Mindfulness for relationships
Mindfulness in relationships In my other blogs about Mindfulness, http://www.claresillencecounselling.com.au/blog/ I have spoken about how mindfulness can help us with many aspects of our physical and psychological health, and how there is scientific evidence to support this. I have procrastinated about the topic of mindfulness in relationships and wondered if I am the right person to offer my […]
Mindfulness in relationships
In my other blogs about Mindfulness, http://www.claresillencecounselling.com.au/blog/ I have spoken about how mindfulness can help us with many aspects of our physical and psychological health, and how there is scientific evidence to support this. I have procrastinated about the topic of mindfulness in relationships and wondered if I am the right person to offer my thoughts and information. All of us at some time in our lives will be faced with painful and difficult experiences, particularly in the relationships we have we others. I can only say that no matter what your relationships are like with others, whether you are in an intimate relationship, whether you would like to improve your relationship, or just want to enhance your well-being which will then in turn, improve your relationships with others; mindfulness can only be of benefit to the way we relate to others, and the way we cope with stress. There is a quote about love which basically says, “If you choose to have love in your life, then you also choose pain.” The gist of this is that we would never choose not to love anyone in our lives if it meant that there wouldn’t be any pain.” Everyone I have asked this question to says they would choose to love someone. This means that we will inevitably have some pain in our lives, and mindfulness is a practice that supports healthier ways of coping with the stresses of relationships.
What is Mindfulness in Relationships?
- Noticing your partner as they are in a particular moment;
- Awareness of your surroundings with your partner;
- Non-judgemental stance – not judging your thoughts or feelings but just noticing them;
- It’s about noticing your partner for who they are rather than something you would like them to be – a state of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’;
- Acceptance of your thoughts and feelings just as they are – being realistic and letting go of expectations such as trying to have a conversation with your partner when he/she had planned to watch his/her favourite show on TV.
There are many different ways of practicing mindfulness in relationships. You can practice formally together, picking a time and place each day when you sit or lie down. You can be mindful in the moment whilst walking, holding hands, watching your loved one doing something. You can practice being present with your partner even when you are having an argument with them. How often have you hurriedly kissed your partner goodbye as you both rush off to get on with your day? How often have you had a conversation with your partner with the TV on and you only caught snippets of what they were saying? It can be really hard work maintaining a relationship. We all have our own family legacies from our upbringings, and leftover feelings or memories from previous relationships. Under stress, we can often be on automatic pilot, and find ourselves going back to defaults or previous relationship triggers without thought. Think about a time when you may have said something to your partner in a moment, and then you find yourself regretting what you said. Mindfulness practice can help you with many aspects of your relationship such as:
- Improve communication between you and your partner;
- Can help us to recognise when emotions or thoughts are being aroused by our “fight or flight” responses or previous relationships;
- Gives us the space in between our immediate reaction, and the response that comes next;
- Helps us to become familiar with the quiet space in our minds;
- Helps us to notice our emotions as they arise;
- Help us to catch our thoughts and act more wisely;
- Teaches us to see our thoughts and feelings without judgement;
- Helps us to be kind to ourselves, and more accepting of our minds.
How do I get started with Mindful Relationships?
One of the hardest lessons to learn is when your partner has triggered you to feel angry and you can feel the anger bubbling away, and you just want to tell her/him that they are wrong! I know I can think of a few experiences when this has happened. What if you had the space that allowed you to feel the emotions without responding in a particular way that wasn’t that helpful? If you want to find out more about practicing mindfulness for yourself, I would suggest having a look at my other blogs on mindfulness, reading about it, or downloading an App. The following steps will guide you with some practical ideas to be more fully present in your relationship:
- Think of an activity that you ask your partner to do, and wish she/he wouldn’t take so long doing it. Choose this activity for yourself, and slow it right down, and notice how your partner might feel if they were rushing through this same activity;
- Pick a quiet moment when you can sit quietly whilst your partner is close by. Notice your breath and breathe normally paying attention to your breathing, noticing each inhalation and each exhalation;
- As you exhale, see if you can expand your noticing experience to include your awareness of your partner in the room;
- Notice how your thoughts will take you out of the moment, or give you a judgement about this experience;
- Re-member a happy experience with your partner. Think about what you noticed at the time. What did you notice about your partner? Bring the happy feelings and thoughts to the present as you communicate with your partner;
- Go for a walk with your partner. Notice where you are walking. What can you see, hear, smell, and touch? Notice your partner; notice your partner’s hand touching your hand.
As I mentioned previously, relationships take hard work and commitment. We don’t live in a world of ‘Disney’ and ‘Hollywood’ movies and fairy tales that often make relationships look so easy. They aren’t easy. We compare our relationship to another that we think looks better than ours. I know I have observed elderly couples in the shopping centre holding hands, and thinking “if only that was my relationship?” Still holding hands at ninety years of age takes work, but I don’t get to see inside that couple’s home. I only get to see what my mind tells me, and that is that their relationship must be better than mine. We need to be kinder to ourselves. As my example shows, I am looking for something that might only exist in a book or on a movie screen. I know that I want to do better than my parents did. At least that’s what my mind tells me. With mindfulness practice, we can give ourselves the acceptance and self-love that will support us in our relationships.
What to do when I have a difficult emotion in my relationship
- First of all notice yourself breathing in and out.
- Notice what you are actually feeling. What is the emotion? Can you name it?
- Don’t try and distract yourself from the emotion, or try and push it away.
- You are feeling this emotion for a reason.
- It is a normal reaction.
- Think about how this emotion came about. What were the circumstances surrounding the emotion?
- Accept that you are having this emotion right now.
- Notice how you are breathing when you have this emotion.
- Ask yourself questions about the emotion. Can I feel it in a particular part of my body? Is my breathing changing? Is any part of my body tenser than other parts? How big does this emotion feel? Do I feel like I want to make the emotion go away? If I do, can I just notice that this is what is happening?
Mindfulness practice can help us with facing the challenges of remaining committed and close in our relationships. We can become more calm and ‘in touch’ with our ‘inner voices’, so that we are able to talk about things with our partners without it becoming heated. I can choose to be the partner I want to be in a relationship based on my values. Mindfulness and acceptance of my thoughts and feelings helps me not get caught up in the ‘fairy tales’ and gives me a more present and powerfully felt connection in my relationships.
Relationships are not perfect, and I hope by sharing these words, that you can find something that supports you to truly connecting in your relationships in some rich and meaningful ways. I’m happy to talk to you further about introducing mindfulness into your relationships. If you’d like to know more, check out my other blogs and my website, or call 0403 848 398.