Mindfulness, which refers to focusing on the present moment with non-judgmental awareness, might play a crucial role in maintaining healthy romantic partnerships. New findings, published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, suggest that mindfulness can act as a protective factor against the negative effects of power imbalances in relationships.
Power imbalances can occur when one partner exerts more control or influence within the relationship. Previous research has shown that higher perceptions of power imbalances often lead to lower levels of relational well-being. With this knowledge as a backdrop, the researchers sought to explore whether mindfulness could serve as a protective factor, offering a potential solution to the challenges posed by these imbalances.
“Power imbalances in a relationship are common but can be harmful. We wanted to see whether being more aware and curious may reduce those negative associations. We were delighted to see that largely mindfulness and sexual mindfulness are quite helpful for couples struggling with a power imbalance,” said study author Chelom Eastwood Leavitt, an associate professor at Brigham Young University.
To investigate this, the researchers conducted a comprehensive study involving a diverse group of participants from the Couple Relationships and Transition Experiences (CREATE) study, a nationally representative longitudinal study of newlywed couples in the United States. The study included 1,519 heterosexual couples. Data was collected through an online survey, where participants were asked about their perception of power imbalances in their relationships, their mindfulness levels, and various aspects of their relationship well-being, including relationship flourishing and sexual harmony.
The research team used a comprehensive analytical approach known as the Actor-Partner-Interdependence Model (APIM). This model allowed them to examine how different factors influenced not only an individual’s well-being but also their partner’s. In other words, it explored the interconnectedness of couples in the context of power imbalances, mindfulness, and relationship outcomes.
The findings confirmed that higher perceived power imbalances were linked to lower levels of relational well-being for both husbands and wives. This reaffirmed the idea that power imbalances can strain relationships.
In other words, those who agreed with statements such as “My partner tends to discount my opinion” and “When we do not agree on an issue, my partner gives me the cold shoulder” were more likely to disagree with statements such as “We do things that are deeply meaningful to us as a couple” and “The way I live my life allows me to have the variety of sexual experiences which I desire with my partner.”
Importantly, both trait mindfulness (a person’s natural tendency to be mindful) and sexually mindful awareness (mindfulness during sexual experiences) acted as buffers against the negative effects of power imbalances.
“Most couples experience a power imbalance from time to time within their relationship,” Leavitt told PsyPost. “Individually partners can use mindfulness as a way to counteract this negative experience. Being mindful when there is a power imbalance doesn’t mean a partner endorses the imbalance. It just provides an environment that may help couples move through the imbalance without damaging their relationship. They may be more able to ask questions, talk about feelings, and find a way to rebalance the relationship and gain deeper intimacy.”
When men in a relationship believed there was an imbalance of power, having heightened mindfulness had a beneficial impact on their wives’ well-being within the relationship. This mindfulness appeared to counteract or lessen the adverse effects that power imbalances might typically have on the quality of the relationship from the wives’ perspective.
“I loved that we found partner effects, which means that if I notice an imbalance in the relationship and I employ a more mindful approach to the relationship, not only do I report less negative outcomes so does my partner,” Leavitt explained. “That’s pretty powerful. We don’t have to always lock horns over problems in the relationship sometime a skillful approach such as mindfulness can alleviate the problem.”
As with any scientific study, there are limitations to consider. The research used cross-sectional data, which means it provides snapshots of a moment in time rather than long-term trends. Additionally, the study focused on heterosexual couples, and more research is needed to understand the dynamics of power imbalances and mindfulness in same-sex relationships.
“This study isn’t suggesting causation—it is not longitudinal or an intervention,” Leavitt noted. “But is does provide a first step in suggesting that mindfulness may be a good strategy when there are relational problems such as a power imbalance.”
The study, “The Power of Mindfulness: Examining Power Imbalances, Mindfulness, and Couples’ Relational and Sexual Well-Being“, was authored by Chelom E. Leavitt, Amber A. Price, Daniel Smedley, J. B. Eyring, Jeremy B. Yorgason, and Erin K. Holmes.