It’s that time of the year and I’ve been thinking about last year’s topic of why we have so much conflict at Christmas. Well, a lot can change in a year and I’ve got a new idea. How about having a conflict-free Christmas? Even better, a conflict-free relationship?
Some explanation is in order. Someone recently asked me “how long have you been in practice?” I had to stop and think about it for a moment, and after a short pause, I replied, “about 30 years.” I remember a workshop I attended once and the presenter, David Burns, stated that he had done over 30,000 counselling sessions in his career. I thought about that and wondered how many I’ve done in 30 years? As a rough estimate I guessed that for me, it would be around 20,000. I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying, “it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.” Well, this old dog has learned some new tricks! Over the last few years, my practice has evolved and taken a dramatic turn – in the direction of mindfulness. Mindfulness has now become a mainstream health and wellness practice and like thousands of other mental health professionals, I’ve become a passionate proponent, practitioner and teacher of this ancient practice. The program I now teach is Mindfulness-Integrated Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (MICBT). It’s by the far the most effective approach to life and mental health problems I’ve ever come across. It’s changed my counselling practice and my life.
Here’s a good summary of how mindfulness helps relationships:
The skills needed for successful relationships are easy to understand but can be hard to do because we often experience automatic tendencies that take us in the wrong direction. But thanks to hundreds of scientific studies, we know that automatic tendencies of our brains can be changed. Mindfulness exercises can recondition our brains, producing inclinations that work for us rather than against us. These new inclinations can transform our relationships. But the benefits go even further. Studies suggest that mindfulness training.
- reduces stress, anxiety and depression.
- decreases rates of illness.
- reduces chronic pain.
- increases positive emotions and empathy.
- decreases negative rumination.
- improves memory, concentration and attention control.
- increases enjoyment of simple pleasures.
- increases ability to calm upset feelings.
- increases ability to react skillfully in stressful or emotionally-charged situations.
Emotional reactivity is the bane of intimate communication. It doesn’t matter what tools, skills and strategies therapists teach couples, relationships will not improve unless the partners learn how to regulate their emotions. Without this fundamental awareness and ability, couples will never be happy because it’s just a matter of time until someone gets triggered into a “fight or fight” response, typically when their partner does or says something they don’t like or agree with.
Emotional regulation should be the primary goal of couples therapy. Over the years I’ve come to realize that unless couples “rewire their brains,” counselling can end up being a short-term, temporary fix. The ultimate solution is mindfulness training. Imagine the possibility of a conflict-free relationship!