New research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships provides evidence that mindfulness can help to enhance attachment security among romantic couples. The new findings deepen our understanding of the longitudinal interplay between partners’ mindfulness and attachment style.
Attachment styles are important to relationship outcomes because they shape how individuals approach and interact with their partners. People with a secure attachment style tend to have better relationship outcomes, such as higher levels of trust, satisfaction, and communication. People with an insecure attachment style, on the other hand, may struggle with issues such as jealousy, anxiety, and emotional distance.
“We were particularly intrigued by this topic because so many people can benefit from increased attachment security, and the benefits of it are so widespread – attachment security is linked to positive outcomes in so many domains, including health, relationships, and career outcomes,” said study author Taranah Gazder, a research assistant at the Health and Relationship Processes (HARP) Lab at the University of Edinburgh.
“We know that mindfulness levels can be altered through training and so examining this relation was a promising avenue for investigation.”
The 3-phase study included 100 couples (87 heterosexual, 9 lesbian, 1 gay, 3 other non-binary) who had had been in a relationship for approximately three years on average. The couples first reported their general and relationship mindfulness and attachment orientations in a baseline session, then reported relationship preoccupation and empathy daily for 14 days, and finally reported general mindfulness and attachment orientations again 2 months later.
The researchers found that those with greater general mindfulness tended to experience a decrease in attachment anxiety over the course of the study. In other words, those who disagreed with statements such as “I find myself doing things without paying attention” became increasingly likely to also disagree with statements such as “I worry about being alone.”
In addition, those with greater relationship mindfulness tended to score higher on a measure of empathy, which in turn was associated with a decrease in attachment avoidance. In other words, those who agreed with statements such as “I have conversations with my partner without being really attentive” tended to be more empathetic, and those with heightened empathy were less likely to agree with statements such as “I feel comfortable depending on romantic partners.”
The researchers also found that one’s own and one’s partner’s attachment anxiety was related to changes in general mindfulness over 2.5 months. Lower attachment anxiety was linked to increases in mindfulness over time.
Importantly, the findings held after controlling for demographic factors, relationship satisfaction, perceived partner responsiveness, and positive and negative emotional states.
“Many people know about how mindfulness can improve health and reduce stress levels, but our study shows how mindfulness can also benefit our relationships with other people and our attitudes towards close relationships,” Gazder told PsyPost. “It is also important to discuss mindfulness in different domains, as it seems that outcomes depend on the type of mindfulness.”
But there was no evidence that relationship preoccupation (e.g. “Today, I had extreme difficulty getting my partner/relationship out of my mind”) mediated the relationship between mindfulness and attachment. “It was surprising that preoccupation with the relationship did not actually explain the relation between general mindfulness and attachment anxiety, and we are curious to find out what does,” Gazder said.
The next steps for research in this area are to study the impact of other aspects of mindfulness on attachment security, and to examine the effectiveness of mindfulness interventions on attachment security in couples over time, the researchers wrote.
“The biggest follow-up question is investigating how we can actively intervene on these variables to increase people’s attachment security,” Gazder said. “We are especially interested in finding out whether mindfulness meditation interventions, which increase general mindfulness, will decrease attachment anxiety, and whether loving-kindness meditations, which cultivate empathy and compassion, will decrease attachment avoidance.”
The study, “Longitudinal associations between mindfulness and change in attachment orientations in couples: The role of relationship preoccupation and empathy“, was authored by Taranah Gazder and Sarah C. E. Stanton.