Primenjena psihologija
Vol. 15, No4., pp. 507-525, 2022
Research Article
The effect of dispositional mindfulness on
positive illusions in romantic relationships:
dyadic approach
Filipa Ćavar 1 and Lana Batinić 2
1 Institute of Social Sciences Ivo Pilar, Zagreb, Croatia
2 Department of Psychology, Catholic University of Croatia, Zagreb, Croatia
Implicit beliefs and cognitions largely direct behavioral and emotional interaction
between intimate partners which in turn determines relationship satisfaction of both
partners. Positive illusions, based on automatic thinking, represent a possible
strategy for coping with relationship stress caused by the discrepancy between ideal
and perceived partner’s attributes. Contrary, research suggests that mindfulness, a
conscious alternative to functioning on automatic pilot, has numerous benefits on
relationship satisfaction and partner dynamic. However, the role of mindfulness in
the context of relationship cognition is still not fully researched. The aim of this
research was to examine the relationship between dispositional mindfulness and
positive illusions about intimate partners. Survey was conducted online, and it
included participants living in Croatia. Dyadic analysis included 106 heterosexual
couples (mean age for women was 23.17 years, and for men 24.54 years) who were
in a relationship for at least 6 months. Mindfulness Attention Awareness Scale
MAAS is used as a measure of dispositional mindfulness, and Interpersonal Qualities
Scale as a measure of partners’ positive illusions. The actor and partner effects of
dispositional mindfulness on illusory perception of partners’ attributes were tested
by Actor-Partner Interdependence Model. Contrary to hypothesized, mindfulness
did not negatively affect biased perception of intimate partner. Partner effects for
both men and women, and men’s actor effect are shown to be significant in our
model, suggesting that dispositional mindfulness contributed positively to partner’s
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PP (2022) 15(4), 507-525
illusory perception of their intimate partner attributes, on both dyad level and
individual level only for men.
Key words
: dispositional mindfulness, positive illusions, relationship cognition,
dyadic approach
UDC: 159.942.075:392.6(497.5)
DOI: 10.19090/pp.v15i4.2417
Received: 29.06.2022.
Revised: 16.09.2022.
Accepted: 08.11.2022.
Corresponding author email:
PP (2022) 15(4), 507-525
Dispositional mindfulness and positive illusions
Romantic relationship cognition, a relatively new field of research interest,
includes persons thoughts and beliefs about their intimate partner and romantic
relationship (Karremans et al., 2017). Same as when thinking about social world
around us, relationship cognition is not black or white, and mostly always contains
some level of cognitive bias. Brewer (1991; as cited in Leonardelli et al., 2010)
described this type of cognitive bias as a persons tendency to perceive their
significant other in a more positive light, emphasizing their virtues, and diminishing
their flaws. This type of positive perception is common for all partners throughout
the relationship but is mostly prominent for couples at the early start of their
intimate relationship. Social psychologists agree that automatic thinking of one of
the most important intimate relationships in adult age largely shapes and directs
emotional reactions and behavior of both partners, affects relationship stability
(Fletcher & Kerr, 2010), and is reference point upon which partners assess their
relationship satisfaction (McNulty et al., 2013). Fletcher et al. (2000) note that
cognitive evaluation of partner’s attributes opposed to ideal is an underlying process
that directs relationship dynamic and is naturally happening throughout the
relationship. Further research suggests that this type of evaluation happens at
automatic level of processing (Overall et al., 2006), suggesting that underlying
cognitive schemas and implicit beliefs greatly shape intimate relationships (Knee et
al., 2015). Eventually, realizing partners’ flaws and doubting their compatibility as a
couple, partners relationship satisfaction decreases (Keizer, 2014). However, the
outcome relationship stability versus ending, depends on how both partners cope
with relationship stress (Barnes et al., 2007), that is, how they deal with this type of
cognitive dissonance.
At this point, one might wonder to what degree partners willingly direct
their relationship outcomes and do they even have necessary resources, both
emotional and behavioral, needed to appropriately respond to possible relationship
stress (Doss et al., 2005), as opposed to thinking and functioning on automatic pilot.
Answer might be found in mindfulness, a state of awareness that emerges through
paying attention to one’s own thoughts, emotions, and sensations, and experiencing
them non-judgmentally in a present moment (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). Mindfulness-
Ćavar & Batinić
PP (2022) 15(4), 507-525
related research in the field of romantic relationships has become more popular,
with researchers finding numerous benefits of this phenomena to relationship
satisfaction (Karremans et al., 2017; Kozlowski, 2013), especially in the context of
couples therapy (Carson et al., 2004; Doss et al., 2005). However, little is known of
possible mindfulness effects on cognitive processes that underlie relationship
dynamic. Relatively unexplored field of relationship cognition concerns possible
mindfulness effects on automatic thinking that directs partner interaction, such as
positive illusions. Furthermore, relationship cognition-mindfulness-focused research
still lacks dyadic perspective that would provide broader insight of partners’
interdependence and relationship dynamic.
Positive illusions
Positive illusions represent relatively permanent types of cognitive bias
(Martz et al., 1998). The purpose of this biased perception is best understood through
the analogy of defense mechanism. Stressful relationship events, such as perceiving
partners flaws and less desired behavior, often represent a threat to relationship
stability. To maintain intimate relationships, and prevent possible negative
outcomes, partners tend to mask negative aspects of their relationship, thus
creating overly positive image of their significant other (Murray et al., 2003; Barelds
& Dijkstra, 2011). This trend of positive polarization when evaluating intimate partner
and relationship quality is becoming more prominent, and up to 80% of people tend
to idealize their current intimate partner (Fowers et al., 2002).
Although often considered as negative and idealized perceptive bias
(Murray at al., 1996b), researchers had found positive effects of positive illusions to
numerous aspects of intimate relationship, such as supporting feelings of devotion
and security (Barelds & Dijkstra, 2011). On a dyadic level, positive illusions of both
actor and partner positively contribute to decrease of relationship conflict and
promotion of relationship satisfaction (Furler at al., 2014; Murray et al., 1996a). Murray
et al. (2003) suggests that, with time, dyad members show tendency to strive
toward those qualities that their partner did, but they initially had not perceive in
themselves. Thus, discrepancy between actors’ perception of intimate partner, and
partners self-assessment decreases with relationship duration, suggesting that
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Dispositional mindfulness and positive illusions
partners strive for achieving a more positive self-image (Murray et al., 2003).
Although considered a less optimal coping strategy with cognitive dissonance,
positive illusions positively contribute to relationship satisfaction and insure long-
term relationship stability (Karremans et al., 2017).
Dispositional mindfulness in romantic relationships
Mindfulness, in the context of relationship cognition, implies directing and
focusing attention on thoughts and feelings that can directly or indirectly affect the
stability of one’s intimate relationship and can possibly disrupt partner dynamic
(Karremans et al., 2017). Dispositional mindfulness positively predicts less anxiety and
aggression directed behavior between partners after a conflict and is positively
correlated with women’s feelings of support and respect toward their partner
(Barnes at al., 2007). Barnes et al. (2007) showed that male partners, whose female
partners expressed higher levels of dispositional mindfulness, reported feeling less
angry and hostile during relationship conflict, thus indicating possible
interdependence model of mindfulness between partners, suggesting of
mindfulness, being a possible protective factor of relationship stability (Wachs &
Cordova, 2007). Direct and positive effects of dispositional mindfulness on
relationship satisfaction, partner behavior and emotions that direct partner dynamic,
are relatively stable and had been found in numerous research (Adair et al., 2018;
Barnes et al., 2007). Theorists argue that underlying mindfulness processes allow us
to respond to external stimuli more objectively and have more clarity about own
internal processes (Brown & Ryan, 2003) which is in accordance with beneficial
mindfulness effects to numerous relationship outcomes when facing relationship
stress (Karremans et al., 2017).
However, positive illusions do not represent a threat to relationship stability,
but rather promote partners relationship satisfaction. Although seen as a negative
coping strategy, positive illusions represent the part of automatic thinking
continuum that positively contributes to relationship satisfaction (Furler et al., 2014).
Contrary, mindfulness, being a more conscious aspect of own thoughts and
emotional reactions, and possibly partner’s negative attributes and behavior,
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PP (2022) 15(4), 507-525
represents an opposite to automatic pilot (Karremans et al., 2017), and might redirect
relationship dynamic.
Present study
Shifting research perspective from individual assessment to dyadic is
especially important when exploring the field of partner dynamic and romantic
relationship, while both partners attributes and interaction are interdependent
within dyad, suggesting that partners within dyad share more similar characteristics
than they have with other people involved in romantic relationships (Kenny et al.,
2006, as cited in Kaizer, 2014). While no known research has been done assessing
mindfulness effects on positive illusions on the dyadic level of analysis, our study
investigates possible mindfulness effects on partners’ cognitive bias. The main
objective is to examine whether, and in what direction, dispositional mindfulness
contributes to personsown positive illusions about their significant other (actor
effect), as well as on the existence of partners’ positive illusions (partner effect). It is
hypothesized that dispositional level of women’s mindfulness significantly
negatively contributes to both positive illusions she holds about her own partner
and partners positive illusions. The same is hypothesized for men higher
dispositional level of men’s mindfulness will decrease his own positive illusions, and
positive illusions his female partner might hold about him.
Participants from Croatia were recruited by snow-ball method, according to
participation criteria that were following: minimum relationship duration of 6
months; not married and/or cohabiting and/or having children. Inclusion criteria
were based on prior knowledge of romantic relationship dynamic (Miller et al., 2006;
Murray et. al, 1996a) that differs significantly between married couples (with
children) and cohabitating partners. Furthermore, minimum relationship duration
criterion was set to include merely couples that, in the time, were in a more serious
stage of their intimate relationship where initial infatuation had passed, and partners
PP (2022) 15(4), 507-525
Dispositional mindfulness and positive illusions
were more familiar with each others flaws and virtues. In total, 106 heterosexual
couples, aged from 18 to 38 years, took part in the research. Mean age for women
was 23.17 years (
= 2.95) and for men 24.54 (
= 3.28). Majority of women in our
sample had bachelor's degree (49.1%), 25.5% had finished high-school, 24.5% had
master's degree, and 1 female participant has finished elementary school. Most of
men (36.8%) had finished high-school, 32.1% had bachelor's and 28.3% master's
degree, 1.9% had finished postgraduate studies, and 1 male participant had finished
only elementary school. The average length of the relationship was 3 years.
Data were collected in January 2020 via online questionnaire, within a larger
survey on romantic relationship cognition conducted for the purpose of the
graduation thesis of one of the authors of this article. According to the internal
procedures, research was approved by the expert council of the Department of
Psychology at the Catholic University of Croatia. Prior to participation, each dyad
member was given a 5-digit code (e.g., M2156 & Z2156), that allowed us to
differentiate dyad partners by gender. Participants were informed of research aim,
procedure, right to withdraw from participating and were assured that their answers
would remain anonymous.
Dispositional mindfulness
Mindfulness Attention Awareness Scale
(Brown & Ryan, 2003) was
used as a measure of dispositional mindfulness. On Likert type (
1 = almost always
6 = almost never
) 15-item scale participants had to assess to what degree they
encounter these sensations and experiences (e.g.,
I find myself doing things without
paying attention”
). All items are to be recoded, prior to calculating linear
combination of all the items, so the overall higher result reflects higher dispositional
mindfulness. Factor structure of Croatian version of MAAS is identical to the original
unidimensional structure found by Brown & Ryan (2003), with Cronbach alpha
coefficient (α = .85) indicating satisfactory scale reliability.
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PP (2022) 15(4), 507-525
Positive illusions
Interpersonal Qualities Scale
(Murray et al., 1996a) was used as a measure of
partners positive illusions. The original scale consists of 23 interpersonal attributes
virtues, flaws and socially acceptable attributes that are driven from the larger pool
of interpersonal attributes (Murray et al., 1996a). For this research, original attributes
were double blinded translated to Croatian and tested for their comprehensibility.
Final version of
Croatian Interpersonal Qualities Scale
consisted of 21 positive
attributes (e.g. kind, patient) and negative (e.g. lazy, impulsive) attributes.
Participants had to rate how well these attributes described themselves and their
partner on a 9-point scale (
1 = not at all characteristic to
9 = completely
). According to researchers in this field (Barelds & Dijkstra, 2011; Murray
et al., 1996b) there are a few possible statistical calculations of positive illusions.
However, residual score, that is believed to be a more reliable measure of positive
illusions (Barelds & Dijkstra, 2011; Murray et al., 2003), was given priority over
difference score. Thus, illusion of partnersattributes was formed as a residual score
between participants’ perception of partner characteristics (
actor perception
) and
partners self-assessment (
partner reality
) that are believed to be some level of
objective benchmark. Residual score indicates that some amount of illusory
perception exists when perceiving intimate partner, while partner does not perceive
these qualities when thinking about self (Murray et al., 1996b). A positive score
indicates existence of illusory perception, while negative result implies objective or
even negative perception of partner in comparison to partners self-assessment.
Socio-demographic variables
The questionnaire included demographic variables such as age, gender,
duration, and nature of relationship. Along with questions regarding experience with
meditation/mindfulness practice, participation criteria questions were also included.
Data analysis
Partner's characteristics and attributes can affect not only their own
perception of intimate relationship but can also impact their partner’s perception of
the relationship. While most research on romantic relationships includes variables
PP (2022) 15(4), 507-525
Dispositional mindfulness and positive illusions
and constructs that are characteristic for one specific relationship, and are rather
interdependent for both dyad members, we can no longer validly measure partners
attributes as independent entities (Kenny & Cook, 1999). The most popular dyadic
model Actor-Partner Interdependence Model (APIM), enables us to statistically
consider partnersnon-independence and to determine not only how one's result
on independent variable affects his/her own outcome (result in dependent variable),
but also what effect one's result on the independent variable has on their partner's
outcome. In other words, we can assess actor effect, which is shown using
horizontal lines in the model, and partner effect which is represented by diagonal
lines (Figure 1). In our model shown in Figure 1, predictor (independent variable) was
dispositional mindfulness and curved arrow between men's and women's result
allows partners' results to be correlated. Positive illusions were dependent variable.
Circles marked with E and E' indicate that residual results covary between dyad
members due to a cause that was not measured by the conducted research and
point to the interdependence of dyad members. To test hypothesized relationships,
we have used structural equation modeling (SEM) with maximum likelihood
estimation in R (lavaan) program.
Since preliminary analysis did not establish the existence of outliers
(according to Mahalanobis distance), all the 106 dyads were included in dyadic
analysis. Women and men showed about the same, relatively high level of
dispositional mindfulness (Table 1). Descriptive results indicate that partners differ in
how they perceive one another. While women tend to have positive illusions about
men, men in our sample do not show the same for their partners. Therefore, in
average, women perceive their partners more positively than their partners perceive
themselves. However, men seem to have mostly negative perception about
women, so they estimate their partner’s attributes in a more negative light than she
perceives herself.
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PP (2022) 15(4), 507-525
Table 1
Means, standard deviations and intercorrelations in the APIM model
1. Dispositional mindfulness_W
2. Positive illusions_W
- 0.19
3. Dispositional mindfulness_M
4. Positive illusions_M
W women; M men. *
< .05; **
< .01.
Dispositional mindfulness and positive illusions are positively
correlated within dyad members. Positive correlation has been found between
one partner’s mindfulness and other partner’s positive illusions, respectively for
both partners. Effect between men’s mindfulness and women’s positive illusions
suggests that the more mindful men are, their partners tend to perceive their
attributes in a more positive, rather illusory light. The same effect has been
shown for women - the more mindful women are, the more positive illusions
men have about them. Accordingly, the same pattern is found on individual level,
but only for men. The more mindful men were, more positively they perceived
their partners.
Table 2
Unstandardized estimates of actor and partner effects in APIM model
Dispositional mindfulness (M)
Positive illusions (M)
actor effect (M)
Dispositional mindfulness (W) -
Positive illusions (W)
actor effect (W)
Dispositional mindfulness (W) -
Positive illusions (M)
partner effect (M)
Dispositional mindfulness (M) -
Positive illusions (W)
partner effect (W)
W women; M men. *
< .05; **
< .01.
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Dispositional mindfulness and positive illusions
Actor-Partner Interdependence Model showed significant actor effect
for men, suggesting that more mindful men have more positive illusions about
their partner (Table 2 and Figure 1). Furthermore, both partner effects proved to
be significant men's mindfulness positively contributes to women's positive
illusions and same pattern is true for women the more mindful women are, the
more positive illusions their partner has about them.
Dyadic patterns: parameter k
To statistically determine dyadic pattern in the results, Kenny and
Ledermann (2010) suggest calculating parameter
which is ratio of partner and
actor effect and should be calculated only when standardized actor effects in
model are greater than .10 and are statistically significant (which is case in our
model). In our model,
for the women equals -3.76, and for the men 0.95 (Stas et
al., 2018). For the women, 95% percentile confidence interval ranges from -37.33
to 32.85. For men, confidence interval ranges from 0.12 and 4.46 (Stas et al., 2018).
Differences in Positive illusions
Interestingly, our partners differentiate when thinking about their
partner. While women have positive illusions about their partners, men perceive
their partners more negatively, or one might argue even more objectively, in
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PP (2022) 15(4), 507-525
comparison to partners' self-assessment (see Table 1). While residual score is
calculated as difference between one's perception of their partner's attributes
and partners' self-assessment on those same attributes, negative illusions that
men have about women could be result of a more favorable women’s self-
assessment. Steenkamp et al. (2010) argue that women are more prone to give
socially desirable responses on items that assess affiliation, belonging, intimacy,
love, approval, and nurturance. Many personal attributes that our participants
were asked to assess belong to that category. Paulhus and John (1998) called this
tendency moralistic response and research consistently shows that women have
higher moralistic response tendencies than men (Heine & Lehman, 1995; Lalwani,
et al., 2006). These results indicate that, despite of men’s tendencies to perceive
their partners in a less positive, rather objective, light, our couples are prone to
illusory perception of intimate partner characteristics that is believed to further
relationship satisfaction (Miller et al., 2006; Murray et al., 1996a, 2003). While
interpreting this result, it is important to remind that couples have been in
romantic relationship for a longer period (3 years, on average). By that we can
conclude that, women’s tendencies to (overly) positively attribute intimate
partner and perceive them through pink-colored glasses is preserving even in the
mature stage of the relationship when knowledge of intimate partners’
attributes and behavior is expected to be relatively objective (Miller et al., 2006).
However, it seems that our women fall within that 80% statistic of people that
overestimate their intimate partner and romantic relationship, which only
supports previous findings (Murray et al., 1996a). This surely questions how well
partners know one another, and if is justified to assume that illusory perception
functions to promote feelings of security and commitment for possibly the most
important intimate relationship that we achieve in adult age?
Actor and partner effects of dispositional mindfulness on positive
On grounds of the assumption that mindfulness and positive illusions are
based on opposite underlying cognitive processes, we hypothesized that
dispositional mindfulness might shift partner perception from automatic pilot to
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Dispositional mindfulness and positive illusions
more conscious functioning, thus contributing more negatively to positive
illusions. However, our results indicate the contrary. One’s higher level of
mindfulness seems to be positively correlated with other partner’s illusory
perception. Positive and significant partner effects of dispositional mindfulness
to positive illusions indicate that women’s mindfulness only supports overly
illusory perception among men, and the same is true for men. Murray et al. (1996a;
1996b) state that this cognitive bias only further supports implicit belief of “blind
love”, by thus positively contributing to relationship satisfaction. This leads to
questioning how truly intimate partners know each other, that is how prominent
is this illusory effect of automatic thinking over our objective perception?
Based on interdependence theory, Kenny and Cook (1999) have
established four different patterns that could be determined using dyadic
analysis: only actor, only partner, couple pattern and social comparison, or
contrast pattern (Kenny & Ledermann, 2010). The dyadic pattern is established
based on 95% confidence interval of the parameter
that is calculated using
bootstrapping method because of the non-normal distribution of parameter. In
our model confidence interval for women is very wide and includes -1, 0 and 1,
so we can’t determine which dyadic pattern is most likely. For men, confidence
interval includes 1, so we conclude that couple pattern fits these data the most.
To be more precise, couple patterns occur when actor and partner effects are
equal (a = p; k = 1), that is when on person's result on dependent variable (in our
case, positive illusions), the same effect has their own as well as their partner's
score on causal variable (dispositional mindfulness, in our model) (Kenny &
Ledermann, 2010). Specifically, in our sample, men's dispositional mindfulness,
and women's dispositional mindfulness both have equally significant positive
effect on men's positive illusions.
It appears that cognitive schemas are relatively fixed and, working on
automatic level of thinking, represent more prominent cognitive shortcuts
opposed to mindful perceiving and directed attention. Thus, mindfulness in our
participants did not negatively affect neither their own, nor partner’s positive
illusions. Another explanation of these findings lies within cognitive willpower
that is needed for two opposed cognitive processes, where automatic thinking
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PP (2022) 15(4), 507-525
develops on its own, while mindful awareness demands more focused and
directed consciousness (Brown et al., 2007). Therefore, being mindful did not
affect the persistence of cognitive bias of illusory perception, but is rather
positively related to perceiving own partner in a more positive light. It might be
argued that this underlying automatic thinking is relatively permanent due to
partners’ need to positively resolve cognitive dissonance that appears with low
congruency of partners’ current and believed attributes. Therefore, as Karremans
et al. (2017) suggest, partners’ first urge is to ensure relationship stability and are
automatically motivated to do so. In context of the proposed assumption,
mindfulness might even represent a risk factor to relationship stability among
couples that have low emotional and coping resources (Doss & Christensen,
Even thought our hypothesis did not emerge to be true, results are in
accordance with Boatright and McIntosh (2008) research that suggests positive
correlation of mindfulness and positive illusions about self, indicating that, more
mindful individuals are more likely to have overly positive perception.
Explanation of these findings might also lie within the construct of mindfulness.
While being mindful allows us to non-judgmentally observe experience and
sensations in the present moment, it might be argued that processes beneficial
to own well-being, in this context relationship stability and satisfaction, are
beyond mindful awareness, or just beyond uncultivated mindful awareness.
Theorists argue that underlying mindfulness processes allow us to respond to
external stimuli more objectively (Brown & Ryan, 2003) which largely benefits in
the context of threatening stimuli which positive illusions do not represent.
Contributions, limitations, and implications
The novelty of our study lies within the dyadic approach to assessing
mindfulness and relationship cognition. This shift in methodology is still
insufficiently embraced, but necessary for broader understanding of the field of
relationship cognition and its role in partners’ dynamic. Understanding
relationship cognition and mindfulness mechanisms that could have significant
effect on recognition of maladaptive behavior that threatens relationship quality
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Dispositional mindfulness and positive illusions
(Kappen et al., 2018; Karremans et al., 2017), provides knowledge for practical
implications beneficial to practitioners that work with couples in troubled
relationships who have little emotional and cognitive resources to deal with
relationship stress. Due to auto selection, our participants were on average
highly satisfied with their relationship, which limits our findings. Thus, it would
be of great interest to include less satisfied and troubled couples when assessing
mindfulness effects on relationship cognition, especially combining dyadic
perspective with experimental approach. Furthermore, as the field of
mindfulness research in the context of relationship cognition is expanding, some
authors (Kimmes et al., 2018) differentiate relationship mindfulness from
dispositional mindfulness and new aspects of assessing mindfulness are
considered. While our research assessed only trait mindfulness that both
partners bring in interaction, further research of these constructs and their
relationship, especially seen from different methodological and theoretical
perspectives, is welcomed.
More research on underlying mindfulness mechanisms and automatic
thinking is needed. Thus, it would be interesting to examine a more
comprehensive mediation model of mindfulness and positive illusions on
relationship satisfaction, to investigate how two constructs affect relationship
dynamic and whether they promote partners’ satisfaction. Though our research
only focused to investigate direct relationship between dispositional
mindfulness and positive illusions, it might be interesting to research possible
mediation models of two constructs with motivation to maintain the
relationship and other emotional aspects that affect relationship satisfaction.
Moreover, while dispositional levels of mindfulness did not have expected
negative effects on illusory perception, it might be interesting to examine
whether cultivated mindfulness might redirect partners’ perception, especially
considering possible partner effects. Finally, positive illusions represent one
possible strategy for dealing with cognitive dissonance, with partner acceptance
being the other. Consciousness of own emotional reactions when perceiving
partner’s flaws is in the basis of partner acceptance (Doss et al., 2005), indicating
of possible similar mechanisms that underly mindfulness and even questioning
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PP (2022) 15(4), 507-525
whether mindfulness might lie in greater partner acceptance. Thus, further
investigating the interaction of these two constructs would be of great interest.
Conflict of interest
We have no known conflicts of interest to disclose.
Data availability statement
Available upon request. For further details on data contact the authors.
Authors Note
The sample presented in this research was used for the purpose of other analyses
of relationship cognition.
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