- A recent study we conducted showed that being more attentive, accepting, and aware is not only helpful in romantic relationships, it also benefits sexual experiences for both men and women. Tweet This
- Awareness allows us to tune in and connect with our self, our spouse, and humanity—empathizing with the joys and sorrows of a shared human experience. Tweet This
While “better and faster” has saturated many societal messages, research indicates that better and faster may not be the best way to build a healthy relationship. Couples may repeat certain actions so often that they act more on autopilot than intentionally—and while autopilot is great for planes, it’s a disaster for marriages. As recent research bears out, our minds often drift everywhere but the present moment, making it difficult to achieve the desired depth of connection in our relationships.
Contrary to these social trends, an abundance of evidence is emerging that indicates slowing down enhances overall well-being, including relationship satisfaction. One way for couples to slow down is by cultivating mindfulness: a focus on self-awareness, non-judgement, and a quality of presence in the moment. With modest investments of time and energy, couples may experience a feeling of greater connection within their romantic and sexual relationships by connecting their mind and body through meditation, or other mindful activities like prayer, mindful walking, or practing self-compassion.
In fact, a recent study we conducted showed that being more attentive, accepting, and aware is not only helpful in romantic relationships, it also benefits sexual experiences for both men and women. We followed up on these preliminary findings with an intervention that taught mindfulness and sexual mindfulness skills. Our results indicated that these skills are simple to teach, participants were eager to learn, and they reported better communication, lower anxiety, and higher sexual and relational satisfaction.
Our research indicates that several practices, engaged in by an individual or better yet by both individuals, can improve mindfulness levels.
Be Still. Couples may initially find it challenging to break the culture of busyness and be still. They may even feel that slowing down could hinder how they address problems with their partner. However, the upside is encouraging. Purposefully slowing down can help an individual and their partner regulate emotions and make better decisions. Since intimate relationships involve intense emotions, anxieties, and vulnerability, a mindful approach to the relationship can focus each partner on the deeper meanings within their relationship and help them respond in intentional ways that build—rather than falling into automatic responses that often create greater conflict and emotional distance.
Everyday Moments. Mindfulness is a practice not a destination. In everyday moments, awareness can bring an increased sense of connection when mindfulness keeps individuals in the present. For example, when our spouse’s hand lightly brushes our own or when we receive a hello kiss, a mindful approach could hold the moment and pay attention to the details. We can remain in a long hug in order to feel their steady breath or appreciate what can be understood from simple eye contact. When we notice small details about our spouse, we see them with new eyes and may feel renewed gratitude and love. Though these simple practices of awareness take only seconds throughout the day to acknowledge, they help couples become more capable of staying mindful during high emotionally laden events, such as sex.
Be Present. Being present with our partner for just a few minutes a day can provide a grounding connection between partners. Research demonstrates that being present is linked to healthy attachments within romantic relationships. Giving our full attention to our partner is a way to create a secure environment.
Studies show many benefits come from slowing down and centering yourself. Mindfulness increases the ability to empathize, accept, and securely attach to a romantic partner. One mechanism of mindfulness may be a more sensitive attunement or openness to subtle changes in our state of mind or surrounding environment. Instead of routine responses, we approach the situation in a curious, non-judgmental way.
While it may seem counterintuitive, when individuals ground themselves by being mindful, they have the capacity to be curious, creative, and share greater intimacy with another. Marriage therapist David Schnarch has long encouraged a stronger sense of self, emotional grounding, and awareness in order to have a deeply intimate and encompassing union.
Awareness allows us to tune in and connect with our self, our spouse, and humanity—empathizing with the joys and sorrows of a shared human experience. This increased awareness is often accompanied by compassion. Increased self-compassion is associated with greater authenticity, less emotional turmoil, and feelings of greater relational well-being.
Couples do better when they slow down, let go of judgment, and see each other anew. In sum, mindfulness is not just something that will benefit an individual, it can transform relational interactions, leading to less conflict, a closer connection, and even greater sexual satisfaction.
Chelom E. Leavitt is an Assistant Professor at Brigham Young University and researches sexual mindfulness and healthy sexuality. Ellyse Winward is a student at Brigham Young University studying Elementary Education and Family Life.