New study reveals the secret to surviving clashing opinions this Thanksgiving

Recently, a new study conducted by Auburn University’s Julianne McGill and Francesca Adler-Baeder, amends the previously conceived notion that confines mindfulness to a self-repairing psychological process. To test this family stress theory, the researchers’ employed romantic partnerships as a model.

They wrote, “This study serves to advance the empirical research on predictors of relationship quality by considering the role of trait mindfulness in combination with measures of stress and positive relationship behaviors among a diverse sample of men and women in couple relationships.”

“Exploring the link between mindfulness and relationship quality: Direct and indirect pathways”

More broadly, McGill and Adler-Baeder determined that the vitality of a relationship, romantic or not, survives on the degree to which stress augments dynamics for the worse. The participants featured in the report that were able to successfully live in the moment were found to be equally adept at muting stressors for the service of a good time.

The individuals studied were actually extracted from previously collected data comprised of 281 men and women in heterosexual relationships. The median age of participants was about 36 years old and all were either married or in a committed relationship at the time of analysis.  Sixty-seven percent of this group reported being in some kind of distress, and around 43% were considering divorce or separation.

McGill and Adler-Baeder began by devising two stages to explore their theory. The first achieved via a one through seven-point scale questionnaire alongside a yes or no questionnaire designed to test mindfulness and relationship quality by posing the following inquiries: “It seems I am ‘running on automatic,’ without much awareness of what I’m doing; I find it difficult to stay focused on what’s happening in the present, I could be experiencing some emotion and not be conscious of it until some time later.” On average, how often in the past month did you say ‘I love you’ to your spouse/significant other?” and finally; “we have a good marriage/relationship.”

The second stage saw the two researchers try and gauge the most reliable predictors of outcome. Before reviewing the results of the questionnaire, they assumed those who reported high marks associated with mindfulness would also evidence the lowest stress levels. Fascinatingly, mindfulness was not a consistent measure of stress, it instead stood all on its own as a separate, but additive relationship quality feature. Couples that were mindful and habitually made a point to live in the moment, and were able to maintain satisfaction in the face of both chronic and provisional stress.

The authors add, “Multi‐group structural equation models tested both direct links and indirect pathways and found stronger evidence for an additive model of trait mindfulness, perceived stress, and positive couple behaviors uniquely associated with men’s and women’s reports of relationship quality. Furthermore, positive relationship behaviors are comparatively the most closely linked with relationship quality for both men and women in our sample. Positive relationship behaviors are associated with higher relationship quality and in fact, maybe one of the most potent predictors of relationship functioning determined by individual studies and meta-analytic procedures.”

Something to consider this holiday season. Thanksgiving, in particular, is too often staged as an ideological arena. Instead of withdrawing, the new study published in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy suggests we practice confronting the shortcomings of others without allowing them to override the pleasure we glean from their company.