported better relationship outcomes. This suggests that when one partner made use of the positive skill of mindfulness, the benefits extended to their partner.
The authors suggest that one partner’s mindfulness might facilitate forgiveness in the other partner by creating a positive environment that promotes forgiveness. For example, someone who is mindful is able to recognize their emotions and prioritize the good feelings over the bad, leading to a more positive experience for both members of the couple.
But there are “so many questions still need to be resolved,” Leavitt said. “Here are just two: Does mindfulness work for all people or only some groups? What if a couple has major problems, can mindfulness still help?”
The researchers also noted that future research will be needed to extend and replicate these findings, especially among additional populations, such as older couples and LGBTQ couples.
Leavitt and colleagues emphasized that mindfulness is a skill that a person can embrace without assistance from their partner — their findings suggest that the relationship benefits can be reaped even if one partner does not practice being more mindful.
“Slowing down our thought process and being more tuned into our body seems to have a host of positive effects—gratitude and forgiveness are just two of them. Being mindful is simple, no-cost, and a really effect way to improve your life,” Leavitt said.
The study, “Forgiveness and Gratitude: Links Between Couples’ Mindfulness and Sexual and Relational Satisfaction in New Cisgender Heterosexual Marriages”, was authored by J. B. Eyring, Chelom E. Leavitt, David B. Allsop, and Tyler J. Clancy.