Five Domains of a Healthy Relationship: Mindfulness and Resilience

Mother comforting young childYou might have heard that “love is the glue” that holds us together. I’d like to make a case for mindfulness as a similar connecting agent. In thinking of the work I am passionate about offering at Counseling on Capitol Hill, I’ve discovered that the various offerings have a common theme. What is it that couples counseling, Positive Discipline parent education, individual therapy, mindfulness coaching, and Family Therapy have in common?

Each of these offerings are about relationships, with ourselves, partners, kids, spirituality, and community. All of these relationships or domains depend on capacity and resilience.

When a child breaks a treasured dish, or tracks mud onto a newly-cleaned floor, it takes resilience to remember our compassionate self. If we see the experience of what is happening as larger than our capacity to tolerate, we send ourselves into crisis mode. In fight or flight mode, we don’t have access to clear thinking, empathy, or compassion. It is a good bet that if we are not prepared to handle this common occurrence, we will say or do something that we will regret.

What helps us develop capacity and resilience? The practice of mindfulness—with regard to our thoughts, emotions, sensations, and more—allows us to develop these abilities. Take the basic practice of awareness and counting of the breath, where we sit and bring attention to our normal breathing (available in most introductory books and articles, and demonstrated on my website’s mindfulness page). We set a timer for five minutes. During that time we note our “out breath” and our “in breath.” As with most attempts at concentration, we soon notice distracting noises, thoughts, and smells. We become aware of what is distracting us and then return to the simple focus on breath. Although it is a simple act, it is a very powerful way to develop resilience and capacity over time.

One wonderful and commonly-reported experience is that after meditating daily for a few weeks, we discover humor around the troubling eddies of thought that our minds often get stuck in. When my mind takes me back down familiar routes of thinking during mindfulness practice, I often chuckle at myself, noticing the dogged and familiar tendency before returning to my chosen focus. Humor is a sign that the door to resilience and greater capacity has been cracked open. What once took up my whole mind and started a heated reaction of frustration is now a bit smaller and doesn’t take up all the space.

I have seen similar developments in capacity with couples when they become familiar with their old patterns of disconnection. Once that pattern is named, it is easier to recognize. Sometimes a funny name helps too: we don’t want to go down that “toilet bowl” again! Another way of talking about capacity is how we say that we gain “distance” from things. Mindfulness practice and emotionally focused couples therapy both help create a bit of distance from and awareness of troubling patterns of disconnection.

Positive Discipline parent education (PD) also calls on us to maintain the space between ourselves as adults and the children and teens who we care about. PD is based on the observation that most negative behavior is based on a child’s mistaken belief about themselves or a mistaken attempt at getting a need met. For example, a child’s persistence might become annoying when they are acting on the mistake belief, “I don’t matter unless I am the center of attention.” Again, our work of developing capacity and resilience leads us to recognize the pattern and not get pulled into reacting to it.

Mindfulness coaching, individual, and family therapy also offer us the opportunity to recognize patterns and respond to ourselves and our loved ones with greater capacity. Greater capacity—knowing that we are not defined by a particular thought, behavior, or experience—allows us to have greater compassion. We’ve come full circle, as it is clear that our increased resilience is based on seeing who we are in relationship to our experience, rather than what happens. With increase capacity and resilience, it is a short leap to the belief that we are all trying to connect with others and our desires, and that sometimes we forget that others are good people in the same game.

Though it takes practice to entertain and maintain this perspective, through it we are able to approach and find balance in all five domains of relationship: personal, partnership, parenting, community, and spirituality. Instead of having to practice and maintain five things at once like a circus performer, we can intentionally choose to be in a few of our experiences each day. No matter how many times we get pulled off center, we can always choose to pull out one of the practices that helps us reground, relax, and relate. Whether you do mindfulness practice, therapy, playtime, tai chi, dancing, yoga, walking, cooking, or more as a way to feel better and reintegrate your five domains, your loving attention to yourself is developing more resilience and capacity in yourself and in the world. Keep up the good work!

© Copyright 2011 by By Justus D'Addario, MA, LMHC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • themuse

    July 12th, 2011 at 2:06 PM

    Very nice article, Justus. When I feel myself getting overly stressed and distracted I switch off, literally and figuratively.

    Everything electronic that can interrupt me or that’s vying for my attention- the phone, the TV, the computer-is shut down for at least an hour. Then I find myself a comfortable spot, inside or outside, and just sit. That’s all I do, sit and breathe. It gives my mind the chance to clear the clutter and let go of all the junk that’s pressing in on me and find possible answers to problems by allowing my subconscious to chime in. (I guess some would call it a meditation. I don’t, simply because I believe the term scares people off-they imagine meditation as being hard to learn and difficult to accomplish. Sitting and breathing with your eyes closed though feels more attainable when you describe it like that.)

    When I feel lighter and less burdened, I stop. There are days when I need more than an hour and days I need less.

    That hour or so flies by and I’m in much better shape to get on with my day after that. I’m calmer and more centered. I can slip easily into a deep meditation later in the day if I choose to make the time for it, far more easily than if I’ve skipped that hour previously.

    Sometimes we need that physical disconnection from the world around us to reconnect with ourselves. Otherwise solutions can’t always be heard above life’s incessant technological chatter.

  • Geoff

    July 12th, 2011 at 2:45 PM

    It’s true that relationships often take shape as a result of your behavior.Add to this the fact that your behavior while you are angry actually coots web more,the situation quickly becomes not so easy.So training yourself,as most experts recommend,seems like the way ahead to maintain healthy relationships not only with others but with yourself as well.

  • Vic

    July 12th, 2011 at 4:20 PM

    The key to feeling good about myself has being able to strike that balance in all of those aspects. When I am lacking in one area I know that I am sure to suffer in the others.

  • Sheena Fraser

    July 12th, 2011 at 11:20 PM

    “Instead of having to practice and maintain five things at once like a circus performer, we can intentionally chose to be in a few of our experiences each day. ”

    Aha! That’s genius and I think shows me what I’ve been doing wrong for so long: trying to keep all the balls in the air at once instead of being more selective. I shall give that a go! Thanks Justus.

  • Jackie b

    July 13th, 2011 at 4:33 AM

    I have tried counseling a few times in my life both times with my spouse. Well the first time was counseling lite right before we got married with our minister- you know required by the church and just touching on surface issues. The last time was after we had been married for 10 years and I discovered that he was cheating. Way different experience, but gave me the strength that I needed to make it through this tough time in our marriage. I chose to stay and work through it but what I discovered was that it was not only about the mistakes that he made but the role that I played too. Hard to hear but good to know.

  • Hewitt

    July 13th, 2011 at 6:39 AM

    I have issues with anger management and honestly I have tried counting,and a few other methods but none seem to work.I was thinking of,but never did,approach a therapist or seek help outside.Would it be a good idea,considering that I have trouble managing it myself?

  • Laura

    July 13th, 2011 at 10:58 AM

    Awesome article, I love this stuff, wish I could go back in time and be a dance therapist like I first set out to be. I am an old nurse now but love Zumba and yoga.

  • Rene Wilmert

    July 14th, 2011 at 1:03 PM

    A relationship is not like a product that is paid for once and bought in a constantly need to keep investing time and effort into a relationship if it has to flourish and survive the little problems that keep coming it’s way every now and then.

  • Jules

    June 20th, 2013 at 9:48 AM

    Hi Hewitt,

    Try going to a therapist, sometimes you have to go to 2 or 3 unless you find the right person the first time..someone who understands your style and what you need. The fact that you are on here, reading about how other people handle high-stress situations shows that you may be ready to take that next step! Wishing you the best!

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