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Meditation for relationships

Relationships are the bedrock of life. Whether it’s a relationship with family, a romantic partner, or with friends and colleagues, the way we act, communicate, and respond in a relationship has a huge influence on our overall health and happiness.

At its essence, a relationship should be loving, nourishing, fulfilling, engaging, and supportive. But we all know they can be challenging, too. Two people coming together is always a meeting of minds — different experiences, different beliefs, different attachment styles, and different values can lead to disagreements or misunderstandings. So, maintaining good, healthy relationships requires work, care, and attention.

While we can’t control the actions of others, what we can bring to any relationship is our best selves. And that’s where meditation can help. The seeds of any healthy relationship are sown in the mind, and it’s through meditation — training the mind to be calmer, clearer, and more compassionate — that we can cultivate harmony with the people around us.

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Key takeaways:

  • Meditation can nurture compassion, empathy, and more qualities of healthy relationships

  • Healthy relationships with others require that we be kind to ourselves

  • Try 6 meditations for enhancing relationships

Relationship qualities and meditation

When people are asked what they look for in a friend or partner, the typical qualities mentioned include kindness, compassion, decency, and loyalty. Someone who’s confident within themselves and who’s in control of their emotions. Through a regular meditation practice, we can create the conditions for these qualities to thrive and ultimately improve our relationships.

  • Increase awareness.

Meditation can help us improve awareness of our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, which makes us better at fulfilling our side of a healthy relationship. With practice, we learn to observe the mind and find a stability where we don’t overreact to sensations or emotions that arise. It’s a skill that we can apply to our day-to-day interactions, making us better equipped to deal with other people — both the good and the bad. Once we understand that our behaviors are often influenced by a conditioned thought, an emotion, or storyline unique to us, we can observe what arises in the mind, take a beat, and not come from a reactionary place. As a result, we listen better and understand more, so we not only strengthen our positive relationships, but also have the tools to deal with challenging ones, or any situation which involves conflict.

  • Cultivate compassion.

Showing compassion is arguably one of the most important ways to cultivate a healthy relationship. To do this, we might simply ask ourselves: How do we want our friends to feel when they’re around us? Meditation can help us act on that: one study found that 3 weeks of Headspace increased compassion by 21%. In that study, people who meditated for 10 minutes each day of those 3 weeks using the Headspace app were more likely to help a stranger in need, compared to the participants who didn’t meditate.

Considering the happiness of others might seem counterintuitive at first, but it invites a switch of perspective. The more we provide the conditions for happiness in others, the more likely we’ll breed happiness in ourselves.

  • Practice empathy.

Empathy, our ability to stand in the shoes of someone else and understand their feelings and perspectives, is another crucial building block of a happy relationship. And it’s another quality that research shows can be developed and nurtured through our mindfulness practice.

Meditation helps us be less judgmental of our own thoughts (and the thoughts and actions of others) and cultivates an attitude of openness. As Headspace co-founder and former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe puts it, “Empathy does not require that we have been through the same thing as another person, simply that we meet them where they are now.”

  • Reduce stress.

Meditation can also help us deal with stress, one of the main threats to our relationships with ourselves and with others. MRI research shows a regular meditation practice can shrink the amygdala, a part of the brain deeply involved in our response to stress and fear, which helps us respond in a more measured manner to stressful situations. And research has found that 30 days of Headspace reduces stress by a third.

Lowering our stress and anxiety can help bring a sense of ease to our relationships — after all, it’s very hard to pay attention to other people or be there for them when we’re otherwise preoccupied with stress or anxiety. So it follows that alleviating our stress introduces more spaciousness into our relationships, allowing us to be more present and attentive.

Especially in times of crisis, when relationships can face tension and unique strains, meditation can help us find a greater sense of ease by taking time to step away and allow things to decompress a little bit.

Our most important relationship is with ourselves

To improve our relationships with others, it helps to first recognize the importance of being kind to ourselves. When we learn to direct our compassion inward, to be kinder to our mind and to silence the inner critic, those qualities then ripple outwards to be felt by those around us.

The Headspace app offers courses on kindness and self-compassion, which help to pave the way for loving ourselves and then sharing that warmth with those who we share our lives with. Meditation for compassion, also known as a loving kindness meditation, specifically teaches us to cultivate a sense of compassion towards ourselves that we can then direct towards others.

“If a really close friend was having a tough time, there’s no way we’d speak to them the way we speak to ourselves in our mind,” says Andy Puddicombe. “If we can start approaching our own thoughts and feelings with that same soft and gentle approach, then all of a sudden meditation starts to flow and feel so much easier. And so it becomes a part of our everyday life much more quickly.”

Also remember, moods are contagious, so our emotions and behaviors can rub off on those around us. Research shows we’re 25% more likely to be happy when a nearby friend is upbeat. Consider, for example, how it feels to be around someone who is permanently stressed, on edge, grumpy, or impatient. Now think about someone who is genuinely upbeat, gentle, patient, and at ease with themselves. The difference is stark.

Once we’ve done the solo work, we can turn our attention to our relationships. Meditation for couples, whether done with a partner or alone, can help us to navigate life’s challenges together and to build deeper trust and appreciation for one another.

Try 6 meditations for enhancing relationships

Looking for more meditations for bettering relationships? The Headspace app offers members several courses and single meditations on cultivating healthy relationships, including:

  • Kindness course. Foster feelings of compassion towards yourself.

  • Relationships course. Achieve greater harmony with others and yourself.

  • Difficult Conversations single meditation. Move towards a calmer mindset before a tough talk.

  • Forgiveness single meditation. Find peace in working to forgive yourself and others.

  • Managing Conflict single meditation. Create an environment for productive conversations.

  • Self-Compassion course. Practice treating yourself with unconditional kindness.

As well as the mental and physical benefits, meditation can have social benefits too. By nurturing a healthy relationship with ourselves and calming the mind with the help of our meditation practice, we can then naturally share those benefits with others, and enjoy more harmonious relationships in all areas of our lives.

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