In our last post, we talked about mindfulness, what it is and how you practice it. We discussed that mindfulness is actively being present in the moment instead of thinking about something in the past or things still to come. If you want to know more about that go back and read the last post then come back here to read more about how mindfulness can help to enrich our relationships, especially our closest romantic relationships.
Science backs up the ancient religions in that spending time being mindful can help us to manage stress, anxiety and depression. Mindfulness practices are used to help treat many disorders with great success and have even been shown to help decrease pain and the symptoms of other illnesses or conditions.
Mindfulness, or being mindful can also help us to create and maintain strong relationships with our loved ones.
Falling in love is easy, staying in love, that’s the real work.
There’s an old saying, ‘Falling in love is easy, staying in love, that’s the real work.’ From a young age, we are conditioned with an ideal image of love and all that it entails. We hear the fairy stories of handsome princes and beautiful princesses or damsels in distress. They meet, they overcome obstacles and they fall in love and live happily ever after. This premise forms our understanding of romantic love in all its forms. We have seen the movies and read the books. This model of romantic love is shown to us over and over again.
What we’re not shown is the real-life routine that sets in after the honeymoon period. The worry over getting the bills paid. The stress and grind of daily work and household chores and our own individual reactions to them. We’re not shown the arguments and resentments that can start to come between couples faced with all of life’s daily problems. Yeah, yeah you say. But where does mindfulness come in?
If you think back to the beginning of the relationship when this amazing person was fresh and new, you were so interested in what they said and thought about everything. Back then you would ask them questions about every subject you could think of. You would wait patiently for them to answer and listen as though their opinions were the most important thing in the world. You would be genuinely interested in everything they had to say. Of course, the other person would be totally flattered to have your undivided attention and, in an ideal world, they would be fascinated by your ideas and opinions too.
Can you see? At the beginning of the relationship, you and your partner were being very mindful towards each other. You were totally present in the moment with this person and completely absorbed with the conversations and activities spent together.
Once you get to know a person better and share a bit of history you can become a bit distracted and not be as focused on their every word and action. Instead of listening to your partner share about their day, you may be busy thinking about getting dinner ready, or who is going to put the bins out, or something other than what they are actually talking about. When we do this we are not being mindful and present. Our partner will notice and may feel as if they are no longer as important as they once were.
Awareness, or mindfulness, of any problem, can be the first step towards changing it. Mindfulness means bringing our awareness to the present moment, being aware of who we are and what we’re thinking and doing. This awareness doesn’t have to be judgemental or negative. Try being aware of yourself with a curiosity as to why you are thinking and acting in a certain way.
Here are a few things to consider with a view to improving your relationships.
Your first relationship is the one you have with yourself.
I’m sure you’ve heard the view that you can’t love others until you love yourself. It’s true. You can’t be there for another person if you’re feeling inadequate or that you are lacking in any way. We can’t look to others to provide us with what we think we may be missing in ourselves. That’s too much pressure to put on anyone. They could never meet our expectations and we would be bound to become resentful and dissatisfied. We may need to ask ourselves what our motives for the relationship are. Do we want the relationship because we truly want to be with that other person or because we are lonely or that we don’t want to be alone? Are we looking for status or support? Or, are we clinging to our relationship because we feel a sense of lack or a fear of the alternative?
Although we may feel that we have not yet reached our potential as a person and we can all look to be improving ourselves and be striving to get better, this should be from a place of acceptance and respect for where we are starting from. We shouldn’t be expecting our partners to achieve this for us or even be working on the same things as us.
If we recognise that our expectations of the relationship may be a bit unhealthy and that we may be putting too much pressure on our partner or on the relationship we can use mindfulness to examine ourselves and our motives. Having a sense of awareness of ourselves definitely helps us show up better in our relationships with others.
Be present for your partner.
Make time to spend quality time together. Sometimes we forget to carve out time to spend together away from other distractions once we get in a routine with our relationships. When we first met we would plan dates and other activities and look forward to spending that time together. Then, when we were together, we’d be focused totally on each other and what we were doing.
When you and your partner are spending time together make a point of being present for them. Stop scrolling on your phone. Stop checking emails or social media. Don’t be distracted by the game or the show on TV. Make an effort to look in their eyes and comment on what they are saying. Ask questions, not with a view to fix their problems, but to ensure that you understand what they are expressing.
Listen to understand and not just to reply.
How often are we already thinking up our next witty comment or counterpoint while our partner is still talking? If we are doing this then we are not really listening. If you find yourself doing this, and we all do at times, try instead repeating back what your partner has just said in your own words to ensure that you understand. Say, “So, is what you mean … such and such ..?” Or, “So what you are saying is … whatever it is …?” This will help the other person to open up as they will feel heard and understood.
We also have to curb our natural inclinations to want to help and fix things for others. A lot of the time people are just wanting to share what’s going on for them. Jumping in with all the things that they could do to fix or change the ‘problem’ can make the other person feel diminished and as though you feel you could or would do better in their situation. This is one area I struggle with personally. I can have all the answers but none of the other person’s perspective. Of course, they have probably already thought of most of the answers themselves. Sometimes you could just ask, “Is this a problem you are looking for help with?”. Or, “What ideas have you got about that?”. Again, this will help your partner to open up and feel heard and valued.
Show empathy and compassion.
Show your partner empathy and compassion. When they’ve had a bad day or are feeling down give them a hug or a gentle touch. Sometimes our partners do get sad, or angry or stressed out and overwhelmed. When they do, understand that they are human too and need our support and understanding. Sometimes a bit of kind understanding can feel better than our well-meaning pep talk. Of course, we want our partners to feel better and be happy again but we need to respect their feelings. As humans, we experience the full range of emotions and can’t always be in sync with each other’s moods.
All things change.
The one constant we can expect in our lives is change. Knowing this helps us to get through the challenging times. Things will change and we can always be optimistic that they will change for the better.
When things are feeling tough between you and your partner it can often be due to a lack of connection. All of life’s distractions can work to erode the closeness you once felt. Applying some active mindfulness towards your time together will help to strengthen the connection between you and help things to feel better.
Remember, even though you are both unique and separate individuals your relationship makes you a team and you’re in it together. Take time to talk about your joint relationship goals as well as your individual goals. Ensure that your individual goals don’t jeopardise those joint relationship goals.
Our time together is precious and life can be short. Don’t sweat the small stuff and try being mindful, calm and compassionate with your partner while you ride life’s roller coaster together.
What are some other ways we could practice mindfulness in our relationships? Tell me in the comments below.