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Breathe Out for a Calmer Marriage?

Please ignore this blog post if you live with a violent partner or one who has ever tried to control you by harming you physically, financially, or emotionally and has not successfully treated the problem underlying this behavior. If this is you, please seek help from others capable of controlling that behavior or keeping it at a safe distance from you and your children.

For the rest of us, here is an interesting area of research to tell you about. It may come in handy when you fear your spouse may throw a temper tantrum, cut off your allowance, move out, earn too little, or ask too much. It may keep you from reacting angrily when compassion would bring you closer or from distancing yourself when what you want is a tighter relationship.

And it is so simple. Deric Bownds' Mindblog (always a wonderful read) says in a blog post this week:

Whether we are breathing in or breathing out can have a pronounced effect on our threat detection threshold. Meditation regimes and stress performance training (as for Navy Seals) emphasize prolongation of exhalation as a calming technique. During exhalation, measurements have shown a relative increase in parasympathetic and vagal activity, a relative decrease in amygdala reactivity, and lower reactivity to possible threats.

The rest of his post talks about research that shows we get the same effect when our heart is pumping out. Not much we can do to increase the time we spend on that. But we can prolong our exhalation and reduce our reactions to whatever scares us.

I suppose it would be great to breathe out slowly all the time, yet even Bownds says he doesn't do all the stuff he knows would improve his state of mind. But how about doing it right after delivering possibly upsetting news to our mates? Or as we enter a room that often holds unpleasant surprises? Or as our beloveds tell us about their day?

Let's give it a try, do our own little experiment. Tell us all what you find in a comment. Does it make it easier to Assume Love? Does it make it easier to recognize we're expecting something other than love? Does it make it easier to propose finding a Third Alternative instead of freaking out over the one we're offered? Breathe out, and we'll all find out together.


Thanks for suggesting this, Patty. Not just for marriage and other personal relationships, this technique can be helpful in almost any kind of stressful situation. I had the opportunity to try it yesterday. I knew I was going to be a in a situation which was likely to stimulate negative feelings and anger, so I prepared for it with slow breathing. During the conversation, I reminded myself to keep my breathing slow, particularly the exhalations. I found this to be very effective. Although it did not completely prevent every negative feeling, I was able to stay calm and discuss the issues rationally. In particular, at one point when I felt my anger start to rise, I slowed myself down and exhaled very, very slowly. The angry feeling subsided. I'm sure this is partly a physiological response to the breathing technique, but I think it is also a psychological response to the fact that you are consciously focusing on your breathing. It makes you more mindful of what you are doing. I am calling this a success, and I definitely recommend that anyone facing a difficult encounter give it a try.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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